Once in a great while there comes a band, a band that evokes the age-old question “Where were you when you first heard…?” The 1980’s brought us several of those life-changing groups and for that we were very lucky and I am eternally grateful. One of them for me was METALLICA, whose thrash-terpiece Ride the Lightning is the subject of this week’s Classic Albums, and one of THE best records to come out in 1984, and that’s not up for discussion. By now you all know how my bestest buddy Joe came by and turned me onto these guys who I was initially reluctant to listen to. What you DON’T know is that on that fateful day in 1987 he left all their albums with me so I could make taped copies. I’m talking Master of Puppets, Kill ‘Em All, $5.98 EP, and this one…Ride the Lightning.
So, after I finished wetting myself over Puppets it was time to move onto the next album. When I put this thing on my fucking turntable I was once again blown away. The soft acoustic intro starts this record off before we get into the all-out madness of “Fight Fire With Fire”. Buzz saw riffs from start to finish and then we move into the title track “Ride the Lightning”, co-written by Dave Mustaine and sung from the point of view of someone who’s about to be executed in the electric chair for a crime he didn’t commit. The guitar work on this one is outstanding and the longer than normal solo breakdown is the stuff of legend. Modern day detractors be damned, Mr. Kirk Hammett created solos that were unrivaled by his peers save for Alex Skolnick from TESTAMENT. I was also lucky enough to hear it live at The Big Four show at Yankee Stadium on September 14, 2011. Yep, I was there…be jealous.
I don’t even know what I can say about “For Whom the Bell Tolls” that hasn’t already been said. From the amazing intro, to the fantastic bass playing of the late Cliff Burton, to the subject matter of the lyrics, there is a reason why no METALLICA show is complete without this one. I’ve seen them six times and this song never fails to incite the masses, me included. I remember being at Nassau Coliseum in February of 1989, standing there in utter disbelief that I was in the same room as these Thrash Metal Gods while they played it. “Fade to Black” will always be one of my all-time favorites in the METALLICA catalog. In 1987 I was only a few months removed from the death of my father. And while I tried to put on a brave face for my Mother, I alternated between being mad at the world and crying in my room almost every night. This song really helped me navigate those troubled waters of being a teenager without a father. That may not make sense to some of you, but it was very therapeutic for me. End side one.
One of the faster songs with some serious punk attitude is “Trapped Under Ice”. It’s relatively short for a METALLICA song but it still hits with the force of a boxer’s uppercut. Now, a lot of people don’t like “Escape” for some reason. Me I could never get enough of that chorus. Is it catchier than the rest of their stuff at the time? Sure it is, but I just loved it. Hell, I still do! Listening to it as I type this is bringing back fun memories of me and Joe hanging out in our respective rooms blaring this album on our turntables, or walking to 7-11 singing this one over and over. OR…Joe being foolish enough to get into a shopping cart we found and let me push him!! “I’m just dandy!” were his words after the wipeout.
And now for arguably one of the greatest songs in this Bay Area band’s whole discography, “Creeping Death” another must-have at live shows. This was the opener at Big Four and the stadium went completely batshit! “DIE! DIE! DIE!” chants were everywhere and it was every bit as powerful then as it was at the ’89 show. Describing the Plague of the Death of the Firstborn (Exodus 12:29) the lyrics discuss the ten plagues on Egypt, mentioning four of them as well as the Passover. Closing the record is another fine instrumental track in “The Call of Ktulu” which also features some Mustaine writing. It shows just how multi-layered this band is/was due to the journey it takes you on from start to finish. As I stated earlier METALLICA is one of those ‘Where were you when you first heard?” type of bands. Well Ride the Lightning is 100% a “Where were you when you first heard it?!?” album. It is also one of the best thrash albums to come out…period. End of story. ~dc