Ride the Lightning
Encounter two metal fans of any age in any country on earth and there is one sentence that's guaranteed to provoke an animated debate between them.
The words 'Metallica's 1990s records are far superior to their 1980s output' are the spark for such a fire: like the nature versus nurture debate, opinions are fierce and those on one side rarely succeed in getting those on the other to budge. Incredibly, however, fans have been debating the decline of Metallica not only since the 1990s but even since the band's sophomore album, Ride the Lightning.
Released in 1984, Ride the Lightning was the album that immediately preceded Master of Puppets - the record which would secure the band's place in metal's hall of heroes. Upon the release of the album, however, they faced two criticisms: one was that the band had gone soft musically; the other was that lyrically, they were too ambitious - clearly, metalheads of 1984 were a tough crowd to please.
Metallica's first album, Kill 'em All, was full of thrash metal tracks, blasting solos, and songs about touring, getting drunk and going to yet more metal shows. Ride the Lightning dealt with songs about suicide, wrongful conviction, and the horrors of war. Its songs feel longer (they are each, on average, less than a minute longer than those on its predecessor's) and involve more complex harmonies. What was seemingly criminal to audiences in 1984 was the inclusion of a track named Fade to Black, a song that features acoustic guitars during its verse parts and no screaming or growling vocals at all during its chorus sections. It is now one of the most cherished tracks among any fan of metal's largest band.
Let's get things straight though; this is an album which reached gold status within three years of its release and is now certified as having reached five-times platinum status. When Metallica perform live, few of its tracks are left off the set list.
The album was recorded over two sessions in Denmark. In early February 1984, Metallica had finished a European tour with Venom and drove to Copenhagen to begin rehearsing material (drummer Lars Ulrich, above, is Danish). The group's North American record label, however, could neither afford for the band to record a full-length album nor stay at a hotel, so the four members ended up living and recording Ride in the second room of a studio belonging to a friend.
Many artists experience the 'difficult second album' phenomenon but this is a case in which musical progression, creativity and exploration came effortlessly to the band - the difficulty lay in the fans' accepting it.