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Class 6(66)

Metallica: Ride the lightning

17/08/12  ||  Sokaris

Introduction

I had an introduction formulated in my head when I decided to take a look through the band’s other Class6(66)‘s on the site to see just how other reviewers went about introducing the group that (for better or worse) are the undisputed biggest metal band in the world; Metallica. Metallica. They’re so goddamn big that my spell check even knows who they are… and yet “Megadeth” gets a red squiggly line underneath it. Interesting. No one tell Dave.

I noticed my fellow staffer InquisitorGeneralis’s opening paragraph in his summation on ”Kill ‘em all” in particular. He basically shortlists Metallica’s crimes against their own legacy and asks the reader to cast these black marks out of mind and focus on the album at hand. It’s interesting because my paragraph would’ve probably matched his in tone but I could easily bring up just as many bullshit moves the one-time legends have made without any overlap in content.

Not even mentioning that since IG’s induction of the Metallica debut ”Lulu” was released.

It was released in the same way that bowels release tension.

Anyway, we’ve established that with this band only the 80s matter and managed to make a Dave Mustaine joke just for bonus points. From now on though, it might as well be 1984 because the focus is squarely on “Ride the lightning”.

Songwriting

8. To me this is one of those cases of growing pains, where I might like the direction the band is going more but on a song by song basis the quality is a step down (see: ”The Return” by Bathory). A very small step down overall, because there’s much bigger ideas in place here as the band is taking a lot more risks. Although writing a song in the vein of “Fade to black” would come off as employing a well-used tactic in 2012, in 1984 I imagine it was kind of a side-swipe from these guys, even if the song is roughly modelled after the mighty Judas Priest’s “Beyond the realms of death”. Ending the album with a 9 minute instrumental is just balls incarnate and fortunately it works like a (leather) charm.

Production

8. Definitely a step ahead of its contemporaries. The drums and vocals are maybe just a little higher than they need to be but everything’s sharp and wide in the mix so there aren’t any points where the riffing gets lost. The drum reverb adds a nice touch that makes the beats and fills stand out. Bass is pretty much glued to the bottom end of the rhythm guitar but it all merges together for a nice balance between clarity and heaviness.

Guitars

9. There are some absolutely legendary riffs here and James Hetfield’s ability to crank out the crunch is something to behold. The tone is mean, the playing is varied and asses are kicked. There’s a definite awareness to keeping a balance between throwing curve balls at the listener and establishing hooks, a quality most evident in the guitar playing. Metallica once worshipped at the altar of the riff and the fret-gods rewarded them with a headbangability nearly unmatched when they really got going.

Moving on to the leadwork, Kirk Hammett receives extremes of criticism (his overuse of the “wah” pedal) and acclaim (he’s in Metallica, so instrumentally-centered magazines lose all objectivity) but to me he’s always been somewhere in between. He might not make my top ten shredders of all time, but whatever criticism people throw at him is undue because he came up with some really brilliant stuff. Listen to the last two songs (“Creeping” and “Ktulu”) if you want to hear Kirk at his best and tell me you’re not grabbed by the balls. Bottom line, the guy can craft some damn great solos, even if his best recording was him covering Dave Mustaine’s stuff.

Vocals

7. Hetfield does a decent job straddling between NWOBHM singing and a more sneering approach. I’ve never thought of him as an excellent vocalist necessarily but what he does works with the music and he’s easily recognizable. Those are basically the two qualities you need for a thrash vocalist. He can retain a bit more melody in his cords for a song like “Fade to black” or the chorus in “Escape” and sound pissed off as hell in other places, the title track’s verse to name one example. Probably James’ best vocal work is the memorable rhythmic delivery on “For whom the bell tolls” during the verses. Speaking of great moments, I’d be remiss to not mention the “Die!” chant in “Creeping death” as well.

Picture this writer as a skinny, awkward 12-year-old in a poster-covered bedroom, blasting “Ride the lightning” on a shitty stereo.
“Wow, are they really just yelling the word ‘die’ over and over? That’s really violent. That’s kind of scary. That’s… goddamn awesome!”

Bass

6. There’s really not a ton of sections where Cliff stands out, though his low end obviously gives the rhythm guitar an extra slice of badass. That rumbling in the beginning of “For whom the bell tolls” that foreshadows the next riff has this wonderfully sinister tone to it and that part alone gets a point on its own. There are some bizarre sounds on “Call of Ktulu” that I believe are bass, unless they actually woke the Lovecraftian monstrosity with this song and he’s responding.

Drums

5. I stated earlier that I think people take overly extreme stances on Kirk Hammett as a lead guitarist. I feel the same way about the kit abilities of Lars Ulrich, but in this case the people that trash him are probably a hell of a lot closer to the truth than the idiot fucks that call him the best drummer ever (because once again, the guy’s in Metallica). He’s creative in parts and contributes some memorable arrangements, it just feels held back in some parts. He’d probably be a fine addition to a more mid-paced traditional metal band but as far as Metallica’s songs go I just keep thinking about what Dave Lombardo would do with these basic ideas.

Lyrics

6. Nothing really stands out negatively or positively but the point above the median represents the band’s willingness to cover a wide variety of topics. Nuclear annihilation, Biblical plots, point-of-view accounts of suffering and an introspective suicide note.

Cover art

6. Am I the only one that finds it overly plain? The simplicity isn’t a bad thing in itself, but everything’s the same color and my eyes tend to just gloss over the album art. It’s really blue and there’s a chair.

Logo

10. Metallica already had a cool logo, so making it 3D and glowy as all fuck just pushes it over the top. It looks like it would just crush monster trucks, make things explode senselessly and cause women to drape themselves over it. Fuck yeah.

Booklet

8. It’s an old ass CD so it’s graded accordingly. But we get a real booklet with a live splash page on the back and some black and white shots featuring the band (with Lars looking particularly molesterly) with a thanks list and the lyrics in plain text on black.

Overall and ending rant

Maybe it would make a bit more sense if …And justice for Smalls’ take were here instead since his fellatio of the album is bit more empassioned than mine. He goes deep, doesn’t forget the balls and even pokes the prostate just to keep things interesting. Personally I find myself preferring the other albums to this one (the albums that count that is) though that’s not to say this recording is anything but mandatory, essential, a cornerstone or whatever other term you want to use to mark it as something you look like a douchebag if you don’t own. “Ride the lightning” is an essential course in Metal 101 and if you missed that day you need to do your damn homework.

8.5

  • Information
  • Released: 1984
  • Label: Elektra
  • Website: www.metallica.com
  • Band
  • James Hetfield: vocals, guitars
  • Kirk Hammet: guitars
  • Cliff Burton: bass
  • Lars Ulrich: drums
  • Tracklist
  • 01. Fight fire with fire
  • 02. Ride the lightning
  • 03. For whom the bell tolls
  • 04. Fade to black
  • 05. Trapped under ice
  • 06. Escape
  • 07. Creeping death
  • 08. The call of Ktulu