Why Ride the Lightning Is Metallica's Most Influential Album
Metallica's seminal second album, Ride the Lightning, turned 30 years old this year, which I think is amazing. To be honest, I don't keep up much with anniversaries and such; I celebrated St. Anger's 10th anniversary last year because it was funny to me, but to quote "For Whom the Bell Tolls," time marches on. I don't think much of it.
However, amid all the retrospectives regarding Ride the Lightning's big anniversary, one thing has stood out to me: the album's lasting influence, perhaps greater now than ever before. I could go on and on about the album and Metallica, but it's all been said before. What of where Ride the Lightning stands in the public consciousness in 2014?
All of Metallica's records have had a huge impact to a varying degree that surely you can find entire subgenres based around each one. Maligned as they were, even Load and Reload inspired hard-rock radio bands for years to come. I still can't turn on 94.5 The Buzz without hearing either a track from Load or a band copying it.
Yes, even St. Anger has left its mark. We all hated that snare sound, the awful production, etc., yet bands still followed that album's footsteps after its 2003 release. Amazingly, a lot of musicians actually liked the record. Go figure.
But perhaps no other Metallica album is currently inspiring bands more than Ride the Lightning. Over the last few years, the crossover thrash and hardcore scenes have exploded. They have virtually overtaken the metal and punk landscapes, competing only with the emo revival for dominance among what scene kids these days are listening to.
The older crowd reading this may hate scene kids, but they are the ones who determine the future. Like it or not, these crossover thrash and hardcore bands are the ones who are winning the day now, and will be for the next several years. They're the ones that will be called "classic" bands a couple of decades from now.
Bearing that in mind, it's worth looking back on Metallica's influence on the current scene. It may seem weird to think a band who was so driven by "metal" that they put it in their name would ultimately come to influence a large group of hardcore punk bands, but it's easy to hear when putting them side by side.
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Ride the Lightning was unlike even many other thrash-metal records. Yes, it was indebted to many of the same influences, but drew just as much from Bad Brains as it did Venom. Early Metallica was obsessed with hardcore punk; there's a reason they've covered so many Misfits songs.
The biggest thing separating Metallica back then, and Ride the Lightning, from being pure hardcore is that the boys always had a sense of melody and technicality that transcended the genres they were aping. Cliff Burton's classical influences and James Hetfield's country and hard-rock influences surely pushed them in that direction. No hardcore band would have even considered recording "Fade to Black" in 1984.
Yet songs like "Trapped Under Ice" and "Fight Fire with Fire" would be pure hardcore punk songs, right down to Hetfield's screeching punk yells, if not for the blazing fast solos. Bad Brains, another huge influence on crossover thrash and hardcore, were also doing solos, but they were outliers. For the most part, that stuff was forbidden in real, pure hardcore.
That is no longer true, which is where Ride the Lightning fits in today. Listening to currently big hardcore bands like Enabler or Texas' Power Trip, you can hear all the lessons they learned from Ride the Lightning, right down to realizing melody and technicality aren't necessarily bad ideas for punk.
These bands are taking so many ideas from that album, it's crazy. Thirty years on, who would have expected Ride the Lightning to be paving the way for hardcore punk? However, it's happening right before our very ears.
I personally applaud these bands, and I'm astounded by the legacy this album has 30 years on. If I had one complaint, it's that many of them still are unable to see the value of recording a song like "Fade to Black," which is almost a necessity in my opinion to break up the monotony of constant crushing hardcore riffs. Metallica figured that out early, and got called sellouts for it at the time. I'd love to see some of these very talented new bands "sell out" in the same way, if it meant more great songs in that vein.
Nevertheless, Ride the Lightning remains one of the biggest and most vital albums for the modern hardcore scene. It's a true testament to Metallica's brilliance, even after so many years, that they continue to inspire new musical subgenres and movements with albums they made when they were barely old enough to drink.
Here's to 30 years of Ride the Lightning, and it's continuing dominance. Influence or not, it's just a great fucking record.
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