Metallica Celebrate 'Ride the Lightning' 30th Anniversary: 'People Started Calling Us Sellouts'

Lars, Kirk and Flemming Rasmussen discuss recording sessions, "pleasing labels" and more.

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As Metallica's classic sophomore album "Ride the Lightning" has celebrated its 30th anniversary this Sunday (July 27), drummer Lars Ulrich, guitarist Kirk and producer Flemming Rasmussen sat down to discuss the record's importance, sharing quite a few gems from the old days.

At the very beginning of the Rolling Stone interview, Kirk explained how the inspiration for the title came from Stephen King's "The Stand," specifically from the passage about a man on death row waiting to "ride the lightning."

Continuing with the album story, the group discussed spending time in Copenhagen and entering the Sweet Silence Studios, the same place where Rainbow recorded their classic effort "Difficult to Cure."

"It was the first time that the four of us wrote together and we got a chance to broaden our horizons," Lars kicked off. "I don't think it was a conscious effort to break away from anything musically. Obviously, listening to songs like 'Fight Fire With Fire' and 'Trapped Under Ice,' we were obviously still into the thrash type of stuff. But we were realizing you had to be careful that it didn't become too limiting or one-dimensional."

However, things were far from fine and dandy at the time. Just before leaving for Denmark, the band had their equipment stolen, leaving them with nothing but their guitars. "It wasn't a particularly fun or happy time. But we were glad to be at a great studio in good working conditions. Everything else outside the studio was a struggle," Hammett explained.

Focusing on "For Whom the Bell Tolls," Kirk remembered how late Cliff Burton "would play that riff a lot in the hotel room, when him and I were hanging out. He used to carry around an acoustic classical guitar that he detuned so that he could bend the strings.

"Anyway, when he would play that riff, I would think, 'That's such a weird, atonal riff that isn't really heavy at all.' I remember him playing it for James [Hetfield], and James adding that accent to it and all of a sudden, it changed. It's such a crazy riff. To this day, I think, 'How did he write that?' Whenever I hear nowadays, it's like, 'OK, Cliff's in the house.'

Adding an interesting detail, Rasmussen explained how the track's intro is actually Lars hitting an anvil that was located in the studio for some reason.

Speaking of Cliff, the producer noted that the bassist was definitely "one of a kind. It was the Eighties, and everyone was doing the punk thing with tight pants, but he was still wearing bellbottoms. He didn't give a s--t what people thought about him. He was a good musician, really nice on a personal level and a good poker player. As a bassist, he was more like a soloist than a regular bass player."

Switching to "Creeping Death" and "Trapped Under Ice," Kirk was asked about Exodus songs "Die by His Hand" and "Impaler," specifically on whether he brought those ideas directly to the table.

"No. What I think happened was when Lars and James were thinking about getting rid of Dave [Mustaine], our sound guy, Mark Whitaker - who was Exodus' manager - gave them Exodus' demos. I think 'Die by His Hand' might have caught their ears. So when they were writing 'Creeping Death,' they went, 'Great. 'Die by His Hand.' Put it right there.' It was definitely not me going, 'I have a riff here in this Exodus song, and it needs to be here in this Metallica song.' By the way, I wrote that 'Die by His Hand' riff when I was, like, 16 years old."

The record also features the "Escape," the song band had refused to play live until rocking the album in full on Orion fest, 28 years after its release. According to Rasmussen, the song was considered to be the single at a certain point. "I remember them talking about that, because they were on this small, independent label, so that was their way of pleasing a major label, so they could get signed. Luckily, they went away from that whole pleasing-a-record-label thing," he said.

Finally, "Ride the Lightning" marked an important trend in Metallica history, as some fans started calling them sellouts for the very first time, something that would repeat itself for quite a few times in years to come. The main reason for it was the album's slow track, "Fade to Black."

"There was an odd reaction to 'Fade to Black' and to the variety of the record," Ulrich said. "It did surprise us a little bit, I guess. People started calling us sellouts and all that type of stuff. Some people were a little bit bewildered by the fact that there was a song that had acoustic guitars.

"That was kind of funny because every great Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Mercyful Fate record, that was part of their arsenal, too. The fact that we followed down that path surely couldn't have surprised anybody."

So 30 years later, the album "holds up very well" according to the band. Songs like "For Whom the Bell Tolls," "Creeping Death," and "Fade to Black" are pretty much part of every 'Tallica show.

"I love the sound of that album," Hammett concluded. "It's very analog. I think it's our warmest-sounding album. By the time we recorded 'Master of Puppets,' the days of just bashing it out were much fewer than in the 'Ride the Lightning' days. Just bashing it out always led to a more natural sounding performance to me."

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27 comments sorted by best / new / date

    They sold out after the clean interlude in Phantom Lord.
    Please. Five songs earler - when they added the slow bridge section to "The Four Horsemen".
    Hahahaha! Sad thing is, there are definitely "fans" out there who think that. But hey, I ONLY listen to the Power Metal demo. Everything after that was too overproduced.
    No Life 'Til Leather or bust! Anything after that was commercialised bullsh*t!
    No Life 'Til Leather WAS their sellout point. Power Metal was the real work of genius.
    "Some fans started calling them sellouts for the very first time, something that would repeat itself for quite a few times in years to come. The main reason for it was the album's slow track, "Fade to Black."" Oooooh! So Metallica fans have ALWAYS been whiny bitches about the slightest change? Got it.
    No. I am a real fan. I love everything they do. James Hetfield is God. Metallica WOOOOO! *smashes beer can on face THAT'S a real Metallica fan. Get it f'n right, son.
    I hate the word sellout, every time a band releases something softer than they have before or does clean singing they're sellout!
    Way Cool JR.
    I remember when this first came out (can't believe it's already been 30 years ago). I still love this album as much today as I did when it first released. It has aged well with the times. Also, I or no one else I knew considered them sellouts. The only thing they were selling out were stadiums.
    Ride The Lightning will always be my favorite Metallica album. I remember being 10 years old and listening to it on cassette for the first time. I was hooked from start to finish. From the brutality of Fight Fire With Fire to the darkness and melody of Fade To Black, this album has it all.
    the title came from Stephen King's "The Stand," specifically from the passage about a man on death row waiting to "ride the lightning."
    Pretty sure that was the Green Mile.
    Ummm. The green mile book was released in 1996...
    Really? My mistake, I'd always thought the Green Mile book was a lot older than the film.
    Not much you can say other than whats already been said. Its one of the best metal records there ever was. I can't think of another record that I love more. I agree with Kirk about how it sounds sonically, its a big part of why I love it so much. The mix is just perfect and everything sounds huge and dynamic. Its raw yet very warm sounding as-well.
    I read that book, and thought "I wonder if this is where they got the title, too unlikely." :|
    This was a cool article ( Although the thing about Cliff carrying the detuned acoustic guitar is very old and well known) RTL is by far the most powerful and energic Metallica album. Not really bashing their post RTL material, but this is the top of their game.Thanks Metallica for made such an amazing album.