Until It Sleeps

Album: Load (1996)
Charted: 5 10
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  • James Hetfield wrote this song about his mother, who died from cancer when he was 16 years old. He was struggling with his mother's death and was looking for a way to cope with his loss and deal with the pain. It has come to mean much more to many people, who relate to the message of general internal pain and loss and the inability to make sense or cope with it.
  • The music video is based on the artwork of Hieronymus Bosch, specifically the painting The Garden of Earthly Delights, which dates to about 1500. That painting is a triptych, with the three panels representing the Garden of Eden, revelers enjoying their time on Earth, and finally, hell. The video follows this theme, with recurrent scenes of the biblical character Adam committing his first (original) sin. It also flashes to numerous pictures of Jesus dying.

    Because of the video, many people feel the song is a representation of redemption and the remorse one feels for having sinned. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Bob - St. George, UT, for above 2
  • This was the first single from Load, Metallica's first album since The Black Album in 1991. The single was released on May 21, two weeks before the album. The video premiered on May 23.

    In the five years between albums, the musical landscape had changed, with grunge coming into fashion. Metallica's sound was a little grungier, but the big change was their look: as seen in the video, they had short hair. This was seen as a betrayal by some fans, but the band didn't want to be trapped in the same image they forged when they were teenagers.
  • Samuel Bayer, who was one of the most successful directors of the '90s, did the music video, which won the MTV Video Music Award for Best Rock Video. Bayer's other credits include "No Rain" by Blind Melon and "Anybody Seen My Baby?" by The Rolling Stones.
  • In America, this is the highest charting Metallica song, reaching #10 on the Hot 100 and #1 on the Mainstream Rock chart. Chart position has never been a good gauge of Metallica's songs though: "Master Of Puppets" wasn't released as a single, and "Enter Sandman" reached just #16 on the Hot 100, a modest showing owing mainly to chart methodology at the time.
  • Metallica performed this with the San Francisco Orchestra in 1999. This version can be found on the S&M CD. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Alastair - Sydney, Australia
  • "Until It Sleeps" gave Metallica a once-unthinkable Top 10 hit on the pop chart, but unsurprisingly, it's also among their most reviled songs. Within that paradox lies the story of the Load album and the evolution of Metallica.

    It's not hyperbolic to call the song "reviled," either. In 1997, frontman James Hetfield talked to Steffan Chirazi of Kerrang! about the band's Load tour. "There were definitely some people who went out of their way to stand in front of me during 'Until It Sleeps' and give me the finger, and go, like, 'YOU SUCK!,'" Hetfield said. "I'd blow 'em a kiss and they'd get steamed! It was great. What are you gonna do? Pound your fans to a pulp? It's an option, but it's expensive!"

    This friction lay in the fact that the radio-friendly sound that made "Until It Sleeps" so popular with the general public (which previously had been outside Metallica's purview), also drove many longtime hardcores crazy. To that latter camp, "Until It Sleeps" was proof positive that Metallica had sold out and joined The Man in all his homogeneity and tastelessness.
  • The song is lyrically more sensitive than the Metallica norm. Beyond the obvious trauma, Hetfield felt a lot of anger over the fact that his mother never got proper medical care because of her Christian Science beliefs, which state that the source and solution to disease is in our own minds.

    While "Until It Sleeps" is never going to be mistaken for sunshine pop, it is still softer than the thrash metal the band had built their legend on, and the lyrics are decidedly more delicate than an '80s or even early '90s Metallica fan would recognize. Hetfield bares a little of his soul here, acknowledging his grief openly.

    This folds interestingly into the Metallica narrative. Seven years and another studio album (Reload, 1997) after "Until It Sleeps," the band began work on St. Anger. They ended up having to put that project on hiatus when Hetfield entered rehab for alcoholism. By that time, he had come to see his anger issues and his endless ambitious drive as problems that he dealt with through booze. So in addition to seeing the band's music evolve with "Until It Sleeps," we may also see Hetfield's saga of personal growth as he starts to deal with things he'd previously raged away.
  • An collection of internet pirates (they can't really be called a "group" because there is no organizational structure) called Compress 'Da Audio released an MP3 of "Until It Sleeps" on August 10, 1996, making it the first digitally pirated MP3 in history.
  • On December 8, 1995, the band recorded a demo of the song under the title of "F.O.B.D." in reference to the song "Fell On Black Days," which Soundgarden released in 1994 on the album Superunknown. The reference is to the common 6/4 time signature shared by "Fell On Black Days" and the refrain in "Until It Sleeps."

Comments: 42

  • Unknown from Saint ElsewhereSo where do I take this pain of mine? I'm pissed off for greatness in a quarantined world. No hugs or kisses just like my childhood.
  • Deethewriter from Saint Petersburg, Russia FederationA new voice took the reins in the Load album, the secular voice. The song "Until it Sleeps" was written to tackle some pf the popular religious beliefs that James was struggling with. James' mother had just died after refusing life-saving medication because she thought that "God would save her". James comments on the illogical and showcases the popular, conflicting arguments between science and religion. This song helped to get Metallica noticed by the atheistic community and the intellectuals who found the song to be an enriching caricature on the debate they were dealing with.
  • Tyler from Pulaski, TnTo "AKI's" comment.. I have noticed that.. And you have a great point.. I have always liked this song. Love it!
  • Jacob from Jackson, TnWhen I first heard this song, I didn't like it. But I had just recently gotten into Metallica (through Guitar Hero Metallica at a friend's house), and was used to their more thrash songs (and the others I'd heard on the radio). But, as time went on, I grew very fond of it, and it is now one of my favorites of theirs.
  • Yavuz from Ankara, TurkeyI think the song is about all those terrible things that just don't f***in' let you go. They can be your inner demons, a disease, an addiction or anything else for that matter.

    My mother has been suffering from cancer and I have migraines, so I really can relate to this song.
  • Aki from Sunrise, FlPlease tell me I'm not the only one who noticed this. "So tear me open, pour me out..." Obviously based loosely on the end of "I'm A Little Teapot," am I right? And this isn't the only song where he makes allusions to children's songs or stories for or about kids. Enter Sandman with Neverneverland (Peter Pan), The House Jack Built (from the nursery rhyme of the same title), Where The Wild Things Are (from the story of the same name)... could it be that he was slipping in not-so-subtle allusions to further express how he missed out on a "normal" childhood because of his strict upbringing?
  • Austin from Bristow, VaKind of reminds me of unrequited love now that I think about it.
  • Jessica from Pheonix, Azjames actually wrote this song for his mother
  • Mike from Central Singapore, SingaporeThe song is not about cancer or whatever you've been brainwashed to think. It's Metallica's cover up about Asian-Italian-American artist Goff Macaraeg's video Garden of Eden seen on MTV Asia in 1996. Metallica, shown Garden of Eden at MTV Asia studios in Singapore by a VJ friend, months before they got the ideas for Until It Sleeps and LOAD, copied image, concept and melody parts from Macaraeg's video. They even wrote Macaraeg's name in their video for Until It Sleeps. Until It Sleeps refers to Metallica's notion that Macaraeg was questioning the divinity of Christ in his video. What do the words " and the hate still shames me " have to do with cancer? There is nothing in Metallica's song/video that has anything to do with cancer or their family members. Since Metallica got blogged right after the Until It Sleeps video came out, they had to come up with an explanation about the song and video. Look at the You Tube clips below. Included is a 1996 MTV Asia clip of Newsted and Hetfield introducing the video on MTV. When asked by the VJ what the video was about, Newsted and Hetfield answered, "that's what we're wondering, what is it?" It's up for you to decide or who are you to decide." If it was about cancer or Hetfield's family members they would have said so at the get go. But they didn't did they? It was only until the beans were spilled that they had to scramble for an excuse. Rewind back to June 1996, the internet was still expanding. There was no You Tube nor even the concept that such would exist. Metallica was MTV's favorite son and they thought they could get away with anything.

    Most of you are parroting things you've read printed by Metallica. The entire band was embarrassed at the 1996 MTV music video awards about their award winning video being stolen from another artist. In fact David Lee Roth, speaking at the awards spilled the beans on Metallica that night in front of an embarrassed Van Halen. You can see that clip in the links provided also.

    Open your minds for this one because its deeper than you can imagine. Macaraeg's video filmed in 1994 but conceptualized in 1992, was about The Da Vinci Code, A DECADE BEFORE Dan Brown published his book! This same subject matter is what Metallica learned after previewing Macaraeg's video first hand, frame by frame on a video editor based on subliminal words and images they saw in his video and could only be seen with a good tape machine copy, which they were provided by MTV Asia studios' VJ Danny McGill, a close friend of Kirk Hammett's. Hammett was in Singapore in March of 1996 to visit McGill and MTV Asia while Macaraeg's video was on rotation and in the vaults of that very same studio as it was the only MTV studio and first in Asia in the early to mid 90's. Since Metallica had writer's block and were shooting blanks for years before this, they were at a loss for a concept and a direction. Not until they were shown Macaraeg's Garden of Eden, did they make a connection. Their director Samuel Bayer is also known for stealing images and concepts from other artist's videos unknown to most music video fans. Look for the proof in the clips below. The two together and a bundle of money made Until It Sleeps, and they scrambled to do it in the months following March 1996, but not without first seeing Macaraeg's. Until this day Metallica will not admit this although judging by the way they acted on stage at the 1996 VMA's you can tell something was seriously wrong. Their "thank you's" were surreptitious and they acted unnerved, guilty and weird. And in their MTV interview they readily admitted, they were "lying about the record." See them admit that in the clips below.
    Sorry to burst your bubble but you have been misled.

    Look here for more info:


  • Patrick from Plainfield, Nhthe music video is based on paintings by Hieronymus Bosch. The Garden of Earthly Delight is one.
  • Jarod from Las Vegas, NvInner demons... everyone has them... some more than others.
    For any combat veteran, there is a considerable stack of regrets and mixed feelings, upon returning home, alive. To everyone who was waiting for him, at home, they can't understand the nightmare going on, behind that "thousand yard stare"... and, to tell you the truth... you don't want to know.
    This song was not intended to tell the story of the mind of someone who has seen battle... but it still does a damn fine job of giving anyone who doesn't understand a good idea of why you shouldn't pry too deep... you won't like what's inside.
  • Austin from Bristow, VaOr does it remind me of The Bucket List?
  • Austin from Bristow, VaThis song kinda reminds me of Tuesdays With Morrie.
  • Toni Parasite from Newcastle, United KingdomBeautiful song. I can see how it could relate to Cancer and especially if it is a member of his family.
  • Kyle from Boise, IdI listen to this song whenever I drink, because it is why I drink. Exactly why, down the every word.
  • Patrick from Austin, TxThis theme of this song as I understand it refers to the inevitability of fate, and how we all are "wash[ed] clean" and face death in the same delicate state of spirit, being that we are so afraid. "Until it sleeps," you feel extreme anguish of so much left undone, so much done incorrectly that we strive to correct, though nothing is ever as good as we want it to really be. "No more" can we be hurt once we've passed on to the other side. To me, this song amplifies the feeling of loneliness and infantile traits that we always remember when we are shunned by those around us when we desperately need contact.
  • Jessica from Metairie, LaWow! I thought it was about sex!
  • Aki from Sunrise, FlYeah...the video for this song...is sorta my favourite video in the history of music videos...
  • Peter from Aarhus, DenmarkDamn! Jesse, San Antonio.. That comment sent shivers up and down my spine.! Maybe it's about cancer, but still your interpretation is very touching.. Thank YOU!
  • Lars Ulrich from CopenhagenI can also see an element of mental anguish. The rage continues and the sufferer waits until his or her rage sleeps.
  • Ahmad from Jordan, United StatesI wanna say..That this song is one of my best song..Love u james
  • Jose from San Salvador, OtherFirst time I listened to this song I was amazed , really bad time for me back in those days and I was able to relate and to take a lot of things out of my soul, Piece of art.
  • Syton from Colorado Springs, CtI think it could be about depression. Just look at the lyrics, and if anyone understands depression at all, there are lyrics here that can be related to it. That's probably not what it's about, but that's what it's about for me
  • Shane from Tipperary, IrelandJilly in nashville i agree with you
  • Shane from Tipperary, Irelandjames admits its about his mother.she was a christian scientist and part of their belief is refusal of medical help.so she died of cancer.james'father died during the load tour and seen as this was on that album it is not about him.
  • Brian from Vancouver, Canadathis is a real good song to listen to if somethings hurting you. some songs help you deal with things or get over people.
  • Bob from New York, NyThis is one of those songs that are interperted differently for each person. Each person has something that triggers a past event and they start to feel the emotions again. The only thing to do is hang on until they pass. Or until they sleep.
  • Jilly from Nashville, TnCancer or not, to me, being an adult of childhood rape, and consequent internal problems in life, when I first heard the song, and knew very little about Metallica, I wondered how someone else could so completely know what was inside of me.
    And I had the honor of seeing them with the San Fran Orchestra...on DVD...but it has subtitles, and I was floored. I have decided the next boyfriend i have has to understand that song and how it relates to me. For James, it may be about one of his parents and the inner turmoil he needs help and undewerstanding with, probably just a simple hug would help. For me, it does exactly what a song is supposed to do...it lets you make it personal, make it your own, and yet at the same time, connect with the writer, and everyone else who feels the song deep down.
  • Ryan from Chambersburg, PaYeh know, this song is really eaisly applied to other things. It could definetly be cancer, addiction, im not so sure i understand the inner demons as much. this song means alot to me because i have Crohns disease, and a pretty bad case at that. I have had multiple operations, but i still have constant stomach pain. so this song really seems to have alot of meaning to someone who has an illness that will not leave. "where do i take this pain of mine? I run but it stays right by my side"....it sucks
  • Azulagart from Caracas, South AmericaAs long as I am concerned, the song is about recovery from addiction. Jesse's and Sandi's arguments make much more sense to me than the cancer interpretation. Still, art is free, so think what you will.
  • Chris from Owensboro, KyI was a member of the fan club and in the magazine So What, James was asked what this song was about. He replied that it was about cancer. I'm not so sure it was about his mother though I've also heard it was his father's cancer that this song is about. I think the lyrics are vague so you can apply it to anything you want. It's better to apply to something personal so it means something to you.
  • Sidic from Penticton, CanadaI think the whole Caner thing is a bit off. If you take a look at the DvD Metallica, a documentory about the making of the Black Album, James Hetfield reviels a bit of his past. In the subject "The God that Failed" James speaks of his youth and how his parents shuved religon down his throat. In other articels I've read James speaks of breaking away from his family.

    Thus I don't think it was his mother's deaths pain he was writing about. That was probably Mama Said. I think this is a song about the inner Demons he faced with the whole religon pushing, as shown by the continual pictures of Jesus and Adam, and with the struggle between his parents.

    The music video even supports the idea of inner demons. The tree that holds him when he starts the second verse is a tree of entrapment which incases one in a feeling of dispair. The monster frog eating the little devil girls is another example of demons continually wagin war in his head. Personally I think James had a controversial war going all ever since he broke with his parents.

    And his religon was Christian Science, just so you know.
  • Koksal from Istanbul, Turkeyit is definitely about cancer.he speaks to someone and says "so hold me", again and again. this person may be a his mother and the words inside the song suach as "stains,curse" is describes a bad context of that person. Good lyrics! thank you james!
  • Sandi from Indy, InI too believe that this song is about addiction.
    If you have ever been through (or have known anyone who has been through) withdrawal - this song fits perfectly.
    Every little pain is amplified 1000 times. The fear of leading a "clean" can shake your very core. The hate that you feel for everyone and everything is unbelievable.
    "Just like the curse, just like the stray. You feed it once and now it stays".
  • Ed from London, CanadaPersonally, I think the song sounds like it is about cancer, since the problem doesn't seem to go away until the end of the song. Or the other thing it sounds like to me is something like AIDS/HIV, since he says he's unclean, and that it's painful, until it sleeps (People with STDs can have "waves" of pain).
  • Ian from Hamilton, CanadaGuys! it wasn't his father or his grandfather who died of cancer! James' father left his mother when james was still young. Years later, James' mothr got cancer, but because she was a strict christian scientist, she refused any medical treatment.
  • Dave from Cardiff, WalesVery popular in the UK on official release in early 1997, played to death on the radio, but surprisingly failed to clinch a high chart position.
  • Luke from Manchester, EnglandThat's exactly what the lyrics are about... It's Jaymz's soul searching and how he's shutting his inner demons out.
  • Jesse from San Antonio, TxI have applied this song to my long bout with drug addiction and recovery. In recovery circles it is said that the addiction can be put in remission but it never dies (i.e., it "sleeps"). People use drugs to hide the pain they feel (where do I take this pain of mine..i run but it stays right by my side...the pain's inside without a care). Twelve-step programs are designed for self-discovery which is done with the help of another person or persons (so tear me open but beware there's things inside w/o a care...so wash me until I'm clean).
    The helping person (sponsor) knows this and is prepared to stand by the addict as he/she goes through the process (hold me until it sleeps). It is said that people who become addicts have a heritary link to addiction or predisposition. All that is necessary is for drug use to begin to release it (just like a curse, just like a stray, you feed it once and now it stays). It grips us and hold us and causes us to behave in greed selfish ways that are necessary to feed it (so tell me why you've chosen, don't want your grip, don't, don't want your greed). The song seems to me to end with the success of life time recovery (I'll tear me open, make you gone, no longer will you hurt anyone.). This is probably not the originally intended meaning but its perfect for my meaning.
  • Ralph from Oaklyn, Njits about his mothers cancer
  • Anthony from Melrose Park, IlIt's about cancer, yes. But James did take an inner demon approach with the lyrics. At the heart of it it's about his father who died from cancer. His father refused to seek professional help (medicine, doctors etc) and instead waited for 'god'to cure him. - Needless to say he's not around anymore. James wrote the song about his father's death, but definitely used the whole inner demon angle for some of the verses. Good stuff, either way.
  • Ryan from Lutz, FlActually James wrote the song about his father or grandfather (I can't remember which) who died of cancer. Of course the "inner demons" thing is right too... a more generalizable theme.
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