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Friday, 29 February 2008

Metallica: Lightning Raiders or Puppet Masters?







Of all the artistes in the world,I doubt whether any have faced reactions as varied as Metallica when their name is spoken.Some would outright kill for them, some would outright kill them for selling out,some like just the '1st 4' and some don't give a shit. But none can deny that Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets are by far the 2 most definitive,if not legendary, albums by them. Both have so much in common,yet different in their own ways.Both have 8 songs with similar track structuring, both have bass god Cliff Burton 'pounding out the low-end aggression' and...well...both are legendary.And this exactly what makes you want to compare the 2 albums.Not necessarily in a critical manner,but just how different they are in their similarities and similar in their differences as well.I know I'm not the 1st person in the world to do this,but I sure as hell won't be the last either.

So,here's a head-to-head,blade-against-blade,song-v/s-song review of 2 of the most influential albums in metal ever.May the best record win...


  • Fight Fire with Fire v/s Battery: The classic thrash metal album openers, these 2 songs are a perfect example of how the songs on these 2 albums are different in their similarities. While both have an acoustic intro giving in to raging melodic madness, Fight Fire with Fire has a very deceptively happy tune as compared to Battery (which starts melancholy).The verse riffs differ as well. FFWF has a very Slayer-like 32nd note sequence with E being the root note and '3-2-3,2,1' measure ending note on the 1st 3 frets. Battery, on the other hand, has a very groove-based fast version of the 1 8th note, 2 16th notes sequence with powerchord doublets ending each measure. The aggression is more evident on FFWF. But the crowning moment of the song is its solo. Played in classic thrash metal style(full-on shredding, arpeggios and tapping), its more melodic than most thrash metal solos of its time. In contrast Battery has a bend and whammy-dominated solo, something that does not give you much musical feel. The vocals on Battery though, are much more rhythmic than FFWF. So, final conclusion: Fight Fire with Fire wins over Battery. I’ll give the former 4.7/5 and the latter 4.2/5.On to the next.

  • Ride the Lightning v/s Master of Puppets: The showdown of the title tracks. Judging this one is not too difficult (but lets not be too conclusive going about it). The intro to RTL packs more of a punch than MOP’s does with its low end-high end guitar interpolation, Lars pounding away on the bass drum and Burton slapping away on his bass guitar. After that its pretty much the same tunes for verse, pre-chorus, chorus and bridge respectively being played twice. MOP has a similar approach, only its intro has 2 rhythms instead of 1 and is much more technical. The singing on RTL involves more screaming while that on MOP basically delves in higher pitches. After this is when things start to change drastically. ‘Ride the Lightning’ goes into a pre-solo classic thrash section where Hetfield goes insane on the vocals, followed by a well-written technical, almost progressive masterpiece of a solo. MOP just stops, with fading ‘Master…’ chants. This gives way to probably the most well-known piece in metal today; the harmonic solo. The most striking feature of this part is the way the mood changes from happy to depressive to happy again, repeated again. After their solos is where the songs take totally different paths. While RTL goes back to the verse and ends the song with the intro tune, MOP goes into ANOTHER solo, this time a total contrast to the harmonic one. The verse is then played twice, and the song ends with fading distortion and cackling, evil laughter. The judgment : score one for Master of Puppets(the album).4.8/5 to MOP and 4/5 to RTL.

  • For Whom the Bell Tolls v/s The Thing that Should Not Be: The reason why I have chosen these 2 songs is because both are well known for their bass handiwork a la Cliff Burton (R.I.P). The former is a bold and legendary experiment with distortion and wah pedals, while the latter leaves the listener wondering whether there was a ‘detonate’ button on the bass guitar. The bass intro on ‘Tolls’ is probably the 1st thing a metal bass beginner tries to play. In fact, this is one of the few songs I have heard where bass overshadows everything else. Now, this is probably the only song on this album that has no solos, but the lead riffs in the latter part of the intro as well as the bridge more than compensate, giving a very epic feel to the song (which fits the lyrical theme of a battle for a hill very well). ‘The Thing’ starts with a doomy guitar doublet that later becomes a groove, and what follows is a sound pounding to the ears. The main tune lacks the feel that was present on the previous track on the album and the pre-chorus sounded very haphazard to me. The part that DOES sound good though is the verse with its lyrics doing prefect justice to the menacing effect created by the trailing chords and the intro tune played again. This song DOES have a solo, a very…vengeful sounding solo. The end to this song is where the pounding bass is felt most strongly with chorus riff being repeated and trailing off. The ‘jet’ flanger effect on the guitar just makes it all the more better. The ending of ‘Tolls’ is easily more convincing, a doomy interpolation being played, backed by screaming, furious lead. Good work Mr. Burton on both songs, but ‘Tolls’ is the undoubted winner here; 4.5/5 and 3.4/5 respectively.

  • Fade to Black v/s Welcome Home (Sanitarium): These 2 are the ballads in their respective albums, and probably have the most sensitive lyrics in their respective albums as well. While FTB gives a very calming, inevitable image of death, ‘Sanitarium’ is about how the sense of rebellion keeps growing when you are treated as nothing more than a test subject. The song is based on the Jack Nicholson starrer ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’. Both may be ballads, but again, songs on this album being different in their similarities, each has a different emotion being portrayed. FTB has a very soothing vibe throughout the song (even in the heavy latter part) while ‘Sanitarium’ starts melancholy and then becomes one raging fireball of anger. FTB starts acoustic in a very classic rock fashion with powerchord notes being separately picked, whereas ‘Sanitarium’ has a slightly eerie, resonating, ‘nice clean’ twang, with higher note doublets. The verse in FTB is all chords, whereas that in ‘Sanitarium’ has powerchord notes singularly picked over 3 scales. Overall, Sanitarium generates more emotion to me, including the vocals. During the heavy latter parts, ‘Sanitarium’ takes a thrash metal turn whereas FTB has a very hard rock-oriented sound, something like a heavier Deep Purple. FTB’s solo has more feel to it, even though its less technical than that of ‘Sanitarium’. But the aspect that I love most about ‘Sanitarium’ is that its bass lines are SO intelligently created, from the verse riff to the last riff after the solos. Overall, ‘Sanitarium’ gets the better points than FTB; 4.5/5 to the former, 4/5 to the latter.

So, the scores at half-time: Ride the Lightning: 17.2/20
Master of Puppets: 16.9/20

We have now reached the point where corresponding songs cease to be similar, but the similarity within songs itself does not cease. So, on with side-B…

  • Disposable Heroes v/s Creeping Death: The reason why I chose these 2 songs is because…well…I had no choice. There were similarities between each of the 3 remaining songs in both albums. But, on closer evaluation, the similarities start becoming evident. Both have a heavy staccato intro, both have the same riff in the verse as well as the post-intro section, both have chants in the middle portion and both…ummm…both….are Metallica songs!!!!! Sorry, that’s a bit escapist of me, but I couldn’t think of anything else. Anyway, while both begin with the same staccato intro, the former has a longer measure, which means ‘Creeping Death’ is a faster song. The verse riffs themselves differ and the most evident difference of course, is their durations. ‘Death’ is a more simply-written song than ‘Heroes’, with the latter having 2 chorus rhythms (‘Soldier boy……’ and ‘BACK TO THE FRONT!!!!!!’) and a MUCH longer soloing session. Still, the solo (and overall music itself) has a very epic tune to it, in a very catchy manner. And the ‘DIE,DIE’ chants are absolutely legendary! Hence, the winner: Creeping Death. 4.2/5 to ‘Heroes’ and 4.5/5 to ‘Death’. Might I add, Metallica continued their winning habit of writing anti-war songs with Disposable Heroes. The next album saw another anti-war song, probably the most legendary one in the history of metal.

  • Leper Messiah v/s Escape: One is a song about the pointlessness of religion, the other is about freedom denied. Both are moderate tempo songs with the same beat. But the main riff of ‘Leper’ reminded me quite a lot of ‘Money for Nothing’ by Dire Straits whereas that of ‘Escape’ reminded me to shut up and listen to the song. Also, the bass tone in that song seemed to be ‘beefed up’ quite a lot, giving a pretty powerful punch. The overall effect given by ‘Leper Messiah’ is pretty, well, random. But wait, halfway into the song, everything suddenly speeds up!!!!! A furious double bass groove on the drums, and a total thrash metal barrage of riffs from the strings. Even the solo starts with a really psychedelic tune, and overall ends up as a very good one. But the solo of ‘Escape’ bleeds finesse, and is much more thoughtfully written. Even the fade-out ending of the song with blaring alarms in the background beats the sudden end to ‘Leper’. Hence, we have a winner in Escape. 3.8/5 to ‘Leper’ and 4/5 to ‘Escape’.


  • Orion v/s The Call of Ktulu: Ah, the instrumentals. Integral to their respective albums, they are each brilliant examples of what Cliff Burton could create from his bass guitar {with the other members involved as well of course; unlike the 1st Metallica instrumental ‘Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth)’ which is basically a bass solo}. ‘Orion’ starts with a very atmospheric bass triplet intro, whereas ‘Ktulu’ starts nice clean on guitar. Orion has a bass interlude where Burton plays a slow,jazzy bass solo with a slow guitar riff played by Hetfield, but in contrast, Burton’s solos are heard every time the filler between 2 riff sections is played on ‘Ktulu’, WITH distortion and wah!!!!!! Fast and technical, the songwriting is as good as the technique(even for those 3 seconds or so). Both songs though, are brilliant examples of Burton’s versatility. The solo on ‘Ktulu’ sounds much better in writing and speed, than Orion (which basically has a more progressive focus). ‘Orion’ has a more complex beat pattern, with one section having additional beats every alternate measure. Overall, ‘Orion’ has a very progressive sound, something the band carried forward into and elaborated on in their next release ‘..And Justice for All’. In total contrast, ‘Ktulu’ has a very symphonic sound to it, WITHOUT any orchestra or keyboards. Such is the power in Metallica’s songwriting. Keeping these in mind, I declare ‘Ktulu’ as champion. ‘Orion’ gets 4.3/5 and ‘Ktulu’ gets 4.9/5 (I was tempted to give a full score, but maybe the slight repetitive nature of the main riff held me back).


  • Damage, Inc v/s Trapped Under Ice: The ‘other’ classic thrash metal songs in each album. While the latter starts pretty abrupt, the former has a very ‘Fight Fire with Fire’-like deceptively slow and happy intro that ALSO gives way to melodic carnage with a distortion feedback interval on guitar. The riff of the latter has a bit of a punk rock feel to it, while that of the former has a very menacing sound. Even the difference in the vocals is similar. The latter has punk rock-like screams while the former has an aggressive, gravely tone. Though the solos may sound similar, the former’s sounds much less random and is technically sounder (and the fact that it SUDDENLY explodes after Hetfield shouts ‘GO!!’ adds to its brilliance). The theme of ‘Damage’ (mob violence) also seemed better to talk about than just being frozen in time in ‘Ice’s case. So ‘Damage jackals’ get 4.4/5 and ‘Trapped Under Ice’ gets 3.9/5.


As you may have noticed, I have not really commented on the vocals much as they sound pretty much the same on both albums, but where they deserve mention, I have done so. Another thing you may have noticed is that in the 1st half, I have compared RTL songs with MOP songs,and in the 2nd I have reversed roles. Thats just to maintain symmetry.

So, that about wraps up the match, the final scores: Ride the Lightning: 34.5/40
Master of Puppets: 33.6/40



So, the winner is Ride the Lightning. The outcome that I wanted (and I DIDN’T fabricate it). Somehow, I always felt that RTL ‘had it’ more than MOP did. Still, that doesn’t stop MOP from being the phenomenon that it is, doesn’t stop it from continuing to inspire the songwriting for bands of today and most importantly, helps all metal-heads to remember the phenomenon that was Cliff Burton (this being his last album and his tragic death occurring in the same year as its release).


8 comments:

Anonymous said...

interesting blog.

metal-militant said...

thank you.reveal yourself.what are you so afraid of?

Express said...

Amusing anonymity....

Well, I loved this post!! no, thats an understatement.And the best part was mentioning Burton.

You know how it feels when you want to say so much and there is this satiety that makes you simply sit back and appreciate? exact feeling!

Thank-you.

Alok said...

Very nicely written, man!

I must appreciate the fact that you have ripped apart both the albums, especially that you noticed how many songs corresponded to each other, which is a fact that I noticed, but never pondered upon.

Of course, all of this is opinion, and what you may like others may dislike and vice versa. But I like your style, especially the way you have based your likes/dislikes upon song structures and the emotions conveyed.

I like MOP better than RTL, but that's just another opinion. :D

I feel that you've mentioned this in the end, but there is a need for comparison of the albums not from another viewpoint. I believe that albums are not just collections of songs, but are entities by themselves. I'd like a comparison based on the flow from song to song in each albums, how each song weaves a part in the story that is the album. I'm sure you now what I'm talking about.

I feel MOP rules here. (again, personal opinion)

P.S. Maybe we've debated this before at the Metallica community on orkut, but again:

FWTBT has a solo. What do you think is the thing that Hammett plays towards the end of the song?

metal-militant said...

hey,thanks a lot man!!!!!I agree on the 'flow' part,and yes,MOP DOES have a better flow from song to song.

And yea,that IS a solo at the end of 'tolls'.my bad.

and thanks for being one of only 2 people from the Metallica orkut community to have given a shit to this blog.

Express said...

I like RTL, I love RTL...But I even like MOP. Maybe a 9-10 thing.
RTL is like a complete album, it touches all aspects of metal..
But, MOP sure has the flow..

I dont wanna choose one. And what I like most about the post is, it is genuine and fair :)

Nilesh Sawant said...

i havnt heard the complete RTL ALBUM......BUT I'D agree with ya..rtl's better...

metal-militant said...

WAY better!!!!!!