‘Nothing Else Matters’ is one of Metallica’s most famous songs and is still popular today. It really seems to come from the heart and when it was released it didn’t sound like any of their other songs, is it about someone though?
Metallica’s song ‘Nothing Else Matters’ is not about a single person, rather it is about James Hetfield missing home while on the road. The song was a big departure from their previous playing style of thrash-metal towards more heavy metal. While many fans seemed split about the song at the time, it ended up being one of Metallica’s most famous songs.
You can read more below about Metallica’s style before ‘Nothing Else Matters,’ the release of their fifth studio album, and how they changed their sound after.
Metallica Started as a Thrash-Metal Band
When Metallica was formed in 1981, they made a name for themselves as a thrash-metal band. They were actually known as one of the big four thrash metal bands in the world.
Thrash-metal falls under the heavy metal rock genre and is known for using really fast tempos and aggressive playing of the instruments.
Metallica’s first three albums, Kill ‘Em All, Ride the Lightning, and Master of Puppets, were all solely in the thrash metal genre. Three songs from these albums are Metallica’s most-performed songs ever: Seek & Destroy, Creeping Death, and Master of Puppets.
Their fourth studio album …And Justice for All was still considered thrash metal but was also categorized as progressive metal. Then they started to change their sound a bit.
Release of Metallica
In 1991, Metallica released their fifth studio album that was self-titled Metallica. It featured twelve tracks and ‘Nothing Else Matters’ was number eight.
They released a total of six singles from the album and they all did fairly well. The song ‘Enter the Sandman’ peaked at number 16 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Other songs made it onto the charts too, and the success of the album was largely due to the transition towards more heavy metal songs versus thrash metal. The one thing that the band did not expect was the wide success of ‘Nothing Else Matters.’
This was probably because it was the song that Metallica frontman, James Hetfield, has even said is the song that would be least likely to be performed by them. Yet, he was the one who wrote it.
In an interview with The Village Voice in 2012, twenty years after the song’s release, Hetfield recalled what it is about. He said “It was a song for myself in my room on tour when I was bumming out about being away from home. It’s quite amazing, it’s a true testament to honesty and exposing yourself, putting your real self out there, and taking the risk…”
You can watch Metallic perform ‘Nothing Else Matters’ with the San Francisco Symphony below.
Metallica’s Shift into Heavy Metal
After the release of their self-titled album, Metallic shifted into the heavy metal genre and away from thrash metal. Their follow-up studio album to Metallica was Load in 1996.
Load was the band exploring new sounds and it came out as a hard rock and heavy metal album, which was far from their past sound. This led to a lot of fans feeling alienated by the band because they also changed their image at the same time.
Up to this point, the members had been known for their long stringy haircuts that were associated with heavy metal. Then they returned to the scene five years after their mainstream success with Metallica and looked and sounded completely different, so their fans did have grounds to feel upset.
Despite this change, Load and the two albums following, Reload (1997) and St. Anger (2003), all hit the number one spot on the U.S. Billboard 200. Unlike many bands who have changed their sound, Metallica didn’t seem to suffer any consequences.
Metallica did eventually find their way back to thrash metal with their 2008 album, Death Magnetic. This album also reached number one on the U.S. Billboard 200, making Metallica the first ever band to achieve five consecutive number one studio albums on the chart.
If that wasn’t enough, their next album Hardwired… to Self-Destruct also topped the charts, meaning that they broke their own record.
Metallica is definitely one of if not the most successful heavy metal band of all time and some of that success is due to their change in sound and style with ‘Nothing Else Matters.’