The public image of Metallica’s James Hetfield had always been that of a beer sucking, hard-case, lone wolf… but as the biggest band in thrash drifted into their Black Album era, Hetfield finally allowed himself to become 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 for me as a child, being raised in this religion and how I couldn’t attend certain health classes at school. They’d get their health books out and I wasn’t supposed to learn about the body because ‘this is just a shell for your soul’ and all of this.”
With a belief that God would heal the body and shield them from being sick or injured, Hetfield’s mother refused treatment when she came down with cancer. This decision ultimately led to her untimely death while James was still in high school. With James’ father having left the family years earlier, James was suddenly left without either parent.
Fast forward to the Black Album sessions, Hetfield opened up about the trauma of his childhood to create “The God That Failed” and “The Unforgiven.”
“That’s me telling the world about me when I can’t do it on my own,” Hetfield told Guitar Center about ‘The Unforgiven.’ “Music was the voice I didn’t have. I was pretty much afraid of everything… afraid of the world, afraid of speaking. [I was a] really, really shy kid. Music was a way to speak.”
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, the Black Album was more than just Metallica’s most commercially successful record… it was therapy. Check out our full analysis of the Black Album classics in the video below.