The Metallica song James Hetfield regretted singing

It’s hard to think of Metallica without the signature sound of James Hetfield’s voice. Although the group may pride themselves on writing the meanest riffs possible on every track, Hetfield has become the seasoned metal warlord he always dreamt of, known for his signature bark on songs like ‘Battery’ and ‘Master of Puppets’. He could turn anything into metal perfection, but there was one song that he could never perform quite right in the studio.

Initially, Hetfield didn’t want to be the singer. While he had the bug to become an all-star frontman, there was talk of the band finding an actual metal singer until the release of Master of Puppets. Once they started to play stadiums worldwide, Hetfield reluctantly took his place at the front of the stage, all while playing rhythm guitar at breakneck speed.

Although most of the band’s early material revolved around songs with a relatively limited vocal palette, Hetfield started having trouble working on the ballads for their upcoming projects. On the album Ride the Lightning, ‘Fade to Black’ would be a radical departure for the group, featuring Hetfield doing the closest thing to crooning he could muster.

Then again, Hetfield didn’t get to sing correctly without some help. Outside of the main vocal line of the song, ‘Fade To Black’ also features a subtle keyboard playing in the background of the vocal track, slowly guiding Hetfield along to hear what notes he would be singing next.

For the follow-up, Hetfield thought their next ballad would take on the struggles of mental health. Taking a cue from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, ‘Welcome Home (Sanitarium)’ would become one of the group’s most celebrated compositions, transforming from a slow ballad about slowly losing one’s mind to a heavy metal juggernaut as he breaks free from his confinement and starts laying waste to everything around him.

Although Hetfield stood by the song as a highlight from the album, he admitted that he regretted saving the song’s vocals for the final day. In an interview celebrating the anniversary of Master of Puppets, Hetfield talked about how panicked he felt when he couldn’t reach the high notes in the song’s chorus, saying, “I remember regretting coming to the part that I saved for last in ‘Sanitarium’. It was like a really high part. I’m like, ‘I can’t sing that’. And [producer] Fleming [Rasmussen] says, ‘Well, James, you knew this was coming. What are you going to do about it?’ I was just like, ‘Fuck!’”

Even though Hetfield leaves the high part behind when he plays the song live, the high harmony on the studio recording is one of the most haunting pieces of the track. Unlike the lower octave, that high voice practically symbolises the narrator’s state of mind, almost like the one last part of his psyche is about to snap. While Hetfield would eventually get his voice into shape when working on The Black Album, ‘Welcome Home (Sanitarium)’ is one of the classic examples of him using his voice almost like another percussion instrument alongside his rhythm guitar.

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