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Metallica Took a Quantum Leap on Ride the Lightning

While Kill 'Em All paved the way, the band's second album gave Metallica their identity

Metallica Ride the Lightning Anniversary
Metallica, photo by Fin Costello/Redferns
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    The first four Metallica albums are among the genre’s most powerful and enduring documents, and while the band’s debut LP, Kill ‘Em All, was a landmark for thrash metal, Ride the Lightning presented a quantum leap in terms of songwriting and structure.

    Kill ‘Em All leaned heavily on elements of boogie beats nabbed from ’70s Judas Priest and the heavy swung feel to fast-paced riffs that Dave Mustaine would eventually take with him to Megadeth, but Ride the Lightning, released July 27th, 1984, almost wholly struck the swung-boogie vibe from its mostly slower-paced riffs, focusing instead on a near neo-classical sense of grandeur plucked more from the pages of groups like Rush, Rainbow, Blue Öyster Cult and even Priest’s more grandiloquent epics than bands like Sweet or even the more rock ‘n’ roll end of hardcore punk, a genre whom the members of the band were vocal fans.

    This change would be inexplicable if not for Kill ‘Em All songs like “Four Horsemen”, “No Remorse”, and “Phantom Lord”, more programmatic tunes that sought to echo the epics-in-miniature of NWOBHM bands like Diamond Head and more obscure groups like Savage. Ride the Lightning tunes like “Fight Fire With Fire” and “Fade to Black” can be seen as evolutions of this stylistic dalliance, elaborating on the sense of atmospherics that were present in those earlier songs compared to the relatively straight-ahead thrashing heavy metal fare of songs like “Whiplash” and “Jump in the Fire”. This shift became the foundational element of almost every track of Ride the Lightning (save for band-hated track “Escape”; more on that one later).

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