This far into their career, it’s impossible not to have heard of Metallica. The legendary American metal outfit is a quarter of America’s Big Four of thrash metal, comprising of themselves, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax.
While their sound has certainly changed from the brash and bold, raw production of their debut, Metallica is an iconic household name in metal and is respected the world over.
While many of Metallica’s songs are rather introspective or provide thoughtful commentary, some stand out more than others and invoke a lot of emotion. I’ve curated the 10 saddest songs on this list!
1. Fade To Black
Album: Ride The Lightning
If you’ve read my article on some of metal’s songs about suicide, you can probably understand why this takes the prize for being Metallica’s saddest song. Beyond its lyrics, there is a powerful, emotional ballad that weeps futility through its guitar tones and bass lines that’s unparalleled in Metallica’s career.
If you want something different and raw from Metallica, look no further than “Fade To Black”.
Album: …And Justice For All
In a similar vein to “Fade To Black”, “One” is full of sorrowful instrumentals and a terrifying theme permeates through it. The song describes a soldier who fell in battle, only to find himself in a hospital with no hearing, unable to speak, and without any limbs.
“One” explores the futility the fallen soldier feels, and also the eventual anger that comes with his grief. The latter is executed brilliantly by James Hetfield and co as the track erupts into aggressive thrashing towards the halfway mark.
3. To Live Is To Die
Album: …And Justice For All
“To Live Is To Die” is an incredibly personal song for Metallica. It was written as a tribute to their late bassist Cliff Burton, who died in a tour bus crash. There is emotion aplenty throughout the track, and I feel it encapsulates the different stages of grief the remaining Metallica members experienced in the wake of his death.
The track flows from sorrowful, vulnerable guitar plucking to heavy, rage-filled riffs that take us through a complex journey of loss.
4. The Unforgiven
While it may not be directly relatable to many people, “The Unforgiven” is an immensely personal track to Metallica’s frontman, James Hetfield. It navigates his tumultuous childhood, and the alienation and regret he has had to process throughout his life.
I feel that “The Unforgiven” was the beginning of a shift in Metallica’s sound. The hard-hitting thrash moments began to allow softer, ballad-like anthems to reach the surface. I think it worked to great effect in Metallica’s career, as we’ll see throughout the rest of this list.
5. Mama Said
If you’re looking for a real tearjerker, “Mama Said” is the one for you. James Hetfield wrote this for his late mother, who died of cancer when he was 15. In the song, he explores his wish to spend more time with her, and that he hopes to spend time with her again when he passes on.
Its simple acoustic passages and otherwise minimal instrumentals make this country-influenced ode to a lost parent enough to make anyone’s eyes water.
6. The Unnamed Feeling
Album: St. Anger
St. Anger is a massively divisive record in Metallica’s discography. Loved by some and disliked by others, it marked a huge change in direction for the American metal icons.
“The Unnamed Feeling” doesn’t strictly relate to sadness; it attempts to mimic panic attacks and anxiety instead. That, however, is where I find the sadness in this track. Mental illness and the stigma surrounding it are serious topics that still too few people understand, and attempting to convey it through music is a smart move.
7. Bleeding Me
The shift in direction that Metallica underwent in their self-titled record felt like it reached its peak in 1996’s Load. They began to push their boundaries into grunge, country, and all manner of styles for the better, in my opinion.
“Bleeding Me” is a powerful ballad-style track with plenty of crunch to it as it explores mental anguish and regret. Leeching onto the past and its problems is no way to live and listening to a track such as “Bleeding Me” can help people feel less alone as they traverse these issues.
8. Low Man’s Lyric
1997’s Reload aptly feels like the second half of 1996’s Load, except with a few less memorable tracks (sorry, Metallica). One track that does stand out to me, however, is the lonely “Low Man’s Lyric”.
What makes this track stand out to me is the hurdy-gurdy that was used to crank up the country levels just a little higher. It’s a delicate touch that adds a lot of emotion to a track about a man beaten down on his luck.
9. Hero Of The Day
Here we have another of Metallica’s power ballads, but this time it has a few different meanings. The initial meaning can be taken as a note on dealing with the effects of war on ex-soldiers, and the PTSD that follows, which is a sad topic in and of itself.
I feel it’s a number dedicated to the love that holds families together. With it, the household stays together and grows. Without it, life becomes much more difficult.
10. Sweet Amber
Album: St. Anger
James Hetfield has been no stranger to exposing his vulnerability throughout his career with Metallica, and “Sweet Amber” is no exception. This time around, James is confronting his problematic addiction to alcohol, with ‘amber’ being a metaphor for liquor.
It’s an angry, no-nonsense hard hitter of a track that is as catchy as it is vulnerable. I give credit to Hetfield for being transparent about his past troubles and hope he can continue on his positive trajectory.
Justin is an audio engineer with years of experience in the field. He has been creating and playing music his entire life, but he really found his passion for engineering when he was introduced to Logic Pro at age 10. Justin has spent countless hours perfecting his craft and now works as a freelance engineer out of Boston, MA.