Early “Ride the Lightning” Review

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Sorry I haven’t posted in a while! I’ve been hard at work on other things in my life (like starting to write my dissertation). I have a research project about Metallica that is gradually making some progress, though, because I’ve spent a fair amount of time scouring the internet for interviews with the band and reviews of their early releases and performances. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to find as many sources from the early- and mid-1980s as I had hoped for—that is, until I put a search into Jason Netherton’s incredible fanzine archive Send Back My Stamps! which has a number of German zines with articles about Metallica dating from 1984 or 1985. I think part of the reason I had missed these until now is that I was searching in English. Also, where else on the internet can you find scans of photocopied amateur metal zines from thirty years ago? Really, there is nowhere else. Thanks to Jason Netherton for putting together such an amazing resource!

Logo from the cover of Speed Attack #2 (1985). For the whole of issue #1, see

Logo from the cover of Speed Attack #2 (1985). For all of issue #1, where this review came from, see <https://sendbackmystamps.org/2013/10/16/speed-attack-1-germany-1984-auf-deutsch>

What follows is my own transcription and translation of a review by “Peter” appearing in the German fanzine Speed Attack #1 (1984). This review is remarkable for very frankly stating some of the fan arguments about “Fade to Black” and other melodic/acoustic Metallica songs that Glenn T. Pillsbury describes in his 2006 book Damage, Inc.: Metallica and the Production of Musical Identity. I’d been looking for primary source evidence1 of how immediate the critical opinion had formed that this album was too melodic and not heavy enough for thrash… and now I don’t need to look any further! This 1984 review couldn’t have come out more than six months after the album was released in July of that year, which for my purposes is close enough to an immediate critical response.

Enjoy reading this slice of history! And I hope you can excuse my less-than-expert German translation skills. Comments and critique are welcome. 🙂

An acoustic guitar opens the new Metallica LP “Ride the Lightning”—but then the band continues more in the style of “Kill ‘Em All”, as the opener “Fight Fire With Fire” burns through the speakers. I begin already to settle down for a real Metallikill Massacre….

But next is the title song, which is indeed impressive, but for Metallica’s standards it is much too melodic (…but not commercial!….). This is more due to Hetfield’s singing, this time2 lacking in aggressiveness and roughness, than to thick solos that are are available in abundant quantities [throughout the album]. Bells ring and a long, strange guitar passage introduces “Form Whom The Bells Toll.” This turns out to be an especially heavy number that would not have been harmed by a bit more liveliness. “Fade to Black” begins slow, with an acoustic guitar again audible in the background, accompanying the vocals. I also like this number a lot, although I was expecting more of a Metallikill.

Now to the second side: “Trapped Under Ice” is a real headbanger, where Kirk Hamnett [sic] really pounds on the guitar.3 “Escape” is again too melodic—but in some way unique, in that it reminds me in parts of Manowar. The next track “Creeping Death” satisfies me wholely and completely (I only ask myself, why in the right in the middle of it they abruptly play the Refrain from Exodus’s “Die By His Hand—when Exodus can do it much better…). This unusually long LP (48 min!!!) is brought to a close by the instrumental “The Call of Ktulu”—where Metallica have worked together portions of their classic “When Hell Freezes Over” with new ideas. In this track the bass lies very much in the foreground, which makes my conclusion4 : Hardcore Thrashers5 will be a bit disappointed, that this album is lacking in rawness; still this masterwork is most warmly recommended.

Original German:

Eine akkustische Gitarre eröffnet die neue Metallica LP “Ride the Lightning” — doch dann geht es ab, wie zu “Kill Em All” Zeiten, denn der Opener “Fight Fire With Fire” fetzt durch die Boxen. Ich beginne mich schon auf ein wahres Metallikill Massacre einzustellen…….

Doch dann folgt der Titelsong, der zwar super ist (was sonst) aber für Metallica’s Verhältnisse viel zu melodisch (…nein nicht kommeziell!….). Das liegt aber hauptsächlich an Hetfield’s Gesang, dem diesmal die Aggressivität und Rauheit fehlen, denn fette Solos sind in genügender Anzahl vorhanden. Glocken geläute und ein langes, geiles Gitarrenintro leiten “For Whom The Bells Toll” ein. Hierbei handelt es sich um eine betont schwere Nummer der etwas mehr Spritzigkeit nich geschadet hätte. “Fade To Black” beginnt langsam, im Hintergrund is wider eine akkustische Gitarre zu hören, die den Gesangsteil begleitet. Auch diese Nummer gefällt mir wieder sehr gut, doch hátte ich etwas mehr von Metallikill erwartet.

Nun zur zweiten Seite: “Trapped Under Ice” ist ein wahrer Headbanger, bei dem Kirk Hamnett [sic] die Gitarre wieder richtig schrubbt. “Escape” ist wieder zu melodisch — aber irgendwie einzigartig, ja es erinnert mich teilweise sogar an Manowar. Das folgende “Creeping Death” gefällt mir wieder voll und ganz (nur frage ich mich, warum mittendrin plötzlich der Refrain von Exodus ‘Die By His Hand” gespielt wird — denn das können Exodus nun wirklich besser…). Den Abschluẞ dieser ungewöhnlich langen LP (48 min!!!) bildet das insturmentale “The Call of Ktulu” — dort haben Metallica Teile ihres Klassikers “When Hell Freezes Over” mit neuen Ideen verarbeitet. Bei diesem track steht der Bass sehr im Vordergrund, dich ist Fazit: Hardcore Trasher werden etwas entäuscht sein, da es an Rauheit fehlt; trotzdem ist dieses Meisterwerk wärmstens zu empfehlen.

  1. Pillsbury certainly should not be criticized for neglecting to provide more primary source evidence. I don’t see how he possibly could have found this article in 2006, short of making a long-distance phone call to every metalhead in Germany. []
  2. As opposed to Hetfield’s wild and unrestrained sceaming on the previous album, Kill ‘Em All. []
  3. The original German is “schrubben,” which means “to scrub.” This literal translation isn’t very idiomatic in English, so I replaced it with “pounds.” []
  4. By mixing the bass more prominently, it could be argued that Metallica is making the sound less noisy and less “hardcore thrash.” []
  5. The author of this review uses the common Germanic-language misspelling “Trash” instead of the original English term “Thrash”. []

One thought on “Early “Ride the Lightning” Review

  1. Simon Migliano

    This was really enlightening! No pun intended, hah. Great work on unearthing that review and translating it. It’s always a thought in the back of my mind that history tends to get revised and then accepted as reality, especially where cultural consensus is concerned, so it’s great to see some true primary evidence. RTL is my favourite record of all time, so enjoyed this very much. Thanks.

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