The classic Metallica song that sounded too “happy”

No one listens to Metallica expecting to hear them sing about letting the good times roll. From the first time that James Hetfield pushed his pen to paper, every one of the band’s songs revolved around the darkest corners of the human psyche, telling people about the horrors of war on ‘One’ or being trapped in cryogenic sleep in ‘Trapped Under Ice’. While ‘Sad But True’ should have been the darkest song they ever made, the first draft of the song sounded way too optimistic in the band’s eyes.

After coming to the end of the 1980s, the band needed a serious change of pace if they wanted to be taken seriously as a metal mainstay. Even though the introduction of Jason Newsted went about as smoothly as possible on And Justice For All, there was one small problem…the album sounded like trash.

Since they were all still grieving over the loss of founding member Cliff Burton, most of the album featured Newsted’s bass pushed to the edge of the mix, sounding completely buried in the final mix of the album. In order to get the most out of their sounds on the following record, the band thought the only person to get what they needed was Bob Rock.

Then again, Rock wasn’t going to hide his feelings about the songs he was working on. Throughout the process, Rock was known to be absolutely vicious when he thought something didn’t work, eventually saying that he wanted to produce because no other Metallica album did justice to what they could do live.

In an attempt to get a fresh sound, the band also started pairing down their initial licks. Gone were the days of playing eight-minute exercises for what seemed like an eternity, instead replaced with a radio-friendly sheen that sounded closer to rock and roll. If ‘Enter Sandman’ ended up scaring away a few fans, though, ‘Sad But True’ was the real edge the record needed.

Detuning the guitars to D, the entire mix feels like a huge monster stomping across the speakers, especially with the layers of guitars that Hetfield piled on. Even though the band found the right fit for the song, they admitted that the original version sounded like the furthest thing from what they were used to.

When talking to Classic Albums, Hetfield was talking about having several arguments regarding how the song should sound, saying, “[It was] too fast. That was a prime example of what tempo to play the song at. This we argued about a lot, because that riff sounded so happy when you tried to play it. Even the vocals sounded too rushed”.

Rather than have to keep up with their contemporaries by playing fast and heavy, the results sounded much closer to what a 1990s version of Black Sabbath might have done, bringing it down to its signature heavy groove halfway through the production. Metallica may have been messing around with a few more interesting ideas this time around, but that didn’t mean that the heaviness had to stop just because of a few good hard rock songs.

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