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.
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.
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.
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