At First, James Hetfield Thought Metallica’s ‘Enter Sandman’ ‘Wasn’t Such a Great Song’
As Metallica were in the studio writing "Enter Sandman," it turns out James Hetfield wasn't feeling the song very much and, in a new Masterclass interview, he admits that his initial impression was that it "wasn't such a great song."
The "Enter Sandman" Papa Het is referencing is a different one than the finished product that appears on Metallica's outrageously successful self-titled 1991, better known as 'The Black Album.' It has gone on to become the biggest metal song of all time and has continuously served as an entry point for music fans who would wind up discovering so many other metal bands.
Now, it's nearly impossible to a live a life where "Enter Sandman" isn't heard at least a few times.
History could have been quite different, however, if Hetfield wasn't pushed to give the song his best.
James Hetfield's Thoughts on Writing "Enter Sandman"
In a YouTube short (seen here), a portion of Hetfield's 2023 Masterclass interview focuses on the "Enter Sandman" writing process. "I think [drummer] Lars [Ulrich] and [producer] Bob Rock said, "Go back. I challenge you to go back and work on it," the Metallica frontman reveals, noting, "And I did."
It's fantastic and useful insight from Papa Het, who demonstrates the fickle nature of songwriting and the fine line between underachieving and genuine greatness. It also underscores the importance of teamwork, whether it's expanding on someone else's musical ideas or finding other means to inspire a bandmate, such as simply telling them to just keep trying.
Citing an example of how Ulrich and Rock pushing him during the writing process, Hetfield notes an important lyrical change that came as a result, which is the "catchphrase" line, "We're off to never, neverland."
Regarding some of the intent behind the lyrics, he questions, ""What happens in our sleep? Why do we have nightmares?’ – a lot of people could identify with that. Everyone has nightmares. What do you do with them? Why do they show up?”
Lars Ulrich + Kirk Hammett on Writing 'Enter Sandman'
Earlier this year in an interview on The Howard Stern Show, Metallica spoke about their own experiences while writing "Enter Sandman."
The song began with a riff that guitarist Kirk Hammett introduced to the band, which Ulrich tweaked. The drummer suggested playing the the first half of the riff three times before the cords at the end, rather than just playing each riff component once together.
"There's a thing that we do with riffs where sometimes we'll structure it where there will be a repeating pattern for three times and then an answering part (a tail). And, basically, he was just morphing it into a workable form," Hammett told Stern back in April.