Metallica – Ride the Lightning

“Ride the Lightning” is another Metallica song in which the singer takes on the role of a particular character. And in this case it would be a prisoner on death row, who is about to meet his fate via the electric chair. In fact “Ride the Lightning” is noted as the being the earliest track in Metallica’s catalog whose topic is centered on the criminal-justice system. And in that regard, you can say their view of this institution isn’t necessarily ideal. Or rather let’s say the aforementioned inmate does not feel that law enforcement has the right to take his life. And this is despite him professing his guilt as the track commences.

So basically what is going on is that the listener is being treated to this inmate’s thought processes leading up to and during his execution. Thus the term “Ride the Lightning”, which Kirk Hammett derived from Stephen King’s 1978 novel “The Stand”, actually alludes to the idea of such a person being electrocuted (as it did in the book). And directly prior to the occasion, he definitely wants to “get it over with”. But at the same time, as illustrated by the bridge, he does “not want to die”. Owing to this, he is begging “God” to miraculously intervene to save his life. But at the end of the day he is in fact electrocuted.

A bad Dream?

Now it has been suggested, based on the final pre-chorus, that this narrative is actually a dream the singer is having. But that theory is debatable. What is definitely the case is that the singer is trying to imagine what it would feel like to be electrocuted as a death row inmate. 

And in some regards yes, you can say he’s being critical of the criminal justice system the process. But if that is the intended point, such displeasure obviously did not prevent the song’s writers from sparing its main character in the least. So perhaps the main way they are critiquing the system is via the quite-graphic description of this person’s execution, as in presenting it as being inhuman.

Release Date

This is the title track from Metallica’s second album. It was released with the rest of the porject, via Megaforce Records, on 27 July 1984.

Who wrote “Ride the Lightning”?

The writers of this song are Metallica mainstays James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich as well as past members Dave Mustaine (1982-83) and Cliff Burton, who passed away in 1986.

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