Ride the Lightning

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Ride the Lightning
File:Metallica - Ride the Lightning cover.jpg
Studio album by Metallica
Released July 27, 1984 (1984-07-27)
Recorded February 20 – March 14, 1984, at Sweet Silence Studios in Copenhagen, Denmark
Genre Thrash metal
Length 47:23
Label Megaforce
Producer Metallica, Flemming Rasmussen
Metallica chronology
Kill 'Em All
(1983)Kill 'Em All1983
Ride the Lightning
Master of Puppets
(1986)Master of Puppets1986
Singles from Ride the Lightning
  1. "Creeping Death"
    Released: November 23, 1984

Ride the Lightning is the second studio album by American heavy metal band Metallica. The album was released on July 27, 1984, by the independent label Megaforce Records. The album was recorded in three weeks with producer Flemming Rasmussen at the Sweet Silence Studios in Copenhagen, Denmark. The artwork, based on the band's concept, represents an electric chair in the midst of a thunderstorm. The album title was taken from a passage in Stephen King's novel The Stand. Whilst still rooted in the thrash metal genre, the album showcased the band's musical maturity and lyrical sophistication. This was partially because bassist Cliff Burton introduced the basics of music theory to the rest of the band and because he had more input in the songwriting. The overall recording cost was paid by Metallica's European label Music for Nations because Megaforce was unable to cover it.

Ride the Lightning received positive response from music critics, who saw it as a more ambitious effort than its predecessor. Metallica promoted the album on the Bang That Head That Doesn't Bang European tour in late 1984, and on its North American leg in the first half of 1985. The band performed at a few major music festivals, such as Monsters of Rock and Day on the Green later that year. Two months after its release, Elektra Records signed Metallica to a multi-year contract and reissued the album. Ride the Lightning peaked at number 100 on the Billboard 200 with no radio exposure. Although 75,000 copies were initially pressed for the American market, the album moved half a million by November 1987. It was certified 6× platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in 2012 for shipping six million copies in the United States.

Background and recording

Metallica released its debut studio album Kill 'Em All on the independent label Megaforce Records in July 1983.[1] The album was seen as the birth of thrash metal, a heavy metal subgenre defined by its brisk riffs and intense percussion.[2] After finishing its promotional tour, Metallica began composing new material and during the autumn began performing the songs that were to make up Ride the Lightning at concerts. Because the band had little money, they often ate one meal a day and stayed at fans' homes throughout the tour.[3] Frontman James Hetfield felt uneasy about performing vocals and the band offered the job to Armored Saint singer John Bush, who turned down the offer because Armored Saint was doing well at the time. Metallica started recording on February 20, 1984, at Sweet Silence Studios in Copenhagen, Denmark. The album was produced by Flemming Rasmussen, founder of Sweet Silence, who went on to produce the band's following two albums. Drummer Lars Ulrich chose Rasmussen because he liked his work on Rainbow's Difficult to Cure (1981) and was keen to record in Europe.[4] Rasmussen, who had not heard of Metallica before, accepted to work on the album, even though his studio employees thought the band was not talented. Rasmussen listened to Metallica's tapes before the members arrived and thought the band had great potential.[5]

Before entering the studio, Metallica collected ideas on "riff tape" recordings of various jam sessions. Hetfield and Ulrich went through the tapes and selected the strongest riffs to assemble into songs. Instruments were recorded separately, with Hetfield playing only rhythm guitar.[6] Rasmussen, with the help of drum roadie Flemming Larsen, taught Ulrich the basics of timing and beat duration.[7] Although four tracks were already arranged, the band members worried that the album featured songs created in the studio, unlike Kill 'Em All. Lead guitarist Kirk Hammett took the album's name from a passage in Stephen King's novel The Stand.[8] The cover art, displaying an electric chair in the midst of lighting bolts, was determined before recording began.[9] The band initially had sound problems because their gear was stolen three weeks before they got in Copenhagen.[10] They slept in the studio by day and recorded by night. Because the group was looking for a major label deal, a number of A&R people were visiting the studio. Metallica was apparently going to sign with Bronze Records, but the deal fell through because Bronze executive Gerry Bron wanted the US edition to be remixed by engineer Eddie Kramer, which Metallica declined.[5]

The band had to record quickly because they had European shows scheduled 29 days after they entered the studio. Recording finished on March 14 and Megaforce released the album on July 27.[11] Although the original album budget was $20,000, the final expenditure was above $30,000.[5] Metallica's European label Music for Nations paid the studio costs because Megaforce owner Jon Zazula could not afford them.[4] Metallica was unhappy with the lack of promotion by Megaforce, and decided to sever ties with Zazula. Major label Elektra Records employee Michael Alago noticed Metallica at The Stone gig in San Francisco and invited Elektra's chairman and the head of promotion to see Metallica's August show in New York. The performance at Roseland Ballroom, opening with Anthrax and Raven, pleased the Elektra staff and the band was offered a contract the following morning.[12] On September 12, Metallica signed with Elektra, who re-released the album on November 19.[11] Ride the Lightning was the last Metallica album to feature co-writing contributions from former lead guitarist Dave Mustaine, who received credit on the title track and the instrumental "The Call of Ktulu". The album also represented the first time Hammett was given writing credits.[13]

Music and lyrics

Ride the Lightning displays greater musical maturity, with musically broader songs than those on Kill 'Em All, which was noted for its one-dimensional sound. This was partially because of bassist Cliff Burton's knowledge of music theory. He showed Hetfield how to augment core notes with complementary counter-melodies and how basic guitar harmony worked, which reflected on the song compositions.[14] Hetfield developed more socially-aware lyrics, in addition to ominous and semi-philosophical references.[15] Ulrich explained that Metallica opted not to rely strictly on fast tempos as on the previous album, but to exhibit other musical approaches that sound powerful and heavy.[16] Grinder magazine's Kevin Fisher summarized the album as "ultimate thrash, destruction and total blur" that reminds him of the speed and power of Kill 'Em All.[17] Music journalist Martin Popoff observed that Ride the Lightning offers "sophistication and brutality in equal measure" and was seen as something new at the time of its release.[18]

The major-key acoustic introduction to "Fight Fire with Fire" displayed Metallica's evolving towards a more harmonically complex style of songwriting. The fastest Metallica song in terms of picking speed, it is driven by nimble tremolo picked riffs in the verses and chorus. The extended solo section at the end dissolves in a sound effect of a vast nuclear explosion.[19] The song discourages the "eye for an eye" approach, and its lyrical themes focused on nuclear warfare and Armageddon, resulting in the end of the world.[18] "Ride the Lightning" was Metallica's first song to emphasize the misery of the criminal justice system. The lyrics were written from the perspective of someone who is anticipating execution by the electric chair. The song, one of the two album tracks that credited Mustaine, begins in a mid-tempo which gradually accelerates as the song progress.[19] It features instrumental middle section highlighted by Hammett's soloing.[18] According to Hetfield, the song "was not a criticism of capital punishment, which I'm actually a supporter of. Rather, it's simply about a man who faces death in the electric chair for a crime he didn't commit" as in the beginning of the lyrics: "Guilty as charged/But Damn it/It ain't right".

"For Whom the Bell Tolls" begins with a bell tolling, followed by a marching riff and high-register bass melody. The chromatic introduction, which Burton wrote before he joined Metallica, is often mistaken for an electric guitar; it is actually Burton's bass guitar augmented with distortion and a wah-wah pedal. The lyrics were based on the Ernest Hemingway novel of the same name that explores the horror and dishonor of modern warfare.[20] "For Whom the Bell Tolls" was released as a promotional single with two versions of the song, an edited version on side A and the album version on side B. "Fade to Black" is a power ballad whose lyrics contemplate suicide. Hetfield wrote the lyrics because he felt powerless after the band's equipment was stolen before their January 1984 show in Boston.[4] Musically, the song begins with an acoustic guitar introduction overlaid with electric soloing. The song becomes progressively heavier and faster, ending with multi layered guitar solos.[21] The song's structure is similar to Metallica's future ballads, "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)" and "One". "Fade to Black" was released as a promotional single in 1984, in glow in the dark green.[22]

"Trapped Under Ice" is about a person who wakes from a cryonic state. Realizing there is nowhere to go, and no one will come to the rescue, the person helplessly awaits impending doom in terror. The song is built on a fast picked galloping riff, reminiscent of the album's opener.[21] The song was inspired by one Hammett's former band Exodus had demoed titled "Impaler", which was later released on that band's album Tempo of the Damned (2004).[23] "Escape" was originally titled "The Hammer" and was intended to be released as a single due to its lighter riffs and conventional song structure. The intro features a couterpoint bass melody and a chugging guitar riff which resolves into a standard down-stroked riff.[24] Metallica performed "Escape" live only once, at the 2012 Orion Music + More festival while performing Ride the Lightning in its entirety.[25]

"Creeping Death" describes the Plague of the Death of the Firstborn (Exodus 12:29). The lyrics deal with the 10 plagues visited on Egypt, and throughout the song, four of them are mentioned as well as the Passover.[24] Hammett wrote the bridge with its chant "Die, by my hand!" while in Exodus for the song "Die by His Hand", which Exodus recorded on a demo but which did not feature on a studio album. "Creeping Death" was released as a single with a B-side titled Garage Days Revisited made up of covers of Diamond Head's "Am I Evil?" and Blitzkrieg's "Blitzkrieg".[26] "The Call of Ktulu", tentatively titled "When Hell Freezes Over", was inspired by H. P. Lovecraft's book The Shadow Over Innsmouth, which was first introduced to the rest of the band by Burton.[27] The name was taken from one of Lovecraft's main stories featuring Cthulhu, The Call of Cthulhu, although the original name was modified to "Ktulu" for easier pronunciation. The song begins with D minor chord progression in the intro, followed by a two-minute bass solo over a rhythmic riff pattern. Michael Kamen rearranged the song for Metallica's 1999 S&M project and won a Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance in 2001.[28]


Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 5/5 stars[29]
Chicago Tribune 3/4 stars[30]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music 3/5 stars[31]
Q 4/5 stars[32]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 4/5 stars[33]
Sputnikmusic 5/5[34]

Ride the Lightning received positive reviews from music critics. AllMusic's Steve Huey saw the album as a more ambitious and remarkable effort than Kill 'Em All. He called Ride the Lightning an "all-time metal classic" because of the band's rich musical imagination and lyrics that avoid heavy metal cliches.[29] According to Q magazine, Ride the Lightning confirmed Metallica's status as the leading heavy metal band of the modern era. The magazine credited the group for redefining the norms of thrash metal with "Fade to Black", the genre's first power ballad.[32] Kerrang! implied that the album's maturity and musical intelligence helped Metallica expand heavy metal's boundaries.[32] Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune described Ride the Lightning as a more refined extension of the group's debut.[30] In a retrospective review, Sputnikmusic's Channing Freeman named Ride the Lightning as one of the few albums that can be charming and powerful at the same time. He praised Hetfield's vocal performance and concluded that Metallica was "firing on all cylinders" on the album.[34] The Rolling Stone Album Guide viewed the album as a great step forward for the band and as an album that established the concept for Metallica's following two records.[33] Colin Larkin, writing in the Encyclopedia of Popular Music, singled out "For Whom the Bell Tolls" as an example of Metallica's growing music potential.[31] Popoff regards Ride the Lightning as an album where "extreme metal became art".[35]

Megaforce initially printed 75,000 copies of the album for the US market, while Music for Nations took care for the European.[36] After signing Metallica, Elektra released the single "Creeping Death" in a sleeve depicting bridge and a skull painted grey and green. The album peaked at number 100 on the Billboard 200 with no radio exposure.[37] In 1984, the French record label Bernett Records misprinted the color of the album cover in green, rather than blue, and 400 copies with the green cover were pressed. Because of their rarity, these green albums have become collectors' items.[38] Ride the Lightning went gold by November 1987 and in 2012 was cetified 6× platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for shipping six million copies in the United States.[39] Many rock publications has ranked Ride the Lightning on their best album lists. The album placed fifth on IGN Music's "Top 25 Metal Albums" list.[40]


To promote Ride the Lightning, Metallica commenced the Bang That Head That Doesn't Bang European tour on November 16, 1984, in Rouen, France, with British NWOBHM band Tank as support. The tour continued with dates in Belgium, Italy, Germany, and the Nordic countries. After a Christmas break, the group embarked on a US tour, firstly as a co-headlining act with W.A.S.P. and then as headliners with Armored Saint supporting. At a gig in Portland, Oregon, Metallica covered "The Money Will Roll Right In" by Fang, with Armored Saint onstage. The American leg ended in May, and the band spent the following two months working on the next studio album, Master of Puppets, whose recording sessions were scheduled to begin in September. Metallica performed at the Monsters of Rock festival held at Castle Donington in England on August 17 in front of 70,000 fans. The band was placed between Ratt and Bon Jovi, two glam metal groups whose sound and appearance were much unlike Metallica's. At the start of the set, Hetfield pronounced to the audience: "If you came here to see spandex, eye make-up, and the words 'oh baby' in every fuckin' song, this ain't the fuckin' band!" Two weeks later, Metallica appeared on the Day on the Green festival in Oakland, California, before 90,000 people. The last show Metallica played before recording began was the Loreley Metal Hammer festival in Germany, headlined by Venom.[37] Metallica finished 1985 with a December 29 show at the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium opening for Y&T, and a New Year's Eve concert at the Civic Center in San Francisco on a bill with Metal Church, Exodus, and Megadeth, the first time Metallica and Megadeth shared a stage. At this gig, Metallica premiered "Master of Puppets" and "Disposable Heroes", songs from the then-upcoming third studio album.[41]

Track listing

All lyrics written by James Hetfield, except "Creeping Death" by Hetfield and Kirk Hammett

Side one
No. Title Music Length
1. "Fight Fire with Fire"   Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Cliff Burton 4:45
2. "Ride the Lightning"   Hetfield, Ulrich, Burton, Dave Mustaine 6:36
3. "For Whom the Bell Tolls"   Hetfield, Ulrich, Burton 5:09
4. "Fade to Black"   Hetfield, Ulrich, Burton, Hammett 6:57
Side two
No. Title Music Length
5. "Trapped Under Ice"   Hetfield, Ulrich, Hammett 4:04
6. "Escape"   Hetfield, Ulrich, Hammett 4:23
7. "Creeping Death"   Hetfield, Ulrich, Burton, Hammett 6:36
8. "The Call of Ktulu" (instrumental) Hetfield, Ulrich, Burton, Mustaine 8:53
Total length:


Credits are adapted from the album's liner notes.[13][43]




  • AD Artists – cover design
  • Fin Costello, Anthony D. Somella, Robert Hoetink, Pete Cronin, Rick Brackett, Harold Oimoen – photography


Chart Peak
Australian Albums Chart[44] 38
Dutch Albums Chart[44] 20
Finnish Albums Chart[44] 9
French Albums Chart[44] 126
Italian Albums Chart[44] 66
New Zealand Albums Chart[44] 32
Norwegian Albums Chart[44] 40
Swedish Albums Chart[44] 22
Swiss Albums Chart[44] 78
UK Albums Chart[45] 87
US Billboard 200[46] 100


Region Certification Sales/shipments
Australia (ARIA)[47] Platinum 70,000
Canada (Music Canada)[48] Platinum 100,000
United Kingdom (BPI)[49] Gold 100,000
United States (RIAA)[50] 6× Platinum 6,000,000

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone
xunspecified figures based on certification alone


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External links