Why Ride The Lightning is Metallica’s Best Album


Metallica Ride the Lightning

Photo: By Saad Faruque from Bangalore, India (James Hetfield) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

How time flies And speaking of how time flies let’s celebrate the thirty eight year anniversary of “Ride The Lightning” by discussing whether this is the best Metallica album ever recorded!

Ride The Lightning marked the important maturation of the band’s musical style. One major reason for this is the replacement of former Metallica bassist Dave Mustaine by Cliff Burton. Burton’s contribution to the songwriting process led Metallica members to experiment with different tempos and song structures.

While their first studio album Kill ‘Em All sounded more like an angst thrash garage band record, Ride The Lightning had remarkably more mature, calmer thrash sounds, closer to the sounds of their thrash Gods counterparts Slayer, Anthrax and Megadeth.

Ride The Lightning also has some of the group’s most melodic songs ever, most notably Fade To Black, For Whom The Bell Tolls, and Creeping Death. Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich (man, do I love his drumming) also became remarkably more mature in his control and variation of the beats in this album compared to Kill ‘Em All.

The lyrics in this album are as usual haunting, aggressive, sometimes passive-aggressive, and dark. Metallica frontman James Hetfield recalled losing his favorite Marshall head cabinet in a robbery, which inspired his woeful lyrics in Fade To Black, his first ballad ever:

“Life it seems will fade away     

Drifting further everyday

Getting lost within myself

Nothing matters no one else…”

That’s surely not the worst it can get. Listen to Creeping Death and tell me you don’t feel a funny sensation going down your spine when the Metallica members chanted “Die! Die! Die” as if they were possessed.

Metallica sounded a whole world more mature in Ride The Lightning compared to their debut album, Kill ‘Em All. Cliff Burton’s knowledge on music theory and guitar harmony contributed tremendously to Kirk Hammett and James Hetfield’s signature duo-guitar solo tone. According to LoudWire, Burton showed Hammett and Hetfield how basic guitar harmony worked, and how to augment core notes with complementary counter-melodies to enhance their guitar solos.

Cliff Burton himself contributed to the group’s evolution in style and sound. By playing with his fingers instead of using a pick, he allowed for more fluid and seamless bass lines.

The band’s maturity is also evident in the combination of skillful acoustic rhythms and shredding electric solos, such as in Fight Fire With Fire and Fade To Black. Fade To Black has my favorite Metallica intro ever, combining delicate acoustic tunes with a subtle change in colors from dark to almost sarcastically bright, followed by a firm and crisp electric entrance. Finally, Hetfield’s seemingly aloof and emotionless vocals topped it off just perfectly.

The Call Of Ktulu also had an amazing intro with a shredding distorted wah sound joking along a nice and clean melodic rhythm, followed by a flawless key change further along the instrumental track. I must say the appropriately applied contrast between light and dark, clean and distorted, innocent and twisted is what amazes me the most about Ride The Lightning.

Final words

I personally think Ride The Lightning is simply the best Metallica album ever recorded. Its sound marked the full maturity and the official entry of the Metallica signature tone. It was the band’s way of announcing they were not just a thrash band, but one of the best bands the world had ever seen.


Fight Fire With Fire

Ride The Lightning

For Whom The Bell Tolls

Fade To Black

Trapped Under Ice


Creeping Death

Call Of Ktulu

Why Ride The Lightning is Metallica’s Best Album article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022

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