Lars Ulrich started one of the influential metal bands with a few phone calls. He found James Hetfield, Dave Mustaine, and Ron McGovney. Initially, Metallica’s sound favored punk. However, as they became more influenced by groups like Discharge, their music style changed to thrash metal. After a few demos with original bassist Ron McGovney, he was replaced by legendary bassist Cliff Burton. In 1983 they started recording their first album Kill ‘Em All. However, in the middle of recording it, Dave Mustaine was fired and replaced by Kirk Hammet. Thus, Metallica’s first album took the underground metal scene into the mainstream despite being an independent thrash metal recording.
Ride the Lightning was released in 1984. In 1986, Master of Puppets was released, marking the true beginning of Metallica’s fame. Sadly, Cliff Burton died in a bus accident. After the tragedy, Metallica signed new bassist Jason Newstead. In 1988 they released the concept album And Justice for All. The album was full of rebellion and disenchantment with the music industry. However, the next album was a complete departure. Bob Rock produced an album with many notable hits, including Nothing Else Matters, an emotional ballad. The question is, how did a song that sentimental wind up on an album by a group whose first album was called Kill ‘Em All?
The Black Album
On August 12th, 1991, Metallica released the most popular album of their career. Their sound slowly became Mainstream between their album Master of Puppets and the chart-topping album And Justice For All based on Thrash Metal. The Black Album was the first recorded with Bob Rock, who helped the group step out of their comfort zone. Considering this producer worked with groups like Bon Jovi, it’s no surprise that true Metallica fans were suspicious. Even more so with the release of Nothing Else Matters.
Rock’s recording style was a complete departure for the group. According to reverb.com, He was a producer and wanted to engineer tracks, recording them live in-studio; changing the arrangement. Previously, Metallica had done a lot of improvisation with their music, arranging it on the spur of the moment until the song took shape. As a result, most of their albums before The Black Album had a raw stadium feel. Nothing Else Matters is the eighth track on the self-titled 1991 Album and the most well-known song by mainstream Metallica fans. According to storyofasong.com, The song is about not only confronting your feelings but having the courage to talk about them. Hetfield spoke about the song’s meaning with The Village Voice, saying it was just a song for himself. He was homesick and feeling depressed. However, it was after a phone call with his then-girlfriend that the music began to take shape.
According to metallica.fandom.com, James Hetfield had the phone under his ear and his guitar on his lap. He started playing a little bit while talking to her, and soon he had the opening chords for the song. As he spoke to her, the homesickness and how much he loved her grew; when he wrote the lyrics about trust and believing she was staying faithful to him. As the song progresses, he admits how vulnerable he is when he is around her and wanting to be with her and not having to put on a face. Additionally, the lyrics speak to games people typically play in relationships and how far beyond that, he is with her. Originally, the song was written only as a musical journal entry. Instead, it would become one of Metallica’s biggest hits. Hetfield was embarrassed about sharing the song with the group since their style always revolved around loud guitar, heavy drums, and anti-establishment thrash metal. Lars Ulrich helped him finish writing the music.
Since Bob Rock produced other groups with a comparable sound to Hetfield’s surprising song, he wanted to add it to The Black Album, the first he made with the group. As a result, many of the other songs on the album followed a more radio-friendly sound; Nothing Else Matters was the complete departure from Metallica’s signature sound. Kirk Hammet owned a standing rumor from the documentary A Year and a Half in The Life Of Metallica; he couldn’t quite play the song. He added the music was intimidating because it was a style he never played before. It went on and off setlists for quite a while before they decided to record it. Nevertheless, the unique sound charted well, rising to number 6 on the Billboard. Other songs like Enter Sandman and Sad But True were also popular, and overall, The Black Album was Metallica’s biggest album to date.
After the song
James Hetfield broke up with the girlfriend who inspired the famous song. And, now Metallica dedicates the song to their fans. The group has commented in numerous interviews that it is a song about people connecting more than being a song about a relationship. The song was played at a Hell’s Angels Clubhouse as a tribute to people who died. When Hetfield realized that the song was less about a girlfriend than about the power behind the lyrics and how it translated to many situations when people put let their genuine emotions shine.
Metallica’s following two albums, Load and Reload, continued the departure, each containing slower songs, although none impacted Nothing Else Matters. However, it was that song that ushered in a more evolved sound for the group. Even though they kept a mellower sound with the same studio production, Rock favored the following two albums; their next album, Garage Inc, returned to their roots. After that, although they made a further departure with S&M, an album they released with the San Francisco Orchestra. The Black Album is now twenty years old but is still one of the group’s best-known and most successful albums. It’s sold 22 million copies. Although, what it’s best remembered for is opening the door for other metal groups to switch up their sound without resorting back to the mid 80s glitter and big hair.