I recently published an essay and a video on YouTube about the Metallica song Fight Fire With Fire and how, after nearly 40 years and due to one simple error by the original official transcriber, we have been hearing, playing and thinking about this song completely wrong.
In summary: the song is on the beat. Conventional transcriptions have the song and it’s accents in the verses on the offbeat.
This is wrong. Instinctively, listening to the song, we can FEEL that Lars’ snare is on the beat and NOT on the offbeat.
But, I got to wondering: if I’m right (and I am…) does this hold true for the rest of the song?
Let’s investigate how we get from the Verse Riff, into the Link Riff and into the Chorus and see…
(I will be doing a whole series on this song to explain just how it’s all on the beat, breaking it up into sections, so don’t panic, there will be a part 3 and 4 etc…)
As with Part 1 of this exploration, I will be using 8th notes in the guitar part to make things as clear as possible by removing visual clutter on the tabs and audio clutter in the a clips (the end result of this does give it a Ministry/Rammstein feel! 😂 )
We’ve seen in the previous essay where the downbeat is and it’s NOT on the Choke at the very start.
Traditionally, this is marked up as being two 16th notes that has the effect of pushing all the stabs onto the offbeats.
However, the first two 16th notes are actually on the & of 4 in the preceding bar, what I call a pickup note.
Here’s what it really looks like using 8th notes as our subdivision:
Here’s what it sounds like:
Now that we know where the downbeat really is and that this riff also functions as the Verse Riff, we should expect to see a pickup note at the end of the bar that leads us into the Link Riff and we do see exactly that.
The Post-Verse Link Riff is a truncated version of the 2nd riff we encountered in the intro to the song proper.
If the pickup note pattern holds true then we should see one at the tail end of this Link Riff too and, unsurprisingly, we do.
This pickup note, however, plays a greater role in relation to the Chorus: it’s the note on which the first sung syllable of the Chorus is placed.
Het’ sings “Fight” on this pickup note which means the downbeat in the Chorus is actually the G5 and NOT the low E as it’s traditionally transcribed.
Deep down I think you all knew that, given how weakly the word “Fight” is sung compared to the word “Fire”…
The first part of the Chorus riff has a Long-Short-Long feel which UG attempts to illustrate but, due to what I can only assume is the limitation of their player’s software and how it renders notation, their version has an unreadable rhythmic pattern!
Then we have the speed picked part. On paper this is written as 16th notes but in reality just play this as fast and as hard as you can while staying on the beat!
Because we now have the first syllable of the Chorus on the pickup note at the back end of the Link Riff (see above) and the downbeat is on the G5 and NOT the E, we end up with a couple of rogue looking 16th notes in the first half of the Chorus phrase.
Don’t worry, they’re meant to be there!
If you’ve been paying close attention you’ll recognise that these fall on our old friend, the pickup beat. They lead us into the next bar.
And, if my theory holds true, there should be a pickup note at the end of this speed picked bar and indeed there is!
This pickup note resets the phrase and starts the Chorus Riff over again.
Now, please note that the lyrics of the Chorus are kind of unbalanced; the 1st and 3rd lines both start with the word “Fight” on the pickup note of the previous bar while lines 2 & 4 start ON THE BEAT in the Chorus bar proper.
Here you can see an “empty” pickup note because the next lyric line of the Chorus actually starts on the beat
4th time around you’re presented with (at least in the JTR Tab) a bar of 9/8 which might unsettle or confuse you but I’ll explain why you don’t need to panic about it…
This bar is only a bar of 9/8 because mathematically it has to be. What does that mean?
In order to fit in Lars’ tumbling drum fill and Het’ saying “We all shall die” AND the pickup note that leads us into the following Verse-style Link Riff, we need nine 8th notes! This is all purely academic and probably only of interest to music theory nerds like me to geek out over…
The imprtant thing to remember is this: you DO NOT have to count this bar. Just play it and feel it.
It is it’s own thing and you shouldn’t wreck your head trying to count from 4/4 into 9/8 at these tempos!
How to feel it though?
This may (or may not!) help: below are the first 4 notes of Lars’ drum part.
These are the ones to pay attention to because “We all shall die!” comes on the following notes.
This little group sounds like this:
Het’s whispered, “We all shall die!” comes in on the next 8th note of Lars’ drum fill.
In the image below I’ve added where the words fall in the bar/drum fill.
Note also the pickup note at the end of the bar with a crash on it.
Indulge me for a moment…
Let’s consider coming to a hard stop on the B♭5’s the 4th time around the chorus riff and just doing nothing after it.
Just wait, keep our imaginary crowd begging and desperate for us to resolve this riff; give it, I dunno, 10 seconds, take the whole thing right out of the flow of the song.
Then, at some point in your head, say to yourself, “We all shall die ‘&’” and then start playing the next riff as you say “&” (because it’s the pickup note) and see how it just works.
To illustrate, here’s how it looks and sounds with a ridiculous pause inserted.
I’ve added a 2 count on the hi-hats to introduce Lars’ drum fill and where Het’ says “We all shall die!” and then we’re off into the verse style link riff.
Can you see how, even with that ludicrous gap in the middle, it all makes sense when you know it’s on the 1 and that the song uses pickup notes?
Hoepfully you see how you don’t have to count that 9/8 bar because it’s just a self-contained unit that you can feel, that can be placed anywhere in space and time within the song without you losing the downbeat.
Here’s the audio from the end of Verse 2, into the Link Riff, into the Chorus and out into the Verse-style Link Riff (try and hang on to the click to really feel how this all lines up)
I hope this has shown that the idea of the pickup note and the downbeat’s correct placement DOES hold true into the chorus and beyond.
In part 3 I’ll look at the second chorus into the half-time Pre-solo riff (which definitely falls on the beat, helping to prove my case) and the Solo riffs.
While they do fall on the beat, on paper they look pretty lumpy but again, you can simply feel your way through them and you’ll be fine.
You’ll see 👍🏽
Until next time, may the riff be with you.