The public image of Metallica‘s James Hetfield had always been a beer guzzling, hard-case, lone wolf… but when the biggest band in thrash drifted into their Black album era, Hetfield finally allowed himself to be vulnerable, opening up about his childhood trauma through “The God That Failed” and “The Unforgiven.”
Hetfield grew up in a Christian Science household where all medical science was curtailed in favor of prayer. “It was very alienating to me as a child, being brought up in this religion and how I couldn’t attend certain health classes at school. They would bring out their health books and I wasn’t supposed to learn about the body because “this is just a shell for your soul” and all that.”
Believing that God would heal the body and protect them from getting sick or injured, Hetfield’s mother refused treatment when she got cancer. This decision ultimately led to her untimely death while James was still in high school. When James’ father had left the family years earlier, James was suddenly left without either parent.
Fast forward to Black album sessions, Hetfield opened up about the trauma of his childhood to create “The God That Failed” and “The Unforgiven.”
“It’s me telling the world about me when I can’t do it on my own,” Hetfield said Guitar Center about ‘The Unforgiven’. “Music was the voice I didn’t have. I was afraid of pretty much everything… afraid of the world, afraid of speaking. [I was a] really, really shy kid. Music was a way of speaking.”
As for “The God That Failed,” Hetfield’s lyrics paint a picture of his mother’s suffering juxtaposed with her undying faith in God. “I hear faith in your cries / Broken is the promise, betrayal / The healing hand held back by the deepened nail / Follow the god that failed.”
For James Hetfield Black album was more than just Metallica’s most commercially successful record… it was therapy. Check out our full analysis of Black album classics in the video below.