The song is about wondering if this life is worth living and wishing to be dead. In the last 2 verses the person in the song realizes life is too good to let go, but by that time, its too late: "No one but me, can save myself but its too late." (thanks, John - kenosha, WI)
Metallica wrote this after their equipment was stolen in early '84 and they had to start all over again. More specifically, James Hetfield wrote the lyrics in response to one of his amps being stolen. Not only was this amp his favorite, but it was also the first amp he ever owned so it had a lot of sentimental value to him. The song is about losing everything and wondering if it is worth going on. (thanks, Brad - La Crosse, WI)
Kirk Hammett improvised while playing the final solo. He just thought about very depressing things while playing. (thanks, Nick - Paramus, NJ, for above 2)
For Jason Newsted
, who joined Metallica on bass after Cliff Burton died in 1986, this is a very meaningful song. It was the last one he performed on tour with Metallica before leaving in 2001. He noted that it was his favorite Metallica song, and that it had "a lot of sentimental value." At the end of his final performance, Jason was in tears.
This was the first ballad Metallica released. In an MTV interview with James Hetfield on the set of their MTV Icon special, he explained that he and Lars Ulrich were obsessed with death at the time.
Jason Newsted's former band Flotsam And Jetsam had a completely different song called "Fade To Black" on their 1986 album Doomsday For The Deceiver.
Metallica was playing this song at their 1992 concert in Montreal's Olympic Stadium when James Hetfield was burned badly by wayward stage pyrotechnics.
The song's title is never mentioned in the lyrics, although the Metallica song "The Memory Remains" on their 1997 album Reload does have "fade to black" in the lyrics. (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France, for above 4)
Sonata Arctica covered this for the 2002 compilation album A Tribute to the Four Horseman. (thanks, Brett - Edmonton, Canada)
Disturbed covered this on the Music As A Weapon II CD. (thanks, Danny - Franklin, GA)