Metallica turned the metal world on its ear with their debut album, KILL 'EM ALL and then blew its mind with the follow-up, RIDE THE LIGHTNING. The riffs and arrangements are more intricate, the lyrics are more intelligent and biting and James Hetfield's growl is meaner. The set starts out with two tunes that would have been right at home on KILL 'EM ALL, but the next two are slower and more involved. "Ride The Lightning" is a slow (by Metallica's standards) dirge about the futility of war. "Fade To Black" is a ballad (!) that builds to an instrumental coda featuring the guitar melodies that the band would later base their sound around. It's also Hetfield's first attempt at singing in tune. The most ambitious song is a dense instrumental, "The Call Of Ktulu," that starts with a single arpeggiated guitar and slowly adds layer upon layer, building in intensity until it all comes crashing down nine minutes later.
Occasionally one album can be pinpointed as the turning point in a musical genre. KILL 'EM ALL is one such album and, boy, did the heavy metal genre need a transfusion of new blood. Herein trad metal was stripped of its late-70s pomposity and reduced to its base element of brutal sonic force. The rhythm section of Burton and Ulrich do a masterful job, as does rhythm guitar ace and vocalist James Hetfield, on a set that owes a debt to punk as much as to Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. The phantasmagorical allusions are still there in the lyrics, as are some long-winded guitar solos, but otherwise KILL 'EM ALL promised a creative rebirth for hard rock.