The best way to judge an album's quality is how good it sounds years after its release. This is harder for metal bands, as their music can sound dated, their lyrics cheesy and the whole thing, well, a bit naff.
Metallica, however, are not one of these bands. They were always the most intelligent of the thrash bands, with James Hetfield's lyrics examining dark, serious subject matter. ''Ride The Lightning'' is a perfect example of this cerebral approach, with tracks like the epic ''Creeping Death'' and the seminal ''For Whom The Bell Tolls'' showing challenging subect matter can be combined with thrash riffs, without dumbing down the latter.
This intelligence is also reflected in the musicianship, which is nothing short of exceptional. Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett and the late, great, Cliff Burton are all superb, their talent and vision are evident throughout, notably on ''The Call Of Ktulu'', which, despite being an instrumental, looses none of its power or heaviness.
To pick a standout track is hard, not least in 2007, 23 years after its release, when many, if not all, of the songs are regarded as thrash classics. I believe ''Fade To Black'' deserves a special mention though: its emotive, yet powerful lyrics, great Hetfield vocals, and a stunning acoustic intro, matched only by the epic outro.
The contrast from the intimacy of the opening to the heaviness of the outro shows Metallica's true genius. Heavy, yet intelligent, matching outstanding musicianship with the ability to write great songs. The best compliment though, is that it still sounds fantastic today.