“The Enigmatic Journey of Metallica’s ‘Enter Sandman’: Unveiling 30 Years of its Dark Lullaby” Renowned as a legendary dark lullaby, Metallica’s ‘Enter Sandman’ holds a special place as one of the most adored and extensively played metal songs in history, showcasing Metallica’s songwriting brilliance. Achieving remarkable success, it soared to number 16 on the US Billboard and attained platinum status by selling over a million copies in the US alone. With its spine-tingling central riff, haunting lyrics, and radio-friendly structure, ‘Enter Sandman’ permeated the public consciousness in a way few songs manage.
Despite being one of the most discussed songs in music, the true meaning behind the lyrics has often been overlooked. To passive listeners, James Hetfield’s vocals might seem to narrate a nightmarish tale induced by cheese. Yet, a closer examination reveals a critical commentary on how, even as children, we are conditioned to live in fear. This article explores how ‘Enter Sandman’ serves as a liberating force from such fears.
As the opening track and lead single from Metallica’s self-titled 1991 album, also known as The Black Album, ‘Enter Sandman’ narrowly avoided being replaced by ‘Holier Than Thou’ as the album opener. A lengthy and impassioned debate among band members was settled by Lars Ulrich, who convinced Kirk Hammett and James Hetfield to preserve ‘Enter Sandman’ in its rightful position.
Considering what might have transpired if Lars hadn’t been so persuasive, it’s evident that ‘Enter Sandman’ acts as a driving force for the entire album, infusing it with sinister glee. Consequently, the album debuted at number one in the US and nine other countries, propelling Metallica to international fame.
The song signifies a noticeable shift in Metallica’s writing style, departing from the intricate tempo changes defining their earlier work and the clichéd style of cheesy hair metal. Lars Ulrich noted, “After four records and being in LA, you could feel the imminent death of the whole hair stuff and that wanky fucking radio bollocks coming out of America. Bands like ourselves, Alice In Chains and Nirvana were ready to enter the ’90s with a different aesthetic.”
In consequence, the song revolves around two key riffs, both crafted by Kirk Hammett after being influenced by Soundgarden’s ‘Louder than Love.’ Ulrich’s insightful suggestion extended the central riff to three bars, laying the foundation for the song’s ominous atmosphere. While the instrumental sections of ‘Enter Sandman’ were easily finalized, Hetfield’s lyrics underwent multiple transformations, making it the last song on the album to have completed lyrics.
Ulrich recalled the tension caused during this process: “So in the spring of ’91, he came in with these lyrics about crib death – the line ‘Off to never-never land’ was originally ‘Disrupt the perfect family.’ Nice, friendly feel-good lyrics! We sat down and said, ‘No disrespect, you’ve written great lyrics over the years, but maybe the subject matter and the vibe in these doesn’t fit the mood of the music.'”
Following advice from Ulrich and producer Bob Rock to reevaluate the lyrics, Hetfield adopted a different perspective, incorporating the story of The Sandman, a folklore character who sprinkles sand into children’s eyes when they dream. In these lyrics, Hetfield paints a world of childhood fears, designed to keep children frightened and obedient. Despite the eerie nature of the lyrics, Hetfield employs the song to encourage listeners to break free from this type of control and think independently. With lines like “Hush, little baby,