Behind Metallica’s Vulnerable Hit, “Nothing Else Matters”

“Nothing Else Matters” was a departure in sound for Metallica, but that change of pace paid off in a major way. Released in 1992 as the third single off their self-titled album, the song opens with acoustic guitar instrumentation and soft orchestration that gently guides the listener into the sentimental lyrics. It was a stark contrast to the thrash metal sound of their smash hit, “Enter Sandman” which was released a year earlier.

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Below, we look at the origin story of this unique hit.

Meaning Behind the Song

The lyrics were written by lead singer and guitarist James Hetfield, with additional credit given to bandmate Lars Ulrich. Hetfield drew from a vulnerable place of feeling homesick on the road, writing the lyrics in solitude.

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“It was a song for myself in my room on tour when I was bumming out about being away from home,” he explained in a 2012 interview with The Village Voice. The singer admits that he didn’t intend to share it with his bandmates, as it was the kind of song he never expected them to play. But at his bandmates’ request, Hetfield played the demo for them that turned into one of Metallica’s biggest hits, featuring impassioned lyrics like, I never opened myself this way/Life is ours, we live it our way/All these words, I don’t just say/And nothing else matters.

“It’s absolutely crazy, that was the song that I thought was least Metallica, least likely to ever [be] played by us, the last song anyone would really want to hear,” Hetfield observes. “It’s quite amazing, it’s a true testament to honesty and exposing yourself, putting your real self out there, and taking the risk, taking a gamble that someone’s either going to step on your heart with spikes on or they’re going to put their heart right next to it, and you never know until you try. That solidified, I think, that we were doing the right thing, writing from the heart about what we felt, and you can’t go wrong that way.”

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This marks one of the few songs that guitarist Kirk Hammett isn’t featured on the studio recording, with Hetfield and Jason Newsted helming the guitar parts. However, Hammett did have to learn the guitar chords when the band went on tour, revealing that it took time to learn how to play the song live. Though it was “intimidating” at first to learn the opening guitar riffs played by Hetfield on the studio version, Hammett says he eventually found his rhythm within the song. “Once we put our sights onto whipping a song into shape and getting it together and ready to play, we’re pretty good about putting it together and making it happen,” he explains of the band’s process.

“Nothing Else Matters” is now one of the band’s signature hits. It reached No. 11 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart and peaked inside the Top 40 on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100. Miley Cyrus is among the many artists who’ve covered the song, pulling together an all-star lineup of Elton John on piano, Red Hot Hili Peppers drummer Chad Smith, Yo-Yo Ma on cello, and Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo for her 2021 cover. It was featured on the tribute album, The Metallica Blacklist, that same year. John also included it on his 2021 album, The Lockdown Sessions.

Metallica’s video for “Nothing Else Matters” has earned a coveted spot in YouTube’s Billion Views Club for amassing more than 1.2 billion views in the 11 years it’s been on the platform.

Photo by Tim Saccenti / Nasty Little Man PR

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