How "Enter Sandman" Set the Tone for a New Era of Metallica

Metallica in 1991
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Metallica spent the '80s getting bigger and bigger as a band - but their first release of the '90s propelled them into overdrive: "Enter Sandman," issued as a single July 29, 1991.

The metal gods had smiled upon Metallica when fourth album ...And Justice for All (1988) became an unexpected Top 10 hit, spinning off their first ever charting single, the relentless "One." Their follow-up album would take them in a slightly different direction: less reliant on fast-paced riffs, with a more spontaneous approach in the studio. (Producer Bob Rock insisted the band record their parts simultaneously whenever possible.)

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"Enter Sandman" began as a riff from guitarist Kirk Hammett. "It was about two or three o'clock in the morning," he later said. "I had just been listening to Louder Than Love, the Soundgarden album...I was inspired, I picked up my guitar, and out came that riff." The track was among the first to be demoed for the band's fifth album, but singer James Hetfield took his time coming up with a perfect melody and lyrics to match - and he didn't get it right the first time.

"He came in with these lyrics about crib death," drummer Lars Ulrich revealed to Uncut. "The line 'Off to Never Never Land' was originally 'Disrupt the perfect family.' Nice, friendly feelgood 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.'" With a more metaphysical set of lyrics about a villainous, mystical dreamcatcher who terrifies children - and at least a few listeners - the song became the track fans know and love today.

To the surprise of everyone - except maybe the band, who were gunning for biggest-band-in-the-world status - "Enter Sandman" took Metallica and their self-titled fifth record to a whole new level, reaching No. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100 and helping the album top the charts, selling more than more than 16 million copies in America.

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