“Slaves. Hebrews born to serve, to the Pharaoh. Heed. To his every word, live in fear. Faith. Of the unknown one, the deliverer. Wait. Something must be done, four hundred years”
For as long as I can remember people have been debating the sound of Metallica’s music and their musical direction. The band caused controversy and upset in 2008 when they released their “clipping wars” album Death Magnetic, even leading the album to feature in a BBC radio documentary that suggested the album’s “alternative mix” in the popular video game Guitar Hero Metallica was proof the band had tampered with their own sound. There was backlash over St Anger, an album which drummer Lars Ulrich was quoted as saying was “the album Metallica needed to make to survive” and yet didn’t sit right with fans. In 1996 fans complained about the direction of music in Load and in 1988 complained about the lack of bass on And Justice for All. And that’s before we’ve even mentioned their self titled “black” album from 1991.
The longer Metallica have continued to make music, the more controversial their fans have seemed to be about it, yet I’d wager there are only a handful of “original” fans left. Those who were standing on the front line when the band released their debut album Kill Em All in 1983. A mere ten months after the release of their album, Metallica had recorded its follow up in Denmark, an album in which the band broadened its approach by employing acoustic guitars, extended instrumentals, and more complex harmonies. The result? 1984’s Ride The Lightning.
Now hailed as a masterpiece of modern metal, it’s perhaps easy to forget that this album attracted almost as much criticism from “fans” as St Anger had in 2003, those who had already accused the band of selling out. On the other hand the musical press were quick to commend the album for it’s maturity and depth from a band who hadn’t long since released their debut record. Part of this credit must go to Cliff Burton, the bands bassist, whose study of music and composition was heavily influential in teaching the band more about the music they played and gave Burton a more pivotal role in writing for the album. It’s his subsequent death, just two years after this album was released, that is perhaps the biggest tragedy of all as we review the 2016 reissue.
Released on Metallica’s own ‘Blackened Recordings’ with a gate fold sleeve and mini vinyl quality, there is unfortunately nothing particularly special about this release. It is a real shame that Metallica included none of the demo material from larger box sets on the standard …Lightning re-release, likewise both the linear notes and CD art are carbon copies of the original, giving us nothing new to look at and no new retrospective from a band (or one band member, at least) who are usually very eager to reflect on their material. It’s highly probable that if you’re a Metallica fan you’ll own a copy of this album already, so no new incentive (beyond that of the highly priced box set alternative) seems rather unusual.
Re-listening to this album it’s easy to see why Kerrang! Magazine gave Metallica their first UK cover story in December 1984, as tracks like ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’, ‘Fade To Black’ and ‘Creeping Death’ are some of the most well written thrash songs ever composed. Infectious, powerful and harmonious the sound of this remaster is extremely clear and crisp, with it obvious that the up most care has been taken, to preserve the sound of the original recording. With that said, there is only so much that can be done, meaning that perhaps only the strictest of audiophiles will have something to shout about.
The real joy in this issue is coming to terms with tracks such as ‘Trapped Under Ice’ and even the self loathed ‘Escape’, songs that have plagued Metallica for decades, either as parodies of themselves or have simply failed to become the live staple of a track like ‘Nothing Else Matters’ or ‘Enter Sandman’. When reviewing certain tracks in this way it’s a chance to take another look at songs that serve almost as their own B-Sides within an album, lost and forgotten in the shadow of their more famous brothers and sisters. Whether you consider them silent gems of the Metallica catalog or just whether you’d rather they stayed that bit more silent is completely up to you. But it just remains to be said that from ‘Fight Fire with Fire’ to ‘Call of Ktulu’ this album remains one of the strongest jewels Metallica have, even if that misspelling is going to piss off an entire new generation of fans.