“Lars Ulrich and Bob Rock said, ‘Go back and work on it’”: James Hetfield used to really not like Metallica’s Enter Sandman

James Hetfield in 1992
(Image credit: Martyn Goodacre/Getty Images)

You could easily argue that Enter Sandman is the quintessential metal song. As the lead single of one of the most successful albums of all time, Metallica’s Black Album, it was a chart smash in 1991 and nowadays is the first heavy song most people ever hear. All of this makes it stunning when you find out that singer/guitarist James Hetfield used to hate the thing.

In a 2023 interview with Masterclass.com, the frontman of Metallica revealed that he “didn’t think Enter Sandman was such a great song” at first.

“I think Lars [Ulrich, Metallica drummer] and [Black Album producer] Bob Rock said, ‘Go back,’” Hetfield said. “‘I challenge you to go back and work on it’ – and I did.”

He continued: “That line, that catchphrase, ‘We’re off to never, neverland’ [came from that rewrite]. ‘What happens in our sleep? Why do we have nightmares?’ – a lot of people could identify with that. Everyone has nightmares. What do you do with them? Why do they show up?”

Famously, Enter Sandman was subjected to huge amounts of chopping and changing while it was being written. It was Metallica’s lead guitarist, Kirk Hammett, who first presented the song’s riff, its heaviness and simplicity inspired by nascent grunge superstars Soundgarden. Ulrich then rearranged it so that it repeated three times before reaching a ‘tail’ of shuffling power chords.

Meanwhile, Hetfield originally wrote Enter Sandman’s lyrics to be about crib death, suggesting that babies were being killed by the mythological ‘Sandman’. The line that originally closed the chorus was “Disrupt the perfect family”, before it was changed during those Ulrich- and Rock-inspired rewrites to be less macabre and more relatable. Ulrich then lobbied hard for Enter Sandman to be The Black Album’s lead single, preferring it over the original pick of Holier Than Thou.

Upon release in the summer of 1991, Enter Sandman reached the top 10 in 12 different charts, preceding the mammoth success the album would enjoy a couple weeks afterwards. And now it’s been streamed more than a billion times. So, yeah, all the fuss over the song in the studio was clearly worth it. 

Matt Mills
Contributing Editor, Metal Hammer

Louder’s resident Gojira obsessive was still at uni when he joined the team in 2017. Since then, Matt’s become a regular in Prog and Metal Hammer, at his happiest when interviewing the most forward-thinking artists heavy music can muster. He’s got bylines in The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Guitar and many others, too. When he’s not writing, you’ll probably find him skydiving, scuba diving or coasteering.