Sooner or later I knew this time would come, a day to write about "Ride The Lightning", Metallica's second record, and one that changed my life forever. It feels almost blasphemous to write about a record my words could never do justice for but in a moment of inspiration it feels like now is a better time than never. As a young teen searching for something different to MTV's narrative I found a show listing great records on VH1. Two caught my attention, N.W.A.'s "Straight Outta Compton" and this one. "Fade To Black" swept over my hears as the dark acoustic, sombre guitars evolved into a racket of furious energy controlled by Hetfield's masterful rhythm guitar and youthful, slightly out of depth voice, the track evolving into a flood of serene, pensive color as each note of Hammet's enigmatic solos fall like drops of rain. I was blown away, and couldn't put this record down. I used to play it back to back with AC DC's "Back In Black", it was always my favorite of the two, and the excitement it gave me then I still feel today fifteen years later. It posses an interesting question about the bonds you make with the music your first exposed too, but that could not dismiss the stunningly imaginative and down to earth record this is.
Now legends, then a band with a fair amount of attention releasing their sophomore album, RTL came at a time when Speed Metal was seen as a passing fad and the glory days of Heavy Metal were over, but alas this record would set them on a path to bring Thrash Metal to huge audiences but for Metallica this is an ever so important part of their evolution, shedding the Speed Metal scenes aesthetic, attitude and traits of "Kill Em All" and taking their speed and technique to a dynamic, structured dark sound met with deep and meaningful lyricism that gave their Metal music a very grounded, relevant and emotional basis to relate to, as opposed to the heavily thematic and fantasy driven styles of past. This was the first album where Hammet was involved in the songwriting, his distinct leads giving their sound a whole new dimension as well as Hetfield defining his direction as a rhythm guitarist, stepping away from the Mustaine's style so dominant on the predecessor.
Where RTL gets faster, it also broods and molds as riffs find a relation to the bigger picture. Fast and thrashy tremolo picking finds its place with slower chord driven moments to create songs with a lot of direction and meaning. As the dark, fast pounding numbers thrash onwards they create a menacing soundtrack for Hetfields apprehensions with judicial systems, suicide and biblical slaughter. His voice forceful and vibrant, yet pushing himself in ways that leave a slightly sheepish undertone in the moments that stretch his ability, its a charming performance, haunting on "Fade To Black" and one that shows he can fill big shoes.
The record doesn't loose its focus for a moment before ending with the lengthy instrumental progressive climactic "The Call Of The Ktulu" showcasing the records aesthetic through cold, punishing guitars, Hammet's lightning leads and Burton's monstrous distortion bass rocking under riffs that lead to a mighty finale fit with lightning strikes and a riff that will always leave you yearning for more. As much could be said for every track on this record which makes its mark with such unique, undefinable qualities in the songwriting and structure that have helped the band build an audience of fans who simply can't stop screaming "Die!" to "Creeping Death", a song played at practically every concert.
Although RTL feels like the perfect record, there is one qualm I always have, Ulrich, certainly not a prolific drummer, his sloppy bass pedals and sometimes struggling performances have a certain charm to them, yet there is rarely a moment where his drumming stands aloud and grabs your attention. He is far from inadequate, and compliments Hetfield well, but often leaves me wondering if someone else could of done it better. Its not a criticism, just a curiosity, and with that said I do enjoy his choices, especially the bass and cymbal thump to the punch moments of the guitar. It will forever be a record I love, and one with a true air of magic and experience that can't be expressed with words. Its cathartic for me, an album that opened me to a new world of music, one that I couldn't do without. Metallica have been massively influential on fans and musicians around the globe, and for me "Ride The Lightning" is where their genius shines its brightest.