August 7, 2014
By Carlo Valladares
‘Riding the Lightning’
Metallica’s second album, “Ride the Lightning,” turned 30 years old last month, and is still regarded by many as one of the best thrash metal records of all time. Many of its songs have been staples of Metallica’s live sets for decades. After “Ride the Lightning,” Metallica went on to sell out venues; they spearheaded the thrash metal explosion of the mid to late 80s with others bands such as Slayer, Anthrax and Megadeth.
Yet when the members of Metallica entered the studio to record their sophomore record in February 1984, they were just happy to be able to record another album, and could not have predicted its success and enduring popularity. The album went on to become certified platinum six times. Needless to say, the band did not suffer from a “sophomore slump.”
The band members flew to Copenhagen, Denmark to record the album, and picked Sweet Silence Studios to lay down the recording because it was cheaper to record there. Denmark is also Ulrich’s native country.
“We were really broke,” drummer Lars Ulrich said in a July 28, 2014 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, describing their financial and living conditions when they recorded the album. “We had to live day to day,” Ulrich described. “A friend literally gave us his apartment to stay in while we were recording.” Ulrich said that he and James [Hetfield] shared the bedroom while Kirk [Hammett] and Cliff [Burton] shared a couch.
Prior to recording, Metallica had just finished touring for their first record, “Kill Em’ All.” All four band members were in their early 20s and were experiencing a bit of homesickness during the recording process in Copenhagen. “It was three American guys and a Danish guy. It was easy for the Danish guy to fit in, but it wasn’t so easy for the three American guys to fit in. We were experiencing culture shock a little bit,” guitarist Hammett told Rolling Stone.
To add to the culture shock, their equipment was stolen in Boston before the band left for Europe. Producer of “Ride the Lightning,” Flemming Rasmussen, recalled the process of finding Marshall amps, Hetfield’s preferred amplifier brand, that Hetfield could use to record in an interview with Rolling Stone.
“We had to get all the Marshall amps from some of the metal bands that were in Denmark at that time, so like nine Marshall amps, and spent the first day testing them. We actually recreated James’ guitar sound on Kill ‘Em All, but just beefed it up,” Rasmussen said. “He was really pleased with that.”
‘Fight Fire with Melody’
Metallica entered the studio with three new songs that contained a more melodic approach to thrash metal, a genre that Metallica cemented into the history of rock ‘n’ roll with “Kill em’ All.” Although some fans labeled them as sellouts upon hearing these songs due to their slower tempos and melodic sound, it’s silly to think about now because “Fade to Black, “Escape” and For Whom the Bell Tolls” defined what Metallica was and would become.
“Fade to Black,” is a power ballad, a song so melodic and catchy that its guitar solo by Hammett was placed at number 24 on the 100 Best Solos Ever Reader’s Choice in the September 1998 issue of Guitar World. The breakdown in the song is when the jam really kicks in; it’s a heavy yet emotional bridge that displays Metallica’s knack for melody. When Hetfield belts out, “Yesterday seems as though it never existed, Death greets me warm, now I will just say goodbye,” you can’t help but get chills.
“For Whom the Bell Tolls,” was inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s novel of the same name that dealt with modern warfare and the horrors that come along with it. The song is famous for its slow head banging tempo throughout but especially for its recognizable introduction that was written by Burton. Although Burton was tragically killed during a bus accident on September 27, 1986, his legacy lives through this killer intro.
“Escape,” is a poppy song, compared to the rest of Metallica’s catalogue at the time; nonetheless it is a good one. It contains all that ingredients of a thrash metal song, with heavy use of low-e palm muted strumming. The chorus, however, is a melodic one that resembles the direction of the two other songs. “Escape” has only been played live once. It was performed in Atlantic City, New Jersey on June 23, 2012. In the same Rolling Stone interview Hammett explained why, “It’s in the key of “A,” like “The Call of Ktulu” and “Metal Militia,” but the key of “A” doesn’t really work well for us for some reason or another. Playing that song was more of a novelty than anything else, but we loved playing all the other songs.”
The album has aged well, AllMusic has given the album five out of five stars, while IGN Music placed “Ride the Lightning” at number five on their “Top 25 Metal Albums” list. “Ride the Lightning” is a huge achievement, a record that will continue to please new and old listeners for years to come. Six times platinum, people, six times.
The ‘Ride’ Isn’t Over
Metallica’s career isn’t over yet, they are getting ready to release a new record in 2015, vocalist-guitarist Hetfield just turned 51 on August 3, and the band just did a parody on ESPN’s spot ‘This is SportsCenter.’