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Metallica – Ride The Lightning (Album Review)

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Metallica – Ride The Lightning (Album Review)

For as long as I can remember, Ride The Lightning has been one of my favourite Metallica albums and despite their long legacy that continues to amaze some and disappoint others, Ride The Lightning remains timeless and is just as compelling now as the first time I heard it when I purchased the CD in the 90s.

Yes, those of you older than I would likely have memories dating back to the album’s release in 1984, on vinyl, but alas at the age of 5, Metallica was yet to appear on my radar for no one in my family would have even heard of the band and even if they had, it is highly doubtful that they would have approved for my beloved Guns N’ Roses collection, that I accumulated in the 90s, was banned in my home and I was forced to sell all their albums. One day I’ll tell you that story, dear reader, but despite the passage of three decades, the pain is still with me, even though as an adult I have replaced the records. Nevertheless, later on, as the #MP3isawesome era took off, I stupidly ripped my copy of Ride The Lightning (the 1996 reissue on Vertigo/Mercury - Cat: 838 140-2) and sold it on eBay. I honestly can’t recall the sound quality of that CD, but I recall fondly of listening to it on repeat for hours; Ride The Lightning really is that good!

Fast forward a couple of decades and as I started to rebuild my physical library, I picked up a copy of Ride The Lightning on vinyl; it’s the Blackened Recordings release from 2014, remastered by George Marino at Sterling Sound. Despite the legacy of the band and Marino’s mastering work, I was sure that I would enjoy this release and in some ways I do, but the pressing just isn’t a strong performer. Yes, the thrash elements come through loud and clear and everything is where it should be in the mix but it is very concealed; almost as though a blanket is covering the speakers. It really lacks from both soundstage and depth perspectives as the sound emanates from the speakers, rather than the speakers disappearing as the studio layout is virtually and sonically presented in the room. Unfortunately, it doesn’t change when listening via headphones and I can say, without a doubt, that mono recordings have a greater sense of scope than this vinyl pressing does.

Interestingly, the 2016 remaster that is available as a Mastered for iTunes edition, on both iTunes and Apple Music, is exceptional. To say I am smitten by this stream would be an understatement. It sounds exactly how it should; ultimately delivering a captivating performance that the vinyl release simply can’t achieve. Yes, as with my other early Metallica records, I will need to look into replacing the 2014 editions with the post-2016 counterparts; a shame considering I paid good money for a lacklustre pressing and selling them will yield next to no return. Of course, I could just stick with the Apple Music stream as it doesn’t disappoint. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, Metallica should be ashamed of the 2014 vinyl pressings on their own label, Blackened Recordings, as the sound quality just isn’t there and those cheap rice paper sleeves infuriate me as they do little to protect the record and add scuff marks to the surface.

Despite the lacklustre audio performance of the 2014 record, the artwork and liner notes are beautifully replicated, even if my edition got a little banged up in the shipping of the record, thanks to an overzealous postie who used my record for frisbee practice.

Side One

Fight Fire With Fire is a killer intro. That acoustic-styled introduction never gets old and as it builds to the crescendo, you know you’re in for a treat. This is thrash metal 101 and I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I love it.

Ride The Lightning flows beautifully from the explosion that closed Fight Fire With Fire. That guitar riff is absolutely amazing. Get your air guitars out, ladies and gentlemen, for you will need them. That mid-song shift is off-the-charts and while the vinyl record doesn’t present the drum tracking well, the Apple Music stream sure does and the depth is mesmerising. Metallica’s music doesn’t get much better than this and the final elements of the song are so good that there really are no words to adequately describe the experience for you really need to experience it for yourself.

For Whom The Bell Tolls is EPIC!

Fade To Black has an interesting country twang to it, that is before the electric guitar riff takes the song to a completely different level. Although, as long-time listeners of this album would note, the song returns to the semi-acoustic element throughout. It’s a masterful composition and Fade To Black is one song, on Ride The Lightning, that truly showcases the dexterity of not only Metallica’s musicality but Hetfield’s vocal capabilities. Fade To Black is the perfect song to close out Side One of the vinyl record as you’re left wanting more. 

Side Two

Trapped Under Ice launches Side Two in a similar manner as Fight Fire With Fire opened the album. While not as strong as the leading track, this is no filler B-Side but I do find the soundstage is a little concealed and the guitar elements aren’t as prominent as they should be thereby preventing the mind from attaching itself to a single groove and rocking out. This is relevant for the Apple Music stream as well. Yes, perhaps I should focus on the bass and drum elements, but there is a guitar riff that is screaming to take centre stage but isn’t strong enough to invoke the air guitar within the listener.

Escape is a song that some may class as a filler track, but when you’ve got such songs as Ride The Lightning, For Whom The Bell Tolls, and Fade To Black on the same record, one or two tracks have to take a backseat. Without those aforementioned tracks, however, this would be a AAA song and I thoroughly enjoy it. That escape siren towards the end of the song is a nice touch!

Creeping Death is fantastic and constantly evolving. Every element is perfect and it’s one of the best songs on the album.

The Call Of Ktulu is pure gold and is one of the greatest songs Metallica, or anyone, has ever recorded. I love it, but the best rendition I’ve ever heard is the live performance from their legendary S & M concert.

Overall, Ride The Lightning is one of the greatest thrash metal records ever released and hasn’t aged at all. There isn’t a B-Side to be heard and while I’d recommend you steer clear of the 2014 vinyl reissue, later reissues tend to be favoured by fans. That said, I can’t help but wonder if it’s a case of once bitten twice shy as I’m not breaking any speed records to obtain another edition of this album as the Apple Music stream is, honestly, extraordinary. I’d hate to have finally found a version I love, only to be disappointed if the vinyl release didn’t at least match the performance of the stream. Of course, I’ve been disappointed before with Metallica’s reissues, but I do have to say that all the album pressings following the eponymous Metallica album sound superb, it is only the early records, predominantly the thrash metal era reissues, that have been disappointing. Nevertheless, if you can find a good, non-2014, copy on vinyl, grab a drink, dim the lights, and ride the lightning for the experience of this album is profound.

Ride The Lightning is available on Vinyl, CD, and iTunes (Mastered for iTunes). Deluxe Box Set editions are also available.

Click here to read other Metallica reviews by Subjective Sounds.  

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Metallica – Kill ‘Em All (Album Review)

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Metallica – Kill ‘Em All (Album Review)

For quite a while I’ve been wondering if I should pick up the Deluxe Box Set of Kill ‘Em All, but as with the other deluxe releases in Metallica’s back catalogue, I haven’t found a compelling reason to do so. That isn’t to say that the box sets aren’t magnificent. They’re certainly worth the money for the most dedicated of fans and while I’ve always thought of myself in that regard, I am starting to question my dedication to the band that helped get me through the tumultuous teenage years. The 90s, not the 80s. Yes, I came to be a fan of Metallica following their 1991 Self-Titled Black Album and while I also enjoy the Load and Reload era, I respect that a divide exists between fans. That said, I find myself thoroughly enjoying both Metallica’s early thrash albums and their mainstream 90s style that makes so many fans accuse the band of selling out. Hence, I don’t really have a favourite album, they’re all great. Well, maybe not that LuLu collaboration with Lou Reed, but I’m sure we can forgive Metallica for that deviation, can’t we? 

What I would like to see, however, is a box set encompassing all the studio albums, with a lovely hardcovered book detailing Metallica’s career. See, I’m an album guy and while some of the additional content, in the Deluxe Box Sets are interesting, I find that when it comes down to it, I just want to listen to the album as it was originally released rather than listening to everything that was ever recorded. I’ve stayed away from the recent Guns N’ Roses Appetite For Destruction Super Deluxe Edition for that same reason. That said, I would love that 5.1 surround sound High Fidelity Blu-Ray Audio disc to be released separately. I’d buy it in a second. Of course, that isn’t the way the music business wants consumers to consume. They will re-issue Ad nauseam, encouraging us to get the latest edition because it has a new demo that has never been heard before. Look, I’m the first to fall for these gimmicks and truth be told I thoroughly enjoy them, but there’s no denying that being a music lover and a collector is one very expensive hobby. Thankfully, I don’t go to concerts so the money that would have otherwise be allocated to that experience can be repurposed for every new re-issue that I simply must have. Yes, dear reader, it is an addiction. 

While I haven’t made a final decision about the Kill ‘Em All Deluxe Box Set, I’ll probably pick up the 2016 vinyl re-issue as the 2014 Blackened vinyl pressing I own is far from the greatest pressing and is sonically lacklustre. Basically, it just doesn’t sound right. One may wonder what turntable and needle I’m using and if that could be a factor. Well, I can assure you it isn’t. My Pro-ject Debut Carbon is fitted with an Ortofon OM20 needle that otherwise sounds marvellous. Unfortunately, not all vinyl is created equal and this release reminds me of my copy of Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell. The music may be there, but the emotive energy isn’t. I swear terrestrial radio would have more life in it than these two pressings. 

What I find even more disappointing is that these were released via Metallica’s own record label and I seriously question how they got the sound so wrong. The sound is so concealed that it sounds as though thick sheets are covering the speakers. Even if you pump the volume, the entire soundstage is lost and the elemental aspects of the recording, that are present on the TIDAL Hi-Fi stream, are sadly absent from this pressing. That all said, reviews of the 2016 remastering sounds promising, hence my thought of upgrading the edition I own.  

The visual presentation of the 2014 re-issue is a little more appealing, however, but the record is housed in the lousiest rice paper sleeve that could ever be used. I had a similar complaint when I reviewed …And Justice For All. Yes, they are both from the same re-issue era, but it is infuriating to love an album and a band this much and be disappointed by what they are prepared to issue to the fans. Sadly, they’re not the first to allow substandard products to be released and they certainly will not be the last. 

All my quibbles aside, the music is of paramount importance and subsequently as my vinyl edition is flawed, I’ll be basing the rest of the review on the TIDAL Hi-Fi and Apple Music (Mastered for iTunes) streams as both sound incredibly good. Yes, the TIDAL Hi-Fi CD-quality stream sounds more dynamic with greater midrange and bass definition in comparison to the Apple Music stream, but both are significantly better than the 2014 vinyl counterpart. 

SIDE 1

Hit The Lights has that wonderful live feel to it and is the perfect song to open the album with. The revolving drum beat is spacious, and the soundstage is impressive and thoroughly enjoyable. The intensity of the thrashing guitars never lets up and Hetfield’s vocal cords must have been bleeding following this performance. Exceptional!

The Four Horsemen has an incredibly good grinding guitar rhythm that I’ve always enjoyed. While the song is exceptional, I really wish it was an instrumental-only track as I feel Hetfield’s vocal, while superb, gets in the way of the musicality and is too forward in the mix, thereby masking elements of the soundstage that captivate me when his vocal isn’t present. Regardless, The Four Horsemen is one of my all-time favourite Metallica songs and that mid-song tempo shift is masterfully done with a beautiful bass track and a guitar solo that just sings. Spectacular!

Motorbreath isn’t a bad song but I’d class it as a B-side as it lacks rhythmic impact. Yes, it is a quintessential thrash song, but it feels more like a demo and less evolved than many of the other songs on Kill ‘Em All

Jump In The Fire is another favourite of mine. Grab your air guitar if you haven’t already, you’re going to need it. Interestingly, I often mistakenly associate Jump In The Fire with Ride The Lightning. Perhaps there is an underlying correlation between this song and those which appear on Ride the Lightning, but I’ve always found this connection fascinating as this incongruity doesn’t happen with any other Metallica tracks.  

(Anesthesia) – Pulling Teeth is a solid tune but one that I wouldn’t generally listen to outside of the album format. I think, in many respects, this song has had more relevance to fans following Cliff Burton’s passing. That isn’t to diminish the song itself, but if I’m to be completely honest, (Anesthesia) – Pulling Teeth doesn’t add any intrinsic value to Kill ‘Em All. If anything, it acts as an intermission that may have been better suited as the final track on Side One or the opening song on Side Two.

Whiplash is a killer song. That drum beat and bass tracking are superbly deep and the perfect accompaniment to the higher pitched vocal and guitar tuning. While I don’t intend to harp on about the 2014 vinyl re-issue, the aforementioned praise is sadly missing from that release. Thankfully, the TIDAL Hi-Fi CD-quality stream more than adequately makes up for the absence of depth and dynamics.  

SIDE 2

Phantom Lord is sensational. From the very first note, you know you’re in for something special. From my perspective, Phantom Lord has a Motörhead vibe that I truly appreciate. Whether intentional or not, it works extremely well and is one of the most memorable songs on Kill ‘Em All. Plus, that mid-song slowdown is remarkably appealing, as is the guitar solo and hook. What a great song!

No Remorse is a rhythmic powerhouse. I love it! BTW: Am I the only one that hears the influence of Iron Maiden? Think Killers.  

Seek & Destroy is one of the greatest thrash metal songs of all time. Enough said! 

Metal Militia is a solid speed metal song to conclude the album with, but I think I would have preferred it if Seek & Destroy was the final song on the album as Metal Militia plays like a B-side by comparison and while it leaves me wanting more, it just isn’t as good as Seek & Destroy.  

Overall, Kill ‘Em All is a must-own album, just not the 2014 vinyl reissue. The 2016 reissues, however, are well reviewed and if the TIDAL Hi-Fi CD-quality edition is anything to go by, they’re likely the ones to own. Kill ‘Em All, as an album, is non-compromising and rhythmically perfect thrash metal. As far as debuts go, this one Kills ‘Em All! 

Kill ‘Em All is available on VinylCD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes (Mastered for iTunes).

If you prefer streaming, Kill ‘Em All is available on TIDAL Hi-Fi and Apple Music

The Deluxe Editions are also available via all the aforementioned formats. 

Click here to read other Metallica reviews by Subjective Sounds.  

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Metallica – ...And Justice For All (Album Review)

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Metallica – ...And Justice For All (Album Review)

Metallica's ...And Justice For All has been marred with controversy since its release in 1988. While I wouldn’t experience the album until I became captivated by Metallica, following their self-titled (black album) and Load-era releases, I found an instant liking for the raw production of …And Justice For All

Yes, there are those who dislike the album, often due to the minuscule bass element with the new bassist, at the time, Jason Newsted following Cliff Burton's death. However, while I acknowledge the bass is lacking, I look at the album from a different perspective whereby one could suggest the lack of bass emphasis was a fitting tribute to Burton. Subsequently, I don't subscribe to the ...And Justice For Jason memes. While anything is possible, and the release of a super deluxe edition box set may yet reveal the lost bass tracking, I’ll also be content if it is never released. In some way, I feel it wouldn't be the same album. There is an undeniable sonic signature to the album, similar to the rawness of St. Anger, that I admire. Change the mix and you risk changing the magic that is ...And Justice For All.

For this review, I have been listening to the 2014 Blackened Recordings Reissue (BLCKND007-1).

As you would expect, Stephen Gorman's artwork is exquisite on the larger canvas. Although, the green lettering hasn't aged well in my opinion. It always reminds me of Mötley Crüe’s Dr Feelgood cover art as the green tonality is so similar.

While I’d love to say the artwork has been faithfully reproduced, the liner notes in this pressing are available as an extra slip-in sheet, versus being used as vinyl inner sleeves. Instead, we get the most god-awful rice paper sleeves that scuff the vinyl. Seriously, I know these sleeves are cheap to produce, but if you release a premium product, commanding a premium price, you would be best advised to invest a little more in the manufacturing. Perhaps most disappointing is that this is released on the artists' own record label. Metallica has full control over Blackened Recordings, so this cheapness amazes me and is an insult to fans.

Another change that defies explanation is the removal of the album artwork from the centre of the records. We now get a black background with green text. While it doesn't look bad, it doesn't look nearly as good as early pressings in my opinion. Nevertheless, it is all about the music, so let’s check it out.

Side One

Blackened in symphonic metal heaven, as much of Metallica's music is. It’s heavy, raw, and distorted to hell and back, but turn that volume to 11 as it’s really the best way to enjoy this exceptional album starter.

...And Justice For All has a gorgeous acoustic introduction before the metal elements take control. Such a wonderful composition. Despite its length, l’ve never felt the song is self-indulgent and every note is thoroughly appreciated. Plus, that Hammett guitar solo is what air guitar dreams are made of.

Side Two

Eye Of The Beholder has a slow burn to begin with but once the volume hits its peak, and that riff kicks in, it's fantastic. Well, that is until Hetfield starts singing. I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with the vocal presentation on this song and its overly processed nature. That said, the rhythmic chorus is thoroughly addictive and it’s the perfect attitude-fuelled song to listen to when you're pissed off!

One is exceptional!

Side Three

The Shortest Straw is the perfect song, with the perfect tempo, to follow on from One. It’s head-banging gold. You have to love that chorus, one of Hetfield’s best in my opinion.

Harvester Of Sorrow has a killer rhythm, but I have always felt the introduction for the song is just too long. As the first single off the album, it was an interesting choice, especially considering the intro wasn't edited. While I love this song, it simply isn’t single material in my opinion.

The Frayed Ends Of Sanity is demonic. I love it!

Side Four

To Live Is To Die, again, has that gorgeous acoustic element to it. Part of me just wants it to continue every time I listen to the song, but as a fan of Metallica's epic instrumental tracks, I know only too well that they must come to an end. If it wasn’t vinyl, I’d probably put it on repeat. Of course, that isn’t what the artist had in mind when compiling the album.

Dyers Eve is my song. I live for it. It identifies me. It may not be the strongest song on the album, but just as it is a homage to Hetfield's parents, so too is it to mine. There is literally no other song, by any artist, in any genre, that I identify with more. Dyers Eve is textbook thrash metal and while I may have a biased viewpoint, I think it’s fair to declare this as one of Metallica’s best songs and one of their last true thrash masterpieces.

Overall, there isn't a bad song to be found on ...And Justice For All. If you can get past the bass controversy, you're going to find an album that is arguably more riff-driven than any other in history.

Sonically, I would class the vinyl record as adequate. I actually prefer the mastering of the album found on TIDAL Hi-Fi. That doesn't happen often, but despite having a solid soundstage and excellent uncompressed dynamic range, it just isn't as powerful as the digital master. Perhaps my liking for the digital master is due to originally owning the album on CD. Or, perhaps, this vinyl release is just a poor pressing. Regardless, the viewpoint of which edition or format is better is truly subjective. That said, I am looking forward to an upcoming remaster.

...And Justice For All is available on Vinyl, CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC) and iTunes (Mastered for iTunes).

If you prefer streaming, ...And Justice For All is also available on TIDAL Hi-Fi, Spotify, and Apple Music.

Click here to read other Metallica reviews by Subjective Sounds.

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