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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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