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The Unforgiven

by

Metallica



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

Written by James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, and Kirk Hammett, this song was a new style for Metallica. They wanted to try a song with a heavy verse and a soft chorus, something rarely heard in Hard Rock/Metal. (thanks, Richard - South, England)
On the show Classic Albums: Metallica - The Black Album, James Hetfield explained that the intro was taken from the score of a Western movie, and reversed so it would not be identifiable. The band won't reveal the movie for legal reasons, but it is probably the 1965 Clint Eastwood movie For A Few Dollars More. (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
A sequel to this song was released on Metallica's 1997 album Reload. It was titled "The Unforgiven II."
The album had a black cover, and was known as "The Black Album."
Metallica was originally going to play this for their S&M live album featuring the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, but decided not to. (thanks, Nick - Paramus, NJ, for above 3)
James Hetfield's singing on this track was inspired by Chris Isaak's song 'Wicked Game.' Producer Bob Rock explained in a 2011 interview with Musicradar.com how he changed the way he recorded his vocals on this song. He recalled: "At this point, James wanted to sing. He had done a lot of screaming, but now he wanted to go somewhere else. In the past, he had always doubled his vocals. He didn't sing harmonies per se; he just sang the same thing on another track. But the process of doubling doesn't give you character, really; in fact, a lot of times it takes character away, because you're hoping that the second vocal gives you the depth that your first vocal should have. I told James that we should record his vocal, but instead of listening to himself on headphones I wanted him to listen on speakers. The difference was amazing. He sang the song, and because he heard himself in a different way, there was a whole new dimension to his voice. It was big and deep and warm and jumped out at you."
Dave Mustaine was fired from Metallica in the band's early days and replaced by Kirk Hammett. He went to form Megadeth, but for many years couldn't bring himself to listen to his former band. When Mustaine finally came to terms with what happened and was able to listen to Metallica there was one song he gravitated to in particular. He recalled to Revolver magazine: "I remember hearing this song when I was talking to Lars [Ulrich] once and telling him this is my favorite song off the Black Record. And he goes, 'Really? [Expletive], man.' It was 'The Unforgiven,'" he said. "I liked it because I thought this was really the first time I've ever really heard James [Hetfield] sing. He had sung before, and he was a great singer. But that was the first time I ever heard him really, really sing."
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Comments (71):

When they play this live, James plays the acoustic part on an acoustic guitar on a rack and switches between that and his electric during the song. The Live $h!t San Diego '92 gig has him playing some cool classical-style fingerpicking bit before the song. Check it out!
- Zero, Nowhere, NJ
Best Metallica Song Ever Written.
They have written some really good songs but this tops them all.
Well done James, Lars and Kirk.
11 out of 10 for me
- ulysses, dorrigo, Australia
One of the best lyrics Hetfield has ever written. In line with the thematic of a "brave new world" by Aldous Huxley and "1984" by Orwell. Sad metaphor of society as a matrix type of machine that controls the life off humans. Buried under labels the true self never sees the light. Chasing the superficial and material, suffers a horrible life. Never getting a break, getting worse and dying full of regrets. Guilt is a big button in our psyche, never good enough to resemble the perfect model human, never able cause of our inevitable divine individuality that control (production/consumption entities, ignorance manufacturing outfits) devices struggle to stiffle
- Dionisio, San Jose, Costa Rica
Great music, like most of their albums (I haven't listen to some of them yet.) This is probably one of my favorite songs to be honest.
- Tay, Scranton, PA
To me, this song sounds like it's about a Germam boy brought up in the Nazi age. "New blood joins this earth; And quickly he's subdued; Through constant pain disgrace; The young boy learns their rules." And then there's "Deprived of all his thoughts" and "His will they'll take away." It seems to me that the "young boy" in the song is talking about his childhood, and how he was wronged by all of this, that he never got to be who he really was, hence the "What I've felt; What I've known; Never shined through in what I've shown; Never be; Never see; Won't see what might have been." Then "Never free; Never me; So I dub the 'Unforgiven'," which is saying he doesn't forgive the people who raised him.
- Jacob, Jackson, TN
This is my favorite song by Metallica; && that's saying a lot. The music is beautiful & the lyrics are so haunting. Definitely a classic.
- Isis, Queens, NY
I always thought this song should have played at the end credits of the Movie "The Unforgiven", which came out a year after the black album. Same mood, same misery, same lack of options in life. Interesting that the horn sound in the intro came from a Clint Eastwood movie that idealized gunfighters. The Unforgiven (movie) was also a western, one that showed how horrible life really was back then. Amazing song and amazing movie, I remember walking out of the theater thinking "thank god we live in a time where civilization rules and we don't have all that suffering". Man I was naive...
- Paulo, Atlanta, GA
Joe, Dublin - Remember the lyrics? "The old man that prepares/ To die regretfully"

Having said that, I agree with those who say that change was inevitable after the accident that claimed the life of Cliff Burton (may he rest in peace). They COULD NOT be the same band without a fallen Horseman.

Either way, great song from a great band. It's auto-biographical, James Hetfield has said many times that the songs are based on his life. Forced to conform, he lost his own will, and though he vowed never to lose it again, he could never quite let it out. It aged him beyond his real years, hence the "old man".
- Adam, Clinton Township, MI
Come to think of it, this song sort of reminds me of Jak from Jak II and onwards.
- austin, Bristow, VA
This song reminds me of Shadow the Hedgehog.
- austin, Bristow, VA
@Brain.. Which is the best song then ? :)
- Kiran, Mysore, India
on death magnetic there is another sequel, The Unforgiven III
- Rickey, Lansing, MI
Sorry Metallica old-schoolers, yeah, Master of Puppets and One and others are great songs, but this song is and will always be Metallica's best. Beautiful guitar and hauntingly powerful lyrics. Lyrically, in my opinion, the best Metallica song by a mile.
- Shawn, Green Bay, WI
it means you have to be a rigorous honest boy feelings not mind get real!!!!!this song is for me!!
- hockiard, pagadian, Philippines
okay this may sound dumb but it heard it and thought it sounded like the perfect theme song for the movie ghost rider because of the line "..dub the unforgiven" and the part where he is jail with the kid and says innocent
- Shaine, Hephzibah, GA
i love this song a lot... but the second unforgiven is even better...the third is...eh not so amazing but i like the piano intro
- bill, waco, TX
If I could describe The Unforgiven using only one word, it would be "significant."
- jake, burke, VA
wow I really like this song but I think after the black album they started getting what some people would say bad. but I still like them
- sergio, katy, TX
This song is about people who work for a bitter man who is never satisfyed
- Austin, Smallsville,New England, --
this song reminds me of gasper noes i stand alone
- joe, perth, Australia
James from Auckland, NZ smart man.
Their evolution began the night Cliff died. That is why most of their songs are so deep. That is why so many people can relate to those songs.
- Brian, Camden, SC
When I heard this song, it seemed like it was written just for me! I had grown up with a physical strong domineering father from the old country who used to box when he was younger. Dear old dad really loved asserting his will over me on anyting. I even used to have to listen to soft rock radio in a clothes closet at one time so he did not catch me. Dad gave me lots of bruises growing up and I used to say for awhile that I was not his "whipping boy". He ahd a strong will and he tried to overpower me. So,l growing up in my rough working class neighborhood this song fits the mood of a large part of my life. Now with a college degree, it seems that the bullies playing "test of wills" with me are just more educted or powerful. I think I almost cried when I first heard this song. I even referred to it without quoting from it in my Christian witness THE ARENA. It really touched my heart. Its like my childhood, except that the bullies get bigger.
- Tony, Toledo, OH
I've never been a Metal fan. I've never been a Metallica fan. But I heard this tune once and fell instantly in love with its driving, honest angst and vocals about losing power over what happens to us as individuals, something everyone must face nowadays.
- Leah, Brooklyn, NY
Never really knew what it was about but the video is very striking.
- Lars Ulrich, Copenhagen
This song is good, but not as good as Unforgiven II!
- Mark, Williamsburg, VA
GAWD!! Have never seen more powerfull song! The way it takes over you is amazing. Along with The Unforgiven II they make the best duo ever :) Really...I stood there, listening to it, couldnt believe what a human being is able to do....stunned and without text....Anyone wanna play it w/ me? I'll be Kirk, you can be James? :) I know the whole solo part...gawd, i play it everyday
- Dzenis, Novi Pazar, Serbia
i luv Metallica and all their songs, but this one tops them all! just sooo freakin adore "Unforgiven" -- music-lyric-performance-wise. the band has been a part of me growing up, and this one in particular spoke volumes in my life.
- joycemorrison, PH
the buzzing at the start is a trumpet from a western reversed.the song is about James and the controlling enviroment he lived in.this controlling force was religion.his life as a child was bound in conformity and beliefs that he hated.it made him feel alien in school.basically if he didnt conform to this religion he would be labeled unforgiven.the solo is just amazing from one of the most underrated guitarist-kirk hammett.its hard to listen to the song and let the emotion of it pass over you.this song is legend
- shane, tipperary, Ireland
This song is class i love u Metallica!!!!!!!!!!!
- Paula, Monaghan, Ireland
Well this is a great song. no matter what you say you have to agree on that. Well i gotta say that MetallicA did not change in 2002. They changed when the greatest bassist ever, Cliff Burton died(R.I.P) That was what changed them but they have still been able to make great music that is heavy and meaningful just like when Cliff was rockin with the rest of the Four Horsemen. Anyway, it's telling about someone who lived their life in the shadow of someone else. Like they could never live up to what everyone else wanted them to. See, its like this person is not being accepted for who that are and it unfair thus making them Unforgiven. It also has to do with someone not showing their emotions or what they believe, "What I've felt, What I've known, Has never shined in through what I've shown. James' is saying that everything this person knows, feels, and believes in he does not show. Well that's my opinion. The MIGHTY METALLICA is the greatest band ever!!!!
- diego, los angeles, CA
Metallica is my favorite band. And they made an exact song for me. The Unforgiven just fits my story of life. God bless Metallica and more power to them.
- Mikkho, Malabon City, Other
This is a song that changes lifes. In this song you have someone who doesn't challenge his parents. So he becomes what they want him to be. By the time he gets the courage to face them. Hes already an old man and his whole life is gone.

Anyone who really listens to this song. When I say listen I mean LISTEN. Blast this song as loud as possible. Think about what you wanna do. Not what people expect you to do or what makes the best money. What do you want to do with your life. I plan on getting some of the songs lyrics tattoed. This song is just insane I have heard it so many times. Its all about free will.
- Bob, New York, NY
This song is absolutely amazing. It defines a young man's struggle in this world. How he's desperatly trying to please everybody, but everybody is using him, hurting him, abusing him. "You labled me, I'll label you. So I dub thee unforgiven" - he's deprived because of the people around him, so he dubs them.
he realizes that he can't have power over them, no matter what he does, he can't please them 'cause they find pleasure in his pain. So indstead of struggling he dubs them 'unforgiven'.
- Mia, Copenhagen, Denmark
This song is about a delusional kid who thinks everybody is secretly in control of him for the better of his life and friends who are in it to. His thoughts are limited and his ambition grows within his guts but can never get it out as hard he trys..a vow unto his own that never FROM THIS DAY HIS WILL THEY'LL TAKE AWAY
- Jimmy, A little town, Canada
I want to get "A vow unto his own..." tattooed on my arm
- Zach, Carlsbad, CA
This song reminds me of a Jewish person in a concentration camp who can't think anymore or can't do anything anymore and felt like they were trapped forever under the rules and regulations of the Nazi's.
- diana, Queens, NY
A guy used this in a music video about the dynasty warriors charecters Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei. Very well done. If I find the link, will post. Love this song
- mike, Frederick, MD
this is my favorite song by metallica other than for whom the bell tolls
- nick, houlton, ME
The outstanding journalist Nancy Grace on her show on CNN "Headline Prime" a couple of weeks ago, featured this song when she inserted a series of scenes of young criminals that have recently killed one of their loved ones. She was covering the terrible incident of a 15 year old from a New Jersey town that had dumped her newborn in the garbage that very same day, one day after giving birth. She was talking about the teen receiving a very light treatment by the local authorities, and she featured these scenes of teen murderers that were treated "too lightly" by their local law officers, and that it meant that their victims were going to remain without the justice they deserved. So she played this song and she mentioned the name of the piece and the name of the band. I think it was very accurate being a journalist myself.
- myrna maria, Tegucigalpa, Honduras
One of Kirks best solos.
- Cads, London, England
This song is AWESOME! The best from their self-titled album IMO
- Phil, Niagara Falls, Canada
This song always makes me think of Wolverine.
- jen, westville, NJ
Well I'm a 17 year old f**k up who was locked up in residential faculities for six years. I had no family few friends an My favorite song that told my life story of living a hard life being controlled and losing the love of your life and won't see what might have been. That song is The Unforgiven.
- Michael Walker, Spiceland, IN
this is about the kind of environment James had when he was a kid. the controlled christian environment and then when you finally escape or give up the religion as such, you become Unforgiven
- Jessie, Brisbane, Australia
I hate post-Black Metallica. They lost all the attitude and aggression, and started doing songs like Fuel.
- Kenny, Ubly, MI
Everyone here is saying that the band changed in '02 but this isnt exactly true, Does ANYONE remember Cliff? Is anyone here old enough to remember the bus accident that changed metallica for ever?
- Qazii, Mitchell, SD
This is a protest song with full of hidden attributes to modern(!)life and its value system. The state, the belief system and social structure are criticized respecting freedom humanbeing.As a sum: if you try to be free man you will be dubbed as UNFORGIVEN...
- KOKSAL, Istanbul, Turkey
I really don't care what this song is about. It is a great song. Without a doubt,this is Metallica's best song!
- becca, hamilton, Canada
This is my favorite Metallica song of all time.
- Doug, Bright, IN
This is for Cody, Houston, AK , that buzzing is a trumpet... and for everything else great song. I love metallica, they will always remain the gods of metal even after they all die.
- Matt, Millbrae, CA
and also James was going through heavy drug problems and was in rehab for a year of so, dont worry you will have the old band back in no time... they have Ozzy's old bassist
- Jayk, Yorktown, VA
they changed in 2002 because they lost thier bassist and didnt have time to adjust to their new temp bassist Bob Rock, after Newsted left it was downhill, but with their new bassist and Rock back to doing the producing they are back on track and you can probably look for some new music on the way or in the works, great song, they have always been great and will stay there forever with us headbangers, new, old, future, past no matter what i will love Metallica until the day i die
- Jayk, Yorktown, VA
Just one of the few great songs from the Black album
- Angelo, New York, NY
Has no one heard of evolution? Things, and people especially change and explore new things. Name me a band as successful that has been around for over 25 years and still going strong that consistently plays/ed the same style from day one. If you take time to reflect on some of the lyrics in the Load and Re-load albums you will see that they are quite deep and give a small insight into their lives that has only recently been able to be seen more through the doco 'Some Kind of Monster'. They have tried new stuff and in my opinion created some great songs. They did the drugs and alcohol and in living that sung heavy stuff but now there older they are reflecting on that time and its consequences. If they didn't we'd have another band ended through someone overdosing or killing themselves to escape the hold they're in. Adam, 'Garage Inc' shouldn't even be considered as a comparible albums to the others as these are all covers done in the style of 'Garage Days' with the tradition of completing the album in a limited number of days. Approx a week. It shows how good Metallica are in that they can do covers successfully and put them all on one album knowing that it is not their original stuff, where as Marylin Manson hasn't had an original hit of his own writing since 'Beautiful People'. But it is most amusing now to see all those who ranted and raved that Metallica has changed now find the 'Saint Anger' album too heavy and unproduced. This ablum again just shows Metallica's diverse musical talent as the Godfathers of metal who continue to explore themselves and their music.
- James, Auckland, New Zealand
Why did metallica go into a new style in the first place. This is my favorite song and my fave band, but they changed in 2002 into a different sounding group of people. Thanx...
- Charlie, Ionia, MI

Even though I like the "black" album, this is the very album that started their change from thrash metal pioneers to alt rock poseurs. "LOAD" was good, but nothing like "Master of Puppets" or " ...And Justice for All". Everything except Garage, Inc. is not worth mentioning, S&M notwithstanding.
- Adam, Poplar Bluff, MO
I heard that the intro is inspired by some of the music in "For a Few Dollars More."
- Paulo, India, United States
I've blown the speakers of two cars playing this song. I love how it starts, first with the buzzing (seriously, what makes that noise, I need to get one of them) then with the drum beat.
- Cody, Houston, AK
Heather and Josh hit the nail on the head. Hetfield grew up in a very controlling, right wing, Christian environment. Half of his songs reflect this.
- Nick, Denver, CO
i consider this metallica song to be the most magnificent to come off that album.
- jake, burke, VA
This is one of Metallicas best songs.i truly believe that he's talking about a guy that lived his life the way someone else wanted him to live it.He never was true to himself.
- heather, nashville, GA
Unforgiven is one the the best songs ever done by MetallicA and it's off one of their best algums "Black Album"
- Ryan, Salt Lake City, UT
Apocalyptica, four guys with cellos, does an absolutely amazing instrumental cover of this song. I had no idea that cellos could sound that heavy.
- sarah, Salem, MA
Its a song about growing up in a controlled environment. Not being able to think/act freely, having your own opinion, be able to do what you want and then having all of these regrets when you die. You are guilty of everything and you always do something wrong, so that is why you are dubbed Unforgiven.
- Josh, El Paso, TX
If you watch the video, I dont really understand it.The old man, what is he doing and why does he die at the end?
- Joe, Dublin, OH
Why did metallica go into a new style in the first place. This is my favorite song and my fave band, but they changed in 2002 into a different sounding group of people. Thanx...
- Charlie, Ionia, MI
Nobody seems to have a description of the songs meaning. I think it is something along the lines of growing up and having hate kept inside from someone who did you wrong as a child. Or about growing up and learning how things really are.
- Charles, Big Stone Gap, VA
the original opening melody on acoustic is a classical piece(though i dont know which one) by beethoven reversed
- shaun, perth, MO
Great song, a surprising clean solo for once too,very taken back first time i heard this in like 1995
-Uber guitarist-england
- David, Runcorn, England
w/out doubt metallicas second best song
- cody, hamilton, OH
About the only song on the Black Album that almost sounds like 'old metallica'(probably because of the reversed song structure) awesome song.
- Brian, Paoli, IN
This song was a new style for Metallica. They wanted to try a song with a heavy verse and a soft chorus, something not scene in rock or metal music much.
- Richard, South, England
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