Well, we’ve reached the end of our week of metal music. For our last day, we thought we’d bring things home with a classic, and one of the most popular heavy metal songs ever made.
So far this week, we’ve seen a few examples from the records of metal’s history. We looked at contemporary metal with Mastodon’s “Blood and Thunder”, its beginnings with Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs”, and one of its stepping stones with Dio’s “Holy Diver”.
Now, we’ll look at a band who reinvented metal and bridged the gap between the heavy rock of “Holy Diver” and “Blood and Thunder”.
“Enter Sandman” was released as the first single from Metallica’s self-titled, fifth album in 1991. The single went platinum and propelled the Metallica into worldwide popularity, and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.
When it comes to the actual music of “Enter Sandman”, the song essentially runs on one riff. It’s an extremely catchy one, but as a result, is less of a musically complex song than some of Metallica’s earlier work.
The song follows a theme of the childhood fear of nightmares. Portions of it are written from the perspective of a parent, while others are written from the perspective of the eponymous Sandman. The lyrics portray a child being manipulated into fear by bedtime rituals like the lord’s prayer or monsters under the bed.
In an interview with Uncut, lead vocalist and songwriter James Hetfield speaks about the inspiration behind the lyrics in “Enter Sandman”.
“I wanted more of the mental thing where this kid gets manipulated by what adults say. You know when you wake up with that shit in your eye? That’s supposedly been put in there by the sandman to make you dream. So the guy in the song tells this little kid that and he kinda freaks. He can’t sleep after that and it works the opposite way. Instead of a soothing thing, the table’s turned”.
In the first verse, you can see what he’s talking about.
“Say your prayers, little one
Don’t forget, my son
To include everyone
I tuck you in, warm within
Keep you free from sin
Until the sandman he comes”
Later on in the bridge, we get another example of traditional words a parent tells a child before bed. In this one, however, it’s unclear whether the speaker is a parent or the Sandman. Either way, both versions are traditional roles. In mythology, the sandman is a figure who is believed to bring good dreams. And parents are supposed to grant comfort and protection to their children.
Hush, little baby, don’t say a word
And never mind that noise you heard
It’s just the beast under your bed
In your closet, in your head
That wraps up our week of heavy metal. Hope you enjoyed the journey, and maybe got a new favorite song or two out of it.
It’s a hard and almost impossible thing to capture the wide variety of music in any genre with only a handful of songs. We’ve done our best this week to showcase a selection of heavy metal from over the years. But of course, we’ll end up falling short in doing the genre justice to any die-hard fans.
Next week, we’ll be back with another genre to cover.