Band – Metallica
Line Up –
James Hetfield (Vocals/Guitar)
Kirk Hammett (Guitar)
Cliff Burton (Bass)
Lars Ulrich (Drums)
Year – 1984
Producer – Flemming Rasmussen
Label – Megaforce Records
As a kid growing up, I was blessed to have a myriad of musical influences that have played a huge part in my love of all styles and forms of sound.
None more so than my Uncle James, the man responsible for truly introducing me to a world of music outside of what was playing on the radio. I was 9 years old and starting to develop a taste for the rockier end of the musical spectrum when I had a chance to peruse through the most incredible vinyl collection I’d ever set eyes on. Whilst flicking through I happened upon not one, not two but three copies (all on coloured vinyl) of the 12” of ‘Creeping Death’ by the mighty Metallica. As soon as the needle dropped and the power of the drums and guitars struck me like nothing I’d ever heard before, I was in love.
And then my first true taste of thrash metal hit my ear drums with the fastest riff I’d ever heard. I needed more!! The two b-sides of that single (Diamond Head cover ‘Am I Evil?’ and Blitzkrieg cover ‘Blitzkrieg’) were quickly consumed but where to go next?
This led me to this album, Metallica’s crowning glory and my favourite metal album of all time.
On only their second album they showed levels of progression that didn’t seem possible on their raw, thrashtastic (and totally awesome) debut Kill ‘Em All (1983). Everything on here is taken to the next level – fuller production, complex arrangements but with stronger songwriting making it more accessible, this is the template for the shape of Metallica’s career to come (for better or worse!!).
This still contains a handful of thrash classics (opener ‘Fight Fire With Fire’, ‘Creeping Death’, ‘Trapped Under Ice’) but isn’t afraid to slow the pace, add different textures and allow some of their more classic rock influences (Zeppelin, Queen) to seap in, rather than just Lars’ beloved NWOBHM.
Every member of the band is on top form here. James’ voice has matured in the year between releases, no doubt battle hardened by the relentless gigging the band were undertaking at the time. His guitar playing is exceptional and underrated; being a riff merchant rather than a lead shredder I don’t believe he receives enough credit for how good he truly is. Kirk is at his very best, spraying solos out with a quickness and technique that leave you in total awe but adding melody and nuance that make each solo different and memorable. The solos on ‘Fade To Black’ and ‘Ride The Lightning’ are incredible, the best of his career. The late, great, Cliff Burton played the biggest part in moving Metallica away from straight up speed metal, his influences of everything from classical to punk spurring the band on to experiment and create the epic sounds heard on this record and what would be his swansong, Master Of Puppets (1986). His wah-wah bass intro on ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’ is iconic and showed that a bass player could be more than just part of the rhythm in a metal band.
The often (unfairly) maligned Lars Ulrich also gives his best drum performance ever on this record. Not the greatest technically, he plays with a real passion that fills the songs with an energy and drive and his songwriting/composing skills, alongside Mr. Hetfield, cannot be underestimated. Luckily for him (and us) he chooses to stick to a conventional drum sound on this album, as opposed to the sound of someone using the lid of a tin of quality street as a snare, as heard on some of the LPs to come (shudder, St. Anger (2003)).
No album is perfect and this is no exception. ‘Escape’, the weakest track, unfortunately does feel like filler but one mediocre track and seven good to great to all time classic ones make this as close as it comes.
I have to make a special mention to the track ‘Fade To Black’. My favourite ever Metallica song, the dark subject matter (suicide) is wonderfully handled in the melodic verses before building to a release of power and beauty that contains one of the greatest guitar solos of all time. Simply amazing and if you’ve never heard Metallica before, start here.
This album is Metallica’s masterpiece and I believe all music lovers, not just metal fans can find something to enjoy on this record. I have listened to this every year since 1989 and after countless plays my passion for it has never waned. If you’ve already heard it, you’ll undoubtedly already know where I’m coming from. If it’s your first time, be prepared for what could be the start of an incredible musical journey.
1. Fight Fire With Fire – 8.5/10
2. Ride The Lightning – 9.5/10
3. For Whom The Bell Tolls – 8/10
4. Fade To Black – 10/10
5. Trapped Under Ice – 7.5/10
6. Escape – 5/10
7. Creeping Death – 9.5/10
8. The Call Of Ktulu – 9/10
Overall – 9.5/10
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