Ride the Lightning

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This article is about the 1984 Metallica album. For the album by Marshmallow Coast, see Ride the Lightning (Marshmallow Coast album).
Ride the Lightning
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
Ride the Lightning
Master of Puppets
Singles from Ride the Lightning
  1. "Creeping Death"
    Released: November 23, 1984 (1984-11-23)

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 record label Megaforce Records. The album was recorded in a three-week span 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 thunders. The album title was taken from a passage in Stephen King's novel The Stand. The overall recording cost of $30,000 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 sophisticated 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 appeared on a few massively attended festivals such as Monsters of Rock and Day on the Green later that year. Few months after its release, Elektra Records signed Metallica to a multi-year contract and reissued the album. 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[edit]

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. After finishing its promotional tour, Metallica began composing new material and during the fall, the songs that would make up Ride the Lightning were being performed at concerts. Because the band had no money, they often ate one meal a day and stayed at fans homes throughout the tour.[2] Frontman James Hetfield was feeling 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.[3] Before entering the studio, Metallica collected ideas on "riff tapes", recordings of various jam sessions. Hetfield and Ulrich then went through the tapes and selected the strongest riffs and assembled them into a song. Instruments were recorded separately, with Hetfield playing rhythms only.[4] The band members worried that the record featured songs created in the studio, unlike Kill 'Em All. The cover art, displaying an electric chair in the midst of thunders, was determined before recording began.[5] The band initially had sound problems because their gear was stolen three weeks before they got in Copenhagen.[6] Metallica slept in the studio by day and recorded by night. Because the group was looking for a major label deal, a number of A&Rs 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.[7]

Metallica had to record quickly because the band had European shows scheduled 29 days after they entered the studio. Recording finished on March 14, and the album was released by Megaforce on July 27.[8] Although the original album budget was $20,000, the final expenditure was above $30,000.[7] Metallica's European label Music for Nations paid the studio costs because Megaforce owner Jon Zazula could not afford them.[3] Metallica was unhappy with the lack of promotion by Megaforce, and decided to sever ties with Zazula. On September 12, Metallica signed with major label Elektra Records, who re-released the album on November 19.[8] Ride the Lightning was the last Metallica album to feature co-writing contribution from former lead guitarist Dave Mustaine, who was credited on the title track and the instrumental "The Call of Ktulu". The album also represented the first time lead guitarist Kirk Hammett was given writing credits. Hammett took the album's name from a passage in Stephen King's novel The Stand.[9] The album displayed Metallica's musical maturity, with musically broader songs than those on Kill 'Em All, which was noted for its one-dimensional sound.[10] This was partially because of bassist Cliff Burton's knowledge in 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.[11] Hetfield developed more socially aware lyrics, in addition to the ominous and semi-philosophical references.[12] 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, this misprint caused these green albums to become collectors' items.[13]

Music and lyrics[edit]

The 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.[14] The song encouraged the "eye for an eye" approach, and its lyrical themes focused on revenge and Armageddon, resulting in the end of the world. "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 death by electrocution. The song, one of the two album tracks that credited Mustaine, begins in a mid-tempo which gradually accelerates as the song progress.[14] 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 lyrics by stating, "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 was written by Burton before he joined Metallica, is often mistaken for an electric guitar; actually, it is Burton's bass guitar augmented with distortion and a wah-wah pedal. The lyrics were based on the Ernest Hemingway novel by the same name that explores the horror and dishonor of modern warfare.[15] "For Whom the Bell Tolls" was released as a promo 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 suggest a person's contemplation of his eventual suicide. Hetfield wrote the lyrics because he felt powerless after the band's equipment was stolen before their January gig in Boston.[3] Musically, the song begins with an acoustic guitar introduction and becomes progressively heavier and faster, ending with multi layered guitar solos.[16] The song's structure is similar to Metallica's future ballads, "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)", "One" and "The Day That Never Comes". "Fade to Black" was released as a promo single in 1984, in glow in the dark green.

"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 the impending doom in terror. The song is based on a fast picked galloping riff, reminiscent of the album's opener.[16] The song was inspired from a demo song by Hammett's former band Exodus titled "Impaler", which was later released on that band's album Tempo of the Damned (2004).[17] Originally titled "The Hammer", the song was intended to be released as a single due to its lighter sound and wide–appealing lyrics.[18] "Escape" has been performed live only once, at the 2012 Orion Music + More music festival at Bader Field, Atlantic City, while performing Ride the Lightning in its entirety, though it was jammed during the encore at the last concert of the World Magnetic Tour.

"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.[18] The bridge of the song, with the recognizable lyrics "Die, by my hand!", was written by Hammett in Exodus for the song "Die by His Hand", which was recorded and released by Exodus as a demo, but was not featured on a studio album. "Creeping Death" was released as a single on November 3, 1984, with a B-side titled Garage Days Revisited comprised of covers of "Am I Evil?" and "Blitzkrieg".[19] "The Call of Ktulu", tentatively titled "When Hell Freezes Over", was based on H. P. Lovecraft's book The Shadow Over Innsmouth, which was first introduced to the rest of the band by Burton.[20] 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 Call of Ktulu" was also the last Metallica composition to include songwriting credit for Mustaine. The song begins with D minor chord progression in the intro, followed by two minute bass solo over a rhythmic riff pattern. The song was rearranged by Michael Kamen for Metallica's 1999 S&M project and won a Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance in 2000.[21]


Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 5/5 stars[22]
Chicago Tribune 3/4 stars[23]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music 3/5 stars[24]
Q 4/5 stars[25]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 4/5 stars[26]
Sputnikmusic 5/5[27]

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.[22] 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.[25] Kerrang! implied that the album's maturity and musical intelligence helped Metallica expand heavy metal's boundaries.[25] Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune described Ride the Lightning as a more refined extension of the group's debut.[23] 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.[27] 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.[26] 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.[24] The album placed fifth on IGN Music's "Top 25 Metal Albums" list.[28]


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 the 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 the 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 participated at the Monsters of Rock festival held in Castle Donington, 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.[29] 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 upcoming studio album.[30]

Track listing[edit]

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

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
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.[32][33]




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


Chart Peak
Australian Albums Chart[34] 38
Dutch Albums Chart[34] 20
Finnish Albums Chart[34] 9
French Albums Chart[34] 126
Italian Albums Chart[34] 66
New Zealand Albums Chart[34] 32
Norwegian Albums Chart[34] 40
Swedish Albums Chart[34] 22
Swiss Albums Chart[34] 78
UK Albums Chart[35] 87
US Billboard 200[36] 100


Region Certification Sales/shipments
Australia (ARIA)[37] Platinum 70,000^
Canada (Music Canada)[38] Platinum 100,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[39] Gold 100,000^
United States (RIAA)[40] 6× Platinum 6,000,000^

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


  1. ^ Gulla 2009, p. 101.
  2. ^ Gulla 2009, p. 102.
  3. ^ a b c Winwood & Brannigan 2013, Chapter 5: Fight Fire with Fire.
  4. ^ Prown & Newquist 1997, p. 225.
  5. ^ Popoff 2013, p. 40.
  6. ^ Popoff 2013, p. 42.
  7. ^ a b Dome & Wall 2011, Chapter 2: Ride the Lightning.
  8. ^ a b Gulla 2009, p. 103.
  9. ^ Grow, Kory (July 28, 2014). "Fighting Fire With Fire: Metallica Look Back on 'Ride the Lightning'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved July 19, 2014. 
  10. ^ Wiederhorn, Jon (July 27, 2015). "31 Years Ago: Metallica Release ‘Ride the Lightning’". Loudwire. Retrieved July 28, 2015. 
  11. ^ McIver 2009, p. 109.
  12. ^ McIver 2009, p. 117.
  13. ^ "Metallica - Ride The Lightning". Discogs. Retrieved June 18, 2012. 
  14. ^ a b McIver 2009, p. 118.
  15. ^ McIver 2009, p. 119.
  16. ^ a b McIver 2009, p. 120.
  17. ^ Angle, Brad (August 2014). "High Voltage". Guitar World: 54. Retrieved July 19, 2014. 
  18. ^ a b McIver 2009, p. 121.
  19. ^ "Creeping Death". Metallica.com. Retrieved June 28, 2012. 
  20. ^ McIver 2009, p. 122.
  21. ^ "Past Winners Search - Metallica". National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Retrieved August 12, 2012. 
  22. ^ a b Huey, Steve. "Ride the Lightning - Metallica". AllMusic. Retrieved July 28, 2013. 
  23. ^ a b Kot, Greg (December 1, 1991). "A Guide to Metallica's Recordings". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved July 28, 2013. 
  24. ^ a b Larkin, Colin (2006). Encyclopedia of Popular Music 5 (4th ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 725. ISBN 0-19-531373-9. 
  25. ^ a b c "Metallica - Ride the Lightning CD Album Japan". CD Universe. Muze. Retrieved July 28, 2013. 
  26. ^ a b Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian David (2004). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide. Simon and Schuster. p. 538. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8. 
  27. ^ a b Freeman, Channing (September 23, 2011). "Ride The Lightning - Metallica". Sputnikmusic. Retrieved February 28, 2012. 
  28. ^ Spence D. and Ed T. (July 7, 2010). "IGN: Music - Top 25 Metal Albums". IGN. Retrieved November 13, 2010. 
  29. ^ McIver 2014, Chapter 11: 1984-1985.
  30. ^ McIver 2014, Chapter 13: 1986.
  31. ^ Kaufman, Gil (June 26, 2006). "Metallica Put Catalog On iTunes — Quietly". MTV. Retrieved April 11, 2012. 
  32. ^ Ride the Lightning (CD liner notes). Metallica. Megaforce Records. 1984. 
  33. ^ "Ride The Lightning". Metallica.com. Retrieved June 28, 2012. 
  34. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Metallica – Ride the Lightning" (in German). Hung Medien. Retrieved May 30, 2015. 
  35. ^ "Metallica UK Chart History". Official Charts Company. Retrieved May 30, 2015. 
  36. ^ "Metallica – Chart history". Billboard. Archived from the original on May 30, 2015. Retrieved May 11, 2013. 
  37. ^ "ARIA Charts – Accreditations – 2008 Albums". Australian Recording Industry Association. Retrieved March 28, 2014. 
  38. ^ "Canadian album certifications – Metallica – Ride the Lightning". Music Canada. Retrieved March 28, 2014. 
  39. ^ "British album certifications – Metallica – Ride the Lightning". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved March 28, 2014.  Enter Ride the Lightning in the field Keywords. Select Title in the field Search by. Select album in the field By Format. Select Gold in the field By Award. Click Search
  40. ^ "American album certifications – Metallica – Ride the Lightning". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved March 28, 2014.  If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Album, then click SEARCH


External links[edit]