Metallica’s Ride the Lightening may just be the best album ever created by the popular heavy metal group, and here’s why.
By Joha Grant
“For a hill, men would kill. Why? They do not know.” These are lines from Metallica’s song “For Whom The Bell Tolls”. The song is about how soldiers are sent to fight in wars that are forgotten, just numbers, statistics. Pretty profound for a heavy metal band, don’t you think? Actually, it’s not that uncommon, especially for Metallica. On their album Ride the Lightning, Metallica addresses topics from depression, to forgotten soldiers, to the flaws in capital punishment. Not only are the lyrics profound, but the music fully engulfs a person in this world of sound that the band has created. This album is truly a work of art, as it paints a picture that surrounds you.
The lyrics in this album are some of Hetfield’s best work in my opinion. The way that he can express complex ideas, often through someone else’s point of view, is astounding to an aspiring songwriter. The entirety of the title track on this album is spent in the point of view from a person about to be executed by electric chair (Hence the title, Ride the Lightning). The lyrics paint a picture of the scene where this person is “strapped in the electric chair”, and reveals all the thoughts running through their head. Emotions from guilt, anger, and fear are shown throughout the song. At one point the person is saying to “just get it over with, if this is true just let it be”. This line always sticks out to me, because it truly makes me feel what the person in this song is feeling. Becoming accepting of the inevitable death as it draws nearer and nearer. The line has also made me really ponder over what I would be thinking if I was in this person’s situation. Overall, the song really puts you in the shoes of this person perfectly and paints this world where you are totally encapsulated by the feelings that are being expressed. Of course, none of it would matter if the music wasn’t of the same quality.
The instrumentation on this album is what truly makes it a classic for any heavy metal enthusiast. The riffs are some of the best in the Metallica arsenal. From the thrashy sound of “Fight Fire with Fire” (calling back on their Kill Em’ All days), to the melodic feel of “Fade to Black”. That melodic sound would become a Metallica staple. The production of this album is some of the best I’ve ever heard. Why does it sound so good? The way that the album was recorded would be my best guess. There are multiple layers of guitar tracks and guitar harmonies. When I hear it, it’s like I’m in a room full of speakers and the only thing that matters is the song. All the problems of the world just melt away and I focus on the music. No matter what’s going on, it encapsulates you. The thing that makes Ride the Lightning great is the production, as well as the music itself. The way everything fits together makes this album a must listen not just for metalheads, but for anyone looking for some escape from the world.
All in all, Ride the Lightning is one of the best records in the Metallica discography. The lyrics are poetic and truly convey emotions and feelings that most have trouble putting into words. They also speak out against the unjust systems in the U.S. while still telling a story that paints a picture, a story that makes you feel something. The instrumentation is complex and layered with guitar parts. There is never a single moment in the album when you don’t hear a guitar. In my opinion, Ride the Lightning is the best album in Metallica’s history, and possibly in the history of metal. It’s my favorite album and has my favorite song (“Fade to Black”) as track number four. This album is a must listen for any fan of rock, metal, or someone just looking for some quality songwriting. So, take a listen. And you better hurry, because “Time is like a fuse, short and burning fast”.