Metallica's 'Ride the Lightning': 8 Things You Didn't Know, Track by Track | Revolver

Metallica's 'Ride the Lightning': 8 Things You Didn't Know, Track by Track

From intentional misspellings to the bell that isn't a bell
metallica 1985 GETTY, Fin Costello/Redferns/Getty Images
Metallica, 1985
photograph by Fin Costello/Redferns/Getty Images

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Metallica's debut album Kill 'Em All was a bruising battle-cry of a mission statement and set the bar high for its follow-up, but Metallica were undaunted. They shat all over the concept of the "sophomore jinx" with Ride the Lightning, a sophisticated, diverse piece of art that gave the world timeless cuts including "For Whom the Bell Tolls," "Creeping Death," "Fade to Black" and the title track. The band would one-up things once again with Master of Puppets, but Ride has its special charm and historical place. "By the time we recorded Master of Puppets, the days of just bashing it out were much fewer than in the Ride the Lightning days," guitarist Kirk Hammett told Rolling Stone in 2014, looking back on the album. "Just bashing it out always led to a more natural sounding performance to me." Indeed, sometimes "bashing it out" is the way to go. In that spirit, we revisited Ride track by track and bashed out the following bits of trivia and insight.

1. Cliff Burton wrote the acoustic intro to "Fight Fire With Fire"
"That acoustic piece was Cliff's!" Kirk Hammett revealed to Guitar World in 2016, referring to Metallica's groundbreaking, multi-talented bass player. "Cliff wrote that on [an] down-tuned acoustic guitar ... He had a really good grasp of playing the guitar, and a good grasp of classical modulations. That intro was his piece. We heard it and stuck it onto 'Fight,' and it worked fantastic. We knew that was going to be the opening track. There was no question about it."

2. Kirk Hammett came up with the title "Ride the Lightning" while reading Stephen King's The Stand
Metallica have drawn on literary sources throughout their career — just on Ride the Lightning alone, they reference Ernest Hemingway ("For Whom the Bell Tolls") and H.P. Lovecraft ("Call of Ktulu"), as well as, more obliquely, Stephen King. As the story goes, Hammett was reading the horror master's book The Stand, when inspiration struck. "There was this one passage where this guy was on death row said he was waiting to 'ride the lightning,'" the guitarist recalled to Rolling Stone. "I remember thinking, 'Wow, what a great song title.' I told James, and it ended up being a song and the album title."

3. The bell at the beginning of "For Whom the Bell Tolls" isn't a bell at all
The tolling bell that opens Ride the Lightning's epic third track is actually something way heavier — a fucking anvil, which drummer Lars Ulrich banged with a metal hammer. "There was a really heavy, cast-iron anvil and a metal hammer, and we stuck them in an all-concrete room," producer Fleming Rasmussen revealed. "He'd just go wang."

4. "Fade to Black" was inspired, in part, by the band's gear being stolen before a show in Boston
Metallica's first-ever ballad, "Fade to Black" won the band new fans, but it also was met with major backlash from diehards. "That song was a pretty big step for us," singer-guitarist James Hetfield told Guitar World in 1991. "It was pretty much our first ballad, so it was challenging and we knew it would freak people out. Band like Exodus and Slayer don't do ballads, but they've stuck themselves in that position we never wanted to do. Limiting yourself to please your audience is bullshit."

The song's lyrics take on the voice of an individual contemplating suicide, words that grew out of Hetfield's own feelings of depression and powerlessness after Metallica's equipment was stolen in January 1984. "I wrote the song at a friend's house in New Jersey," he recalled. "I was pretty depressed at the time because our gear had just been stolen, and we had been thrown out of our manager's house for breaking shit and drinking his liquor cabinet dry. It's a suicide song , and we got a lot of flack for it — kids were killing themselves because of the song. But we also got hundreds and hundreds of letters from kids telling us how they related to the song and that made them feel better."

5. The song "Trapped Under Ice" is not a metaphor — it is literally about being trapped under ice
Fans have theorized over the meaning of "Trapped Under Ice," a particularly concise Ride the Lightning cut, suggesting that the lyrics might tell a story about being stuck in a cryogenic state or of drug addiction. But sometimes things are exactly as they say, and such is the case for Ride's fifth track. Inspired by a viewing of the 1983 movie Never Cry Wolf, which includes a scene in which the protagonist breaks through a frozen lake and becomes, yes, trapped under the ice, the band penned the straight-ahead whiplasher, culling a riff or two from Hammett's Exodus days, and the rest is history.

6. "Escape" was the band's failed attempt at writing a radio song
Though it's since been embraced by artists such as Gojira and Hatebreed, who have both covered it, "Escape" is a song for which Metallica have little love themselves. In fact, they didn't play it live for 28 years, until their 2012 Orion Festival set during which they played Ride in its entirety, in reverse order. (Hetfield minced no words when introducing "Escape": "The song that we never wanted to play live, ever, is now on the set list.") Written in the studio at the last second, the song "was pretty much an attempt to write something that would get radio's attention," Hammett told Guitar World in 2016. "But it never really happened for us. They ignored that song ... along with everything else!"

7. The chant-along bridge of "Creeping Death" was originally written for Kirk Hammett's previous band Exodus
Few things get a metal crowd going like the bridge of "Creeping Death," with its infectious cry of "Die, by my hand!" Credit that horns-raising section to Hammett, who wrote the riff when he was 16 or 17 years old, he revealed in an interview with Guitar World. It originally appeared in a song by his previous band, Bay Area thrashers Exodus, called — wait for it — "Die by His Hand" that the group played live and recorded as a demo, but never included on a studio album.

8. James Hetfield regrets that the band didn't use the correct, H.P. Lovecraft spelling of "Cthulhu" in the title of "Call of Ktulu"
As any fan of horror literature knows, Metallica oddly misspelled the name of mythical god-monster Cthulhu in the title of Ride of the Lightning's closing instrumental. Cliff Burton had brought writer H.P. Lovecraft and Cthulhu legend to the attention of the band, and while on the Kill 'Em All summer tour of 1983, they worked up a song called "Hell Freezes Over" that would become "Call of Ktulu." The title's infamous misspelling, it turns out, was intentional. "I know James Hetfield said in one of his interviews a little while back that one of the biggest regrets was that he wished we would've spelled Cthulhu the way Lovecraft did," Ulrich said in 2016. "It was a pretty substantial mouthful to try and pronounce that whole thing with the 'C' and the 'H.' It was like a 15-letter word or something. So we figured we would make a little easier for people to pronounce."