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Best Metallica Ballads

Updated on December 10, 2009

No one writes a song like Metallica! Classic metal, with those long intros that build riff upon riff until you feel the music in your viscera. These top ballads are the less rough running of their songs (but don't miss their serious crunching metal if you like it hard and heavy) span their remarkable career and are the more accessible melodies for the non-heavy metal loving listener. They contain less crunching distortion and more the beauty of classically inspired composition by seriously talented musicians.


This haunting, beautiful song's lyrics are told from the perspective of a World War I soldier from the 1939 novel, Johnny Got His Gun, by Dalton Trumbo. The soldier has woken in the hospital to find that his arms, legs, eyes, nose, and ears are gone, but he is perfectly lucid and is imprisoned in the horror of what remains of his body. The gentleness of the guitar's harmonious give way to the violent distortion as James Hetfield pleads, "Please God wake me."

To Live is To Die

This regrettably lesser-known song is beautifully mournful, poignant, and  especially remarkable because it is a tribute to the late bassist Cliff Burton, an incredible talent (as evidenced by the live performance below) who died in a tour bus crash in 1986. It is the only early Metallica song where the words-which are spare and spoken word toward the end of the powerful nine minutes and forty-eight seconds of this piece-were not written by vocalist James Hetfield. About halfway through, the song slows to a heartrending, tear-inducing bridge, and what sounds like the powerful rush of strings beneath is actually an effect they produce with their guitars, proving their incredible mastery of their instruments.

Welcome Home (Sanitarium)

Not quite a ballad, but this must be one of the best Metallica songs ever. Their typically dark, mournful lyrics from the perspective of a mental patient are punctuated by their incredibly built harmonies and complex phrasing-like a classical symphony, there is so much going on in this song musically it overwhelms the listener. It builds to an incredible pace that is hard not be moved by.

Fade to Black

The depth of the 12-string guitar that opens with a simple melody is joined by the moaning of Kirk Hammett's solo, then the soaring 12-string retakes the melody, punctuated with Lars's skilled accompaniment on drums. "I have lost the will to live," Hetfield tells us and the song rushes forth, enclosing us in the desperation, willfulness, and ferocity of the bands distortion. The variations on the simple, haunting melody of the opening results in a seamless and complete song that delivers punch after punch in the gut.


Played relentlessly on MTV in the early 1990s, and bolstered by a seemingly unending tour to support the Black album, Unforgiven has never lost its luster. It's complexity and beauty defies overplaying. Metallica were at their commercial peak, skilled from writing some of the best albums of the 1980s and dedicating themselves to their craft. Nothing illustrates this better than this song about a boy who is run down by the machinations of society until he ages and dies. Some of the riffs in this song are less Metallica and more typical metal, i.e., you've heard similar wailing from other bands, but no one constructs a song like these boys, and the overall effect is quintessential Metallica at the top of their game.

Nothing Else Matters

The first song everyyone learns on the guitar is Nirvana's Come as You Are or the opening to Nothing Else Matters. Simply open strings at first, and then the quiet, high rise of a second guitar singing to the first, and then the slow rise of the drums-there is true symphonic harmony in this song. The nihilistic love story of the lyrics is ambiguous-is it the music, or the band, or living as you choose that matters above all else? Who is the "you" Hetfield finds trust in? Even listeners who can't stand metal can't shake their head at this one, which is more restrained, but also less forgiving in its painful beauty, than any other song Metallica had written before.

Master of Puppets
Master of Puppets

Many (myself included) consider this their best album. Includes Welcome Home (Sanitarium).

...And Justice For All
...And Justice For All

Another must-have for any Metallica fan. Includes One and To Live is To Die.

Ride the Lightning
Ride the Lightning

Fade to Black--track #4. Feel the 12-string in your bones.

Kill Em All
Kill Em All

Metallica's first album. No ballads but an amazing debut.


The eponymous album, not to be missed.



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    • TheHeavyReview profile image

      TheHeavyReview 5 years ago

      Great hub, "Fade to Black" is my favorite by far. Then it would be "Sanitarium" and "To Live is to Die".

    • jberens43 profile image

      jberens43 6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      I vote Nothing Else Matters

    • Owenyoyoyo profile image

      Owenyoyoyo 7 years ago from Leeds, England

      I saw them at the download festival in 2006 (same year they played master of puppets in its entirety). When they played nothing else matters I took a glance around behind me and saw a beautiful sea of shimmering lights for what felt like miles around - I think it was my favourite live music moment ever. Great hub!

    • profile image

      Paul_Steads 7 years ago

      A very well written article of some excellent songs by some very talented musicians. "The Day that Never Comes" from Death Magnetic is also nice but I'm not sure if this is a ballad.

    • metalcdinc profile image

      metalcdinc 7 years ago

      Metallica is real legend of metal... They also can called The Father of Metal.

    • Shinkicker profile image

      Shinkicker 7 years ago from Scotland

      Great Hub, great band. They had a couple of good ballads on the 'Load' and 'Re-Load' albums too.

    • topgunjager profile image

      topgunjager 7 years ago from Sunnyvale, CA

      I've seen 'em a few times, i had the chance to meet em back in april 19 2008 and took pictures with 'em. james wasn't a real people person, the coolest dude in the band would be lars, but still, they kick seruious ash!!!

    • mlambert260 profile image

      mlambert260 7 years ago

      This was awesome. God I miss Cliff, the bass anihilator!

    • profile image

      Mike 8 years ago

      I know it's a cover, but turn the page is also a really great song.

    • ButterflyWings profile image

      ButterflyWings 8 years ago

      Very nice selection. These songs are beautifully described.

    • gusripper profile image

      gusripper 8 years ago

      I belive that you are right these are the best of their balads

    • profile image

      the metallic girl 8 years ago

      i love them. I can't stop listening them :)

    • profile image

      The Metallica Store 9 years ago

      there is no doubt that Metallica will regain their place on the throne of Metal with Death Magnetic.

      We are looking forward to its Septeber release.