Most thrash metal purists like to consider the first four Metallica albums as pretty much untouchable. Before the likes of Bob Rock got involved and long before the nightmare that happened on St. Anger, these were the kind of rough and tumble tunes that gave us the perfect balance on metal and punk, even with a few questionable decisions like the bass being buried on And Justice for All.
Right in the middle of Ride the Lightning, “Escape” was a song that James disliked from day one. And for good reason since it’s technically not supposed to exist. When putting together the initial track listing for the record, the band thought they had enough songs until their label asked them to put together something that might have legs as a single, with the song being written on one of the last days in the studio.
“[‘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 definitely has a heavier Thin Lizzy vibe to it, James wanted to just forget that it ever happened, never playing it through their glory days. However…
Metallica finally did play the song live (albeit begrudgingly) in 2012 as part of their Orion Music fest, where they basically forced their own hand into playing it after promising to play all of Ride The Lightning from front to back for the first time.
Per Hetfield at that show, before. kicking into ‘Escape’:
“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.”
For all of his griping though, this song actually aged a lot better than the band probably imagined, with the bridge section being one of the heaviest sections that they would create in the ‘80s, having a doomy quality that almost reaches Sabbath levels of sludge.
We may have eaten it up, but James has still yet to be swayed, even mentioning to the crowd that he never wanted to do it again once the song was finished.
Songs like these might feel like embarrassing pictures from high school these days, but fans would probably be a lot happier to hear something like this than anything off of Lulu.