Creeping Death

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"Creeping Death"
Metallica - Creeping Death cover.jpg
Single by Metallica
from the album Ride the Lightning
ReleasedNovember 23, 1984[1]
GenreThrash metal
Metallica singles chronology
"Jump in the Fire"
"Creeping Death"
"Master of Puppets"
Audio sample
Creeping Death

"Creeping Death" is a song by the American heavy metal band Metallica, released as the lead and only commercial single from their second studio album Ride the Lightning (1984) ("Fade to Black" and "For Whom the Bell Tolls", from the same album, were issued as promotional singles). Written from the perspective of the Angel of Death, it describes the tenth plague of Egypt. One of Metallica's most frequently performed songs, it has been played live 1,458 times (third only to "Seek & Destroy" at 1,484 and "Master of Puppets", at 1,553),[2] and it has occasionally been used on various tours as the opening song of the band's set.[3] It stands as a classic example of the band's thrash style, albeit slower than the material on their first album, Kill 'Em All. The song's middle section, with its ominous chants of "Die!" set to a phrygian mode chord progression, is a fan participation staple during Metallica shows.

The single was released through Music for Nations in the UK and France. The B-sides were the cover songs "Am I Evil?" (originally by Diamond Head) and "Blitzkrieg" (originally by Blitzkrieg). Together these covers were known as Garage Days Revisited, which set the stage for Metallica's next cover album, The $5.98 E.P.: Garage Days Re-Revisited EP.

The artwork was done by Alvin Petty. The logo and the song's title were added with a plastic layover to the existing artwork. Kirk Hammett had seen the picture hanging up at Petty's house and remarked that it would be perfect for the single and picture-disk that were about to be finished.


Kirk Hammett wrote the guitar riff for the bridge section when he was only 16 years old.[4] The band was inspired for the song by the second half of the film The Ten Commandments, which is based on the Bible tale of the plagues which were bestowed upon the Egyptians. While watching a scene in which one of the plagues kills every Egyptian first-born child, Cliff Burton remarked "Whoa – it's like creeping death." The band liked the sound of "creeping death" and decided to write a song about the plagues, with the phrase as its title.[5]

Biblical references[edit]

The song is told from the point of view of the "destroyer", as described in Moses' Book of Exodus, chapter 12. Throughout the song, some of the ten plagues are mentioned, all from the story of the "Hagadah", The Passover exodus. Moses repeatedly demanded from Pharaoh to set the Hebrew slaves free from Egypt. Moses, through his older brother Aaron, insisted he was sent by God, and that Pharaoh free his people to the promised land of Caanan (for the last 400 years, the Hebrew people had lived in the Goshen region of Egypt as slaves—"Land of Goshen"). To prove his point and persuade Pharaoh as Pharaoh refused to do, Moses, guided by God, laid ten plagues on the Egyptians. The ten strikes:

  • To kill the first born Pharaoh's son: The tenth and most severe strike — The God of Israel killed every firstborn Egyptian that was a boy (In reference to the Pharaoh's order to throw every Hebrew firstborn into the Nile). One such child was the Pharaoh's firstborn
  • I will be with thee, bush of fire: Refers to God speaking to Moses through a burning bush.
  • Blood, Running red and strong, down the Nile: The first of the ten plagues, water of the Nile turned to blood
  • Plague: This line refers to any of the ten plagues
  • Darkness three days long: The ninth of the ten, the sun was blocked for three days
  • Hail to fire: The seventh of the ten, burning hail fell from the sky
  • Blood, lamb's blood painted door; I shall pass: Passover; the night God slew the firstborns of Egyptian families. The Hebrews were warned earlier by Moses to paint the doorpost with lamb blood so God would pass over their houses and not kill their sons (this is actually why the holiday is called Passover).

Live versions[edit]

There are a great deal of group-assisted vocals in "Creeping Death"; the song often requires more than one vocalist performing at a time. The song is also often played at a much faster tempo than the studio version. On live recordings made before his death, Burton can be heard "roaring" the backing vocals during the third chorus, as well as during the bridge. When Jason Newsted joined Metallica, he often sang the third chorus alone in live performances. When Newsted left the band and Robert Trujillo replaced him, the third chorus was usually sung by the crowd.

During the song's breakdown, audience members are encouraged to chant "Die!" to the rhythm of the song, and the band normally drops out until only the bass guitar and drums remain; this continues for a few bars, then James Hetfield sings the lyrics.

Previous iterations[edit]

The middle section of the "Creeping Death" was originally written by Hammett while he was in Exodus. The song was called "Die by His Hand" and had been part of the Exodus setlist for live shows, but was never used on any Exodus albums.[5]

Track listing[edit]

International single
1."Creeping Death"James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett, Cliff Burton6:36
2."Am I Evil?"Sean Harris, Brian Tatler7:49
3."Blitzkrieg"Ian Jones, Jim Sirotto, Brian Ross3:35
Total length:18:03
Creeping Death/Jump in the Fire EP
1."Creeping Death"James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett, Cliff Burton6:36
2."Am I Evil?"Sean Harris, Brian Tatler7:49
3."Blitzkrieg"Ian Jones, Jim Sirotto, Brian Ross3:35
4."Jump in the Fire"Hetfield, Ulrich, Dave Mustaine4:41
5."Seek & Destroy" (Live)Hetfield, Ulrich7:04
6."Phantom Lord" (Live)Hetfield, Ulrich, Dave Mustaine4:52

In popular culture[edit]

The song was featured in an episode of the MTV show Wildboyz.[citation needed]

"Creeping Death" is featured as a playable track in Guitar Hero: Metallica.

It ranked at #1 on the Guitar World top 100 greatest Metallica songs.

"Creeping Death" is the name of an ability performed by Mordekaiser in the game League of Legends.

It is also an assignment for the L96 in Battlefield 3.

The phrase "creeping death" is also used in the H.P. Lovecraft short story, The Lurking Fear, possibly being a partial influence for the title of the song.

The song has also been covered by American hard rock band Stone Sour.



  1. ^ "Creeping Death". Metallica. Retrieved September 22, 2017.
  2. ^ "Song Statistics". Metallica. Retrieved September 22, 2017.
  3. ^ "Metlists, Inc. - Song Counts". Retrieved 3 April 2015.
  4. ^ "Metallica's Kirk Hammett At Guitar Center". Retrieved 3 June 2018.
  5. ^ a b "METALLICA - Encyclopedia Metallica - Song Info - Creeping Death". Retrieved 3 April 2015.