Metallica’s Ride the Lightning, The 30th Anniversary: “Fight Fire with Fire”
If you don’t understand what this is or why we’re doing this, read this.
As any longtime MetalSucks commenter will know, I’m not a huge Metallica fan. They meant a lot to me during a certain period in my life, and then I moved on. For me, Metallica is like the college boyfriend who got me into Neurosis, or the long afternoons in high school spent trying to coax my best friend’s curly hair into a mohawk: important, but no longer relevant to my current life (though my best friend’s hair is curlier than ever, and I do have a soft spot for Scott Kelly’s rumble). That’s just me, though; for many, many, many people, Metallica means quite a lot more than that. Their legacy and impact on heavy metal is unquestionable and untouchable. No matter how many g’s Papa Het drops in Louis Vuitton or how much you still miss Cliff Burton or how creaky Lars’ drumming gets, you’ve got to hand it to them: they’re still Metallica, one of the most successful and best-loved metal bands to ever walk this green earth.
By the time Ride the Lightning was released, Ronald Reagan had swept the Presidential election and the Cold War was still several years from its great thaw. In 1984, people were less concerned with Orwell’s boot than what the Reds were cooking up over in their Moscow laboratories. With the Cuban Missile Crisis only a few decades old and the Able Archer 83-led nuclear war scare of 1983 fresh in the minds of the populace, it’s no wonder that thrash metal’s big guns were just as obsessed with the concept of Armageddon as the schoolchildren who were still taught to duck and cover. I’ve written about metal’s nuclear fixation before, and while bands like Voivod, Nuclear Assault, and Cryptic Slaughter have had their eyes on the skies for decades, young Metallica was no exception. Before they got rich, got old, and turned into whatever you’d like to think of their 2014 incarnation, their songs subscribed to the same furious sociopolitical rhetoric as many of their peers.
As well as Biblical and Lovecraftian imagery, the band’s second full-length Ride the Lightning is rife with biting commentary on America’s criminal justice system, suicide, and the horrors of modern warfare. “Fight Fire With Fire” starts off with a deceptively peaceful harmonic intro, then kicks in hard and fast, launching into a howling thrash metal assault that describes in lurid detail mankind’s hubris and the decimation of nuclear war. The song’s short, succinct lines paint an unnerving picture of Armageddon replete with fallout and burning winds, accompanied by searing guitarwork that builds into an apocalyptic finish. “Fight Fire With Fire” is powerful on several levels, and it’s especially sobering to read through those lyrics today, when the threat of nuclear war hangs over us daily like a black widow lurking in the corner of your topmost bedroom window.