The first four albums by Metallica are often revered as sacred within the thrash metal community. Prior to the involvement of figures like Bob Rock and the turbulent era that produced St. Anger, these albums epitomized the perfect fusion of metal and punk, despite certain questionable decisions like the barely audible bass on And Justice for All.
While each of these albums could be considered among Metallica’s best work, they also harbor a song that frontman James Hetfield appears to hold in disdain.
Positioned right in the heart of Ride the Lightning, “Escape” is a track that Hetfield has seemingly disliked from its inception. And his sentiments are not without cause, as technically, the song wasn’t meant to exist.
While finalizing the album’s tracklist, the band believed they had sufficient material until their label requested an additional song with potential as a single. As a result, “Escape” came into being on one of the last days of recording.
In an interview with Sopitas, Hetfield recalled the process:
“The ‘Ride the Lightning’ album was the first time we wrote a song in the studio. I remember we had all the songs and Lars said, ‘They want us to record one more, they need one more for the album.’ I was like, ‘You didn’t tell me that…’ So we had to write and it was really last-minute. So ‘Escape’ was one of those songs that was written in the studio.”
While the track exudes a heavier Thin Lizzy influence, James has preferred to cast it aside, avoiding its inclusion even during the band’s prime years.
However, Metallica eventually, albeit reluctantly, performed the song in 2012 as part of their Orion Music Festival. This performance was a result of a promise to play Ride The Lightning in its entirety for the first time.
Addressing the audience before playing ‘Escape’ during the show, Hetfield stated:
“Do you know what song is next? Don’t say it out loud, please! This is groundbreaking right here, this is historical, for those of you who might know what’s coming up next. The song that we never wanted to play live, ever… is now on the set list. We’re not afraid, we’re just hoping it’s good. We’ll do our best.”
Despite his reservations, the song has aged better than anticipated. Its bridge section stands as one of the heaviest portions the band crafted in the ’80s, featuring a doomy quality that verges on the sludge reminiscent of Sabbath.
While fans might have embraced it, Hetfield remains unswayed, even candidly admitting to the crowd that he never intended to play it again once the performance concluded.
In hindsight, tracks like “Escape” might evoke memories akin to old high school photos. Nonetheless, fans would likely prefer hearing songs like this over anything from the divisive Lulu collaboration.