Metallica’s Fight Fire With Fire is a thrash classic.
It lulls you into a false sense of security with a twiddly, baroque intro that makes you think that you’re in for a easy entry into the album but no: once the fancy, dandy stuff is over the main riff comes in and kicks you squarely in the soft bits!
I’ve recently been working my way through tabbing out a bunch of Metallica tracks, some off the Ride The Lightning album, and for some reason I woke up today with an urge to understand what Cliff’s up to here.
I’ve been listening to this song for more years than I care to count and ver that time I’ve never really tried to learn Cliff’s part in that intro, partly because it’s hard to tease it out with the album’s production.
But then someone released the whole thing isolated online…
This intro isn’t played strictly to time.
It’s got a baroque, classical vibe so there’s a kind of “free” expressionistic approach to sticking the landings on the downbeats.
I’ve transcribed it with a defined tempo of about 86bpm (based on the tempo of the 1st bar) and in “strict” bars but when you come to play it, play it with feeling and expression rather than playing it to the grid.
In the UG version, bar 1 is in 3/4 which is correct. However, the positions of the diads (two note chords) is wrong.
While the notes are correct playing it where they have tabbed it would give the chords a roundness and a warmth that isn’t there on the recording.
(This is, afer all, about evoking a baroque feel so it’s all about emulating that Harpsichord metallic twanginess.)
They have bar 2 as a bar of 5/4 which may work mathematically but doesn’t follow the feel of the piece; bar 3 has a very definite downbeat of it’s own so it clearly doesn’t belong to the preceeding bar.
Not only that, the way they have the line written out in bar 2 is wholly inelegant and requires far too much tumbling down the neck to achieve the desired result.
It sends you down to an open D string before adding the 7th fret G string for the octave. At least they’ve acknowledged the octave!
Cliff was a much more savvy and technically proficient bassist than playing this tab would have you believe…
To their credit, they have the meters correctly marked up and bar 2 is right.
However, in bar 1 they completely omit the diads, opting instead to simply transcribe the 3rd of the chord…
In bar 1 of the following 3 phrases for some reason they go from transcribing B, C and D to G, C and D.
Next up, bars 3 & 4. Right notes, wrong positions.
They have the whole thing skipping strings over to the 12th fret E string and down to the 10th (with no octave sounded out) for bars 3 and 4… Yes it works but the sound is wrong; it’s too thick and warm at these frets.
Oh, and the SMD tab has a little D to E hammer-on before sounding out the D (no octave!) which is just guesswork on their part apparently because it’s NOT on the bass track…
Bar 1 (3/4): 3 staccato diads on the D and G strings. Gmaj, Am and Bm.
Bar 2 & 3 (3/4 and 2/4): a single diad of Cmaj, hold the C over for a 1.5 beats, take note of the staccato notation on the melody.
(Playing this properly, you’ve just done the twiddly bit and stepped down from the 12th fret D string to the 9th fret D string)
This leaves you perfectly placed to go to the 7th fret A and hit that E, then take a 16th note pause and shimmy down to the 5th fret A string for the D.
You need to play it here so you can hit the 7th fret G string for the D octave…
Bar 4 (3/4): hold on to that D from the previous bar into bar 4 and hit the 7th fret G string to sound out the D Octave.
It’s definitely tricky, there’s a lot of twiddling about and staccatoing in a very confined space but here’s how it sounds:
Let’s look at the SMD version and how they’ve trasncribed the next 2 phrases:
These are good efforts.
The notes in the opening bar of both phrases are wrong, they’re not diads and bizarrely go from root note to playing the 3rds of the following diads.
In phrase 2 the last 2 bars have the right notes but in the wrong octave.
In the last 2 bars of phrase 3 they have the right notes in the right octave but for some reason make the G an Octave shape when it’s not…
As with bar 1 of phrase 1, here in phrase 2 and 3 they’ve got the right notes in the wrong position.
Ignoring the 5/4 meter of their bar 2, they have the right note (B) in the wrong position.
It makes sense for a 2nd fret A string B if you’ve followed their tumble down run in bar 2 but since that’s not right anyway their B is wrong too.
Got the right open A string though. 👍🏽
Again, right notes, wrong position.
Then they get the right notes in the right positions!
However, they’re still using their cumbersome run down on the G string which is wrong.
You should be ending a staccato run down from the 12th fret D string to the 9th fret and then heading to the 5th fret on the E string to slide into the G…
Let’s take a look at the last 4 bars as tabbed by UG and Sheet Music Direct:
The 1st bar of both is wrong on both; UG has diads in the wrong positions and the SMD version doesn’t even have diads and the notes it does have are also in the wrong position.
UG has the 2nd bar still using their clunky run down the G string (but at least they finally have it as a bar of 3/4!) while the SMD version is right.
Bars 3 and 4, both UG and SMD get it right only as far as it’s in 4/4.
UG has you going from the 4th fret on the G to the 7th and 10th on the A which is a bit of a gymnastic leap!
SMD has you doubling down on their string skipping over to the 12th fret E then back on yourself for the 10th fret A before both tabs have you doing a lovely little twiddly flourish to end out the intro.
Trouble is, Cliff ISN’T playing that twiddly last bar. He’s simply playing a couple of chords.
Let me show you what he’s really doing.
Which sounds like this:
Hope that helps, it’s a tricky riff with a really “non” metal vibe but it’s quite lovely in it’s way and fun to play. It can also help you with your theory and chord thinking too.
It’s in C major (the song proper modulates to Metallica’s safe ground of Em after this intro) so the first 3 diads are the V, Vi and Vii of the C major scale (Gmaj, Am and Bm). Just a bit of extra theory for you…
Anyhoo, may the riff be with you, always.