2 X 4

Album: Load (1996)
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Songfacts®:

  • Over the course of their tenure, Metallica has produced some of the most intriguing, poetic, and philosophical lyrics in thrash metal history. They've also produced some lyrics that don't seem to serve much purpose besides giving syllables for frontman James Hetfield to growl into a microphone. "2 X 4" fits rather neatly into that latter category.

    The second track on Metallica's sixth studio album, Load, "2 X 4" is about righteous determination and anger. With this song Hetfield is barreling through the world and smashing whoever gets in his way with a 2 x 4, which refers to the dimensions of a commonly used construction board that also happens to be a tried-and-true beat-down tool wielded by street fighters, thugs, and rioters since time immemorial. Some pieces of lumber are simply too big and unwieldy to be practical as weapons, while others are too small to have the desired effect. The 2 x 4 hits that perfect sweet spot between the extremes. When all is said and done, the 2 x 4 is simply the ideal lumber size for the job of smashing heads, and that's all there is to it. (Fun fact: a 2 x 4 actually measures 1 1/2 x 3 1/2 inches).
  • Load got flak from a sizable portion of the Metallica hardcore fanbase. The hit song "King Nothing" was considered too soft, while "Hero Of The Day" was practically Phil Collins. The band also came out for the album sporting short haircuts that were radically different from the longhaired old days, and that choice had fans screaming "sell out!" Along with the opening Load track "Ain't My Bitch," however, "2 X 4" harks back to purer days of unrestrained rage.
  • Largely unknown at this time, or at least largely unframed as an actual problem, Hetfield's anger issues were not just creative devices for his music, just as his drinking wasn't just fun-times party stuff. They were real problems for him, and the issues would come to a head in 2001 when Hetfield drove out longtime bassist Jason Newsted and interrupted recording of the St. Anger album to enter rehab for his alcoholism. Hetfield's anger was a legitimate problem for him, which places "2 X 4" in a different light.

    Any perceived (or real) "softening" of Metallica almost certainly ties into their physical maturity (they had all entered their 30s), and Hetfield may have been starting to look at his anger issues as faults to be worked on rather than things to glorify. None of that gentler sentiment is to be found on "2 X 4," however.
  • "2 X 4" wasn't released as a single. Metallica played it live just a handful of times.

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