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Best Metallica Ballads
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.
Many (myself included) consider this their best album. Includes Welcome Home (Sanitarium).
Another must-have for any Metallica fan. Includes One and To Live is To Die.
Fade to Black--track #4. Feel the 12-string in your bones.
Metallica's first album. No ballads but an amazing debut.
The eponymous album, not to be missed.