I can't pick a favorite Metallica album. Don't make me. Okay, if I had a gun to my head, I would say that I'm partial to ...And Justice For All. But it doesn't have the production of Ride The Lightning. Then again, when I'm listening to Master of Puppets, it seems like the best music ever recorded by human beings. No, I'm sticking with Justice. That's my final answer. Y'know, metal purists have fun excoriating Metallica for all of the imbecilic decisions that they have made over the years. They're an easy target. Let's face it; there is no rational explanation for Lulu or St. Anger. And yet, when the slop has settled, you can almost forgive them for taking a few detours. They wrote "Fade to Black," for fuck's sake.

Ultimately, Metallica's classic material is untouchable. Not even the ludicrous prolixity of a zonked Lou Reed can taint the legendary status of Lightning. Is it just me or has this album been eclipsed by the towering reputations of the releases that came before and after it? Kill 'Em All is the debut, so it has built-in significance. Puppets perfected a certain formula, and Justice marked the band's commercial breakthrough. From a creative standpoint, Lightning represents Metallica's biggest leap forward in maturity and songwriting skill. Most journalists fail to mention the abbreviated gap between Kill and Lightning. In less than a year, five badass dudes (you better believe that I'm including Mustaine) pushed the boundaries of heavy metal and created a face-melting epic in the process.

By comparison, Kill comes off as crude and elementary. The acoustic intro to "Fight Fire with Fire" should clue you in on the fact that Metallica is playing with a new arsenal of assault rifles. It doesn't take long for the track to rip your guts out, though. Fucking brutal. How brutal is it? It's so brutal, that it fingered your sister's unborn child. Too much? It doesn't matter; these riffs don't give a shit! The title tune is the most musically accomplished thrasher on display. "Fade to Black" might be the best metal ballad of all time. I realize that there are several contenders, but how can you deny Kirk's emotive leads? Christ, Kirk himself can't reproduce that kind of magic, and he is...him!

"Trapped Under Ice" is your basic speed metal song. Lethal, but aside from the bridge, it doesn't really fit within the context of the album. The Maiden-esque "Escape" does fit, but it's a little prosaic (in other words, it lacks balls). Ride the Lightning perks up with the malefic, foreboding "Creeping Death." Of course, this album wouldn't be so beefy without Flemming Rasmussen's bottom-heavy production. Why on Earth did Metallica stop collaborating with this guy? Forget Rick Rubin. Give Flemming a call, and hand him the studio keys for the follow-up to Death Magnetic. I was going to end this review with a Lulu joke, but I've bashed Lou Reed enough for one day. If you haven't listened to this seminal thrash opus in awhile, spend some quality time with it. It needs love, too.

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