Retrospective

Metallica’s Ride the Lightning, The 30th Anniversary: “Creeping Death”

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Ride the Lightning 30th Anniversary

If you don’t understand what this is or why we’re doing this, read this.

What’s surprising for a band whose visceral, thrashing sonic aesthetic redefined metal — perhaps even defined it outright, depending on who you ask — is that a lot of today’s celebratory Ride the Lightning write-ups have focused on James Hetfield’s strikingly literal lyrics. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; perhaps these lyrics were more crucial a part of the overall experience than anyone realized.

To that end “Creeping Death” has always been a song that’s held special meaning to me and Axl — it’s a song about the exodus of the Jews from the tyrannical Pharaoh of Egypt, a miraculous story that’s celebrated by the yearly holiday of Passover. We all wish the relatives with whom we’re forced to cram around a table every spring were this metal, but at the very least we can hum “Creeping Death” under our breath when the matzah’s being passed around. Post-Seder, spared the merciless wrath of our relatives Pharaoh, may this song help conjure up memories of the nutty sweetness of the haroset, or, more fittingly, the harsh bitterness and spiciness of that horeradish! Yum.

But let us not get too caught up in lyrics and symbolism, for the main reason we’re drawn to Metallica is THOSE RIFFS, and “Creeping Death” is chock full of ’em. That intro is as iconic and powerful as any in Metallica’s catalogue — the simple, three-chord pattern, the guitarmonies that join it, then the all out thrashy chug-fest that would become Metallica’s hallmark — and hearing it instantly transports me to a live Met show with the lights flaring in unison to James and Kirk’s accents. Finally learning the timing of that little stutter-beat between the 3rd and 4th count in the second bar of the chorus (intentional? or Lars rushing a fill? we may never know) felt like a great accomplishment when I finally got it, and while Hammett has probably laid down better guitar solos over the years than the one here, this one’s endearing just the way it is. And, as if the band recognized where their best work lay, they chose to end the song just the way they started it, with that iconic, enduring riff — perfect.

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