Monday, June 29, 2009
RIDE THE LIGHTNING
Nothing summons memories of fall 1984 more quickly for me than this album. Having a morning cig with this blasting through the halls of my high school seems a lifetime away, though. I had bought the cassette while on a trip with my parents to settle the estate of a family member. Kitchener, Ontario seemed to have the right population of metal-heads, so there was no problem locating a record store that stocked the precious item. The place smelled like leather and hash oil. Found Anvil's first release that day, too.
This is a response to a long overdue request by a great friend and fellow practitioner of acoustic metal and aggressive folk.
Topping themselves with an incredible second disc was a coup for Metallica, who were gaining a large, appreciative fan base without the assistance of gratuitous airplay on radio or MTV. Monstrous as a live act, they breathed new life into the genre of speed metal. Overnight, many bands stopped in their tracks to listen in awe, then quickly revise their whole approach to the form. This revolution was still an underground party at the time, yet to be fully understood by those who were enthralled by the mindless confections that clogged co-axial cables leading to most every TV in the eighties.
James Hetfield just wasn't much of a dancer.
If you liked your "heavy" performed at the speed of light, then there was no better opener than "Fight Fire With Fire". I remember trying to count it off while marveling at the intensity of Lars Ulrich's playing. For this alone, he deserves that gold plated shark tank bar set up next to his pool. The guitar tones achieved by Hammet and Hetfield were purely violent.
Cliff Burton demonstrated that it wasn't necessary to merely hold down the bottom end. The memorable opening bass figure that explodes into the heavy, Jaws-like "For Whom the Bell Tolls" is a masterstroke. Along with "Creeping Death", this remains an all time, personal favorite out of everything they thrashed.
In their youth, "we're gonna slow things down a little now" meant "Fade to Black" which starts out like a song that your parents might approve of, gets slightly darker and ends with a riff that's more evil than a bus load of school kids careening off of a cliff. Razor sharp triplets break off into a harmonized finale, complete with shredding into the fade. The thrash equivalent of "Stairway to Heaven"? I think so.
Unlike some of their contemporaries, they managed to write epic, multi part themes that were focused enough to keep you interested. Hetfield's singing had a definite bite, though he never dropped melody in favor of the "Cookie Monster" vocal style. This would ultimately widen their fan base, drawing in serious musos with the casual listeners. Twin leads, tightrope act rhythm section, and killer tunes all performed with precision. It just didn't get any better than this.
Ending with a killer instrumental ("The Call of Ktulu"), their masterpiece goes out in style with not one minute of filler to be found. Taking chances at every turn, Ride the Lightning is the work of four musicians who are beyond inspired, redesigning the blueprint laid down by their predecessors. Subsequent output would not come up to the standards set here (Master of Puppets comes closest). Cliff Burton's death left a huge void as well. By the mid nineties, they would be reduced to near parody, creatively, though they still remained a force on stage.