Creeping Death is the seventh track on Ride the Lightning. It is a reworking of the Exodus song "Die By His Hand". It is the first and only single from the album. Writing credits go to James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Cliff Burton, and Kirk Hammett.
The song is based off the second half of the movie The Ten Commandments, when the plagues are spreading and killing the people. Cliff Burton commented on it, saying that it was like "creeping death". The "creeping death" is actually the Plague of the Firstborn (Exodus 12:29). Some of the other plagues are mentioned in the song as well.
The song is being told from the point of view of the Angel of Death as summoned by Moses, the leader of the Hebrews in Egypt and also mentioned dialogues he has with God. Throughout the song, some of the ten plagues are mentioned, all from the story of the "Hagadah", The Passover exodus. Moses repeatedly demanded from Pharaoh to set the Hebrew slaves free from Egypt, famously known as "Let my people go" and insisted he was sent by God, to the promised land of Cannan (For the last 400 years the Hebrew people lived in the Goshen region of Egypt "Land of Goshen" and were made slaves of the Pharaohs), which would not be affected by the plague (Exodus 8:22-23). To prove his point and persuade Pharaoh as Pharaoh refused to do, Moses, guided by God, laid ten strikes on the Egyptians. The ten strikes:
- To kill the first born Pharaoh's son: The tenth and most severe strike — The God of Israel killed every firstborn Egyptian that was a boy (In reference to the Pharaoh's order to throw every Hebrew firstborn into the Nile). One such child was the Pharaoh's firstborn.
- I will be with thee, bush of fire: Refers to God speaking to Moses through a burning bush.
- Blood, Running red and strong, down the Nile: The first of the ten plagues, water of the Nile turned to blood.
- Plague: This line refers to any of the ten plagues.
- Darkness three days long: The ninth of the ten, the sun was blocked for three days.
- Hail to fire: The seventh of the ten, burning hail fell from the sky.
- Blood, lamb's blood painted door; I shall pass: Passover; the night God slew the firstborns of Egyptian families. The Hebrews were warned earlier by Moses to paint the doorpost with lamb blood so God would pass over their houses and not kill their sons.
- "Creeping Death" was premiered live on November 4, 1983, in Reseda, California.
- "Creeping Death" is a frequent part of the setlist at any given Metallica show. Being played a staggering 1,397 times as of April 2014, as the band's second most played live song, right behind "Master Of Puppets" (1,447 times). It is one of the nine songs to be played live over 1000 times, along with "Master Of Puppets", "Seek & Destroy", "One", "For Whom The Bell Tolls", "Enter Sandman", “Sad But True”, “Fade To Black”, and "Nothing Else Matters".
- During the break down typically both Kirk and James will cut out for a few bars leaving only bass and drums to be heard as they encourage fans to sing "Die!!!" as backing vocals before the song continues on.
- The way the third chorus has changed over the years with passing bassists. In Cliff's era, he can be heard singing backup vocals for James during the chorus. In Jason's era, Jason would take over vocal duties for the chorus and sing instead of James. After Robert Trujillo joined, the guitars are normally stopped to let the fans sing the chorus.
"For the "Creeping Death" solo I used my mid-Seventies Gibson Flying V and a Boss SD-1 Super Overdrive pedal through James' Marshall (a late-Seventies 1959 Super Lead modified by amp guru Jose Arrendondo). The first part was pretty much improvised. Our engineer, Flemming Rasmussen, suggested that I double-track the solo to make it sound better. However, I still had to play this small fill at the end - a four-bar break with four accents afterward. I thought of an exercise that I used to practice where I could play these four-note diminished chords. I just played that over the accents, and it worked out nice." Kirk Hammett.
Slaves Hebrews born to serve, to the pharaoh Heed To his every word, live in fear Faith Of the unknown one, the deliverer Wait Something must be done, four-hundred years So let it be written, so let it be done I'm sent here by the chosen one So let it be written, so let it be done To kill the first born pharaoh's son I'm creeping death Now Let my people go, land of Goshen Go I will be with thee, bush of fire Blood Running red and strong down the Nile Plague Darkness – three days long – hail to fire So let it be written, so let it be done I'm sent here by the chosen one So let it be written, so let it be done To kill the first-born pharaoh's son I'm creeping death Die, by my hand I creep across the land Killing first-born man Die, by my hand I'll creep across the land Killing first-born man I Rule the midnight air, the destroyer Born I shall soon be there, deadly mass I Creep the steps and floor, final darkness Blood Lamb's blood, painted doors, I shall pass So let it be written, so let it be done I'm sent here by the chosen one So let it be written, so let it be done To kill the first-born pharaoh's son I'm creeping death