One Track Mind: Metallica, “Escape” (1984)

The decision to play 1984’s Ride the Lightning in its entirety last weekend for their inaugural Orion Music and More Festival brought a historic moment for Metallica. It intrigued me so much that I tuned in to Fuse TV’s live stream of the concert online to see it. The sixth track on the album, “Escape,” is one of only a handful of songs from their catalog that the band has never played live.

Oh, there’s been a snippet of it in a medley here and there over the years, but they’ve never played the whole song, and it’s said that no one in the band really likes it. I can’t understand that since it’s one of my favorite tunes on the album.

Despite their reluctance, they cranked out a really good version of the song at the festival. James Hetfield’s voice cracked a little on a few of the higher, more melodic parts, but in all honesty, I thought he had much more trouble with “Trapped Under Ice,” which came next. The tune acquitted itself well live, and they even teased us with a bit of another song they’ve never played live, “Frayed Ends of Sanity” from …And Justice for All, ironically, one of my favorite songs from that record. But I’ll tackle that one some other time.

Though “Escape” is probably the least thrashy moment on Ride the Lightning, it’s always had a great appeal to me. There’s clearly more of a hard rock or traditional metal vibe to the song, drawing heavily on some of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands that influenced them. It starts out with a guitar riff at a relatively sedate gallop for the band at that time and some harmonizing leads. Then there’s that cool melodic chorus that was completely out of character with the rest of the record, but it’s what really makes the song for me. A defiant crunching riff leads into Kirk Hammett’s guitar solo, and another comes out of it with sirens sounding in the background and Hetfield’s again strangely melodic refrain of “Life’s for my own to live my own way” fading out with the rest of the band. It’s grammatically quite awkward, but that line always sticks with me for days after I hear it.

That message of the song also still rings true with me, though, sadly, you sometimes don’t have the ability to follow it in the real world. Ostensibly about an escaped prisoner, it’s really about escaping from the things that keep you from being what you want to be and living the way that you want to. In a piece I did a few years back, I chose it as one of the metal songs that inspired me most, and I still feel that way.

It was nice, watching the stream of the show, to hear live versions of all of the songs from what often seems to be the band’s most underrated album, despite the notable presence of “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “Fade to Black” and “Creeping Death” on its tracklist. As for the rest of the Orion Festival performance, it was one of the best and most energetic Metallica shows that I’ve seen in some time. It’s obvious they were pumped, and it showed.

It would be nice if they’d head back into the studio after the experience and try to capture some of the attitude and aggression with which they delivered songs like “Fight Fire with Fire” last weekend. A guy can dream, right?

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Fred Phillips

Fred Phillips is a veteran entertainment writer with a love of hard rock and heavy metal. He has written music reviews, columns and feature stories for several newspapers, Web sites and a national wire service, while running a stand-alone site called Hall of the Mountain King in various places and incarnations since 1997. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
  • Ninou

    Nice review. I was really curious to see this performance too! I liked it. I hope they won’t wait another 26 years to play it again! :-)
    Although not one of my favorite tracks from that album, “Escape” has never stuck me as so different and so out of place in Ride the Lightning and I too always have been puzzled by the bands attitude towards it.
    I actually quite like the part with the sirens at the end.

    • Jeremy

      I actually hope they DO wait 26 more years to play it. That means I’ll be attending Metallica shows when I’m in my late 50’s. :)

  • http://geekfurious.com GeekFurious

    Hey Fred, it’s not the whole band that dislikes Escape, just James. It has something to do with the record label forcing them to put it on the album and James feeling he had written pretty uninspired lyrics for it.

    From everything we have seen from the other guys, they dig the song. Also, you can hear the riff being played on one of the 1982 riff demos that have been floating around the Internet for a while. So, they had the song in mind on some level while Mustaine was still in the band.

  • Fred Phillips

    I’ve seen a few stories about why they don’t play the song floating around the Internet over the years, but never anything “official.” Interesting that James thinks it’s uninspired. It’s always been one of my favorites. Funny sometimes how a fan’s interpretation can be so different from the guy who wrote it.

    I don’t think “Escape” is necessarily out of place on the record. I think it fits perfectly, but it is just a little different from most of the other stuff. Then again, I’ve been listening to it in that spot for 28 years or so, so of course it fits perfectly. :)