10 times classic metal songs sounded surprisingly beautiful on acoustic guitars

Photos of Metallica, Corey Taylor, Megadeth and Korn onstage
(Image credit: Metallica: Anthony Pidgeon/Redferns | Corey Taylor: Will Ireland/Prog/Future via Getty Images | Megadeth: Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for SiriusXM | Korn: Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images)

Everybody likes their heavy metal loud and hard – but, sometimes, unplugging the amplifier can prove just as effective. A great song should sound excellent whether it’s played on an electric or an acoustic guitar, and a smoother, undistorted version can mine new depths of emotion that previously weren’t possible. To celebrate the times metal sounded marvellous when it was soft and introverted, Metal Hammer’s compiled 10 shockingly gorgeous acoustic redos of classic, heavy anthems.

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Metallica – Blackened (…And Justice For All, 1988)

Metallica have been smashing genre constraints over their knees for decades, but even we were surprised when they reimagined the ultra-thrashy Blackened as an acoustic ditty during lockdown. The high-speed …And Justice For All opener turned into a gloomy lamentation with apocalyptic lyrics – the perfect vibe for how we all felt as COVID-19 paused the whole world.

Slipknot – Spit It Out (Slipknot, 1999)

One of Slipknot’s first singles, Spit It Out was a declaration that signalled The Nine wanted to be the hardest, fastest and most transgressive name in the nu metal scene. The song was completely flipped on its head, then, when singer Corey Taylor started playing it as a happy-go-lucky folk number during his solo shows in the 2010s.

Avenged Sevenfold – Hail To The King (Hail To The King, 2013)

Off the back of their boundary-breaking The Stage album, Avenged Sevenfold pushed their sound even further by recording some all-acoustic live songs. 2018’s Live At The Grammy Museum turned Hail To The King from a boisterous trad-metal banger into a jangling, string-backed rocker. It could easily be the theme song of the most badass Old West gunslinger.

Megadeth – Symphony Of Destruction (Countdown To Extinction, 1992)

Megadeth leader Dave Mustaine’s vocal capacity has long been on the receiving end of some harsh jabs. However, a 2013 acoustic redo of Symphony Of Destruction wielded his pipes to its advantage. Over the bluesy acoustic guitars, MegaDave sounds like a dusty country rock veteran: a role that suits the ’80s thrash metal pioneer surprisingly well.

Korn – Freak On A Leash (Follow The Leader, 1998)

Korn pulled out the big guns when they recorded their MTV Unplugged session. Not only did the nu metal innovators bust out and beautify their signature song, Freak On A Leash – they also got Evanescence vocalist Amy Lee to lend her majestic voice to it. The result is every bit as brilliant as you think it will be.

Trivium – Dying In Your Arms (Ascendancy, 2005)

In between the rowdy metalcore of their 2005 breakout Ascendancy, Trivium found space for the concise hard rock anthem Dying In Your Arms. The band love playing the track acoustically live and, when they do, it actually sounds even better than usual: lyrics like ‘She's my self-destructive, bleeding disease’ feel even more desperate yet romantic with the less extroverted music.

Mastodon – Naked Burn (Leviathan, 2004)

In its original form, Naked Burn is a slicing sludge metal attack with just as much wallop as everything else on Leviathan. Mastodon completely subverted the song when they played it acoustically during a 2021 livestream, though, transforming it into a smoother blues rock ride. Singer/guitarist Brent Hinds also revealed he’s missed a potential calling as a country crooner.

Alice In Chains – Would? (Dirt, 1992)

Granted, the shift of Would? from a pensive rocker into its acoustic form for Alice In Chains’ MTV Unplugged set didn’t radically alter the song. However, it certainly emphasised what made the band special. Jerry Cantrell and Layne Staley’s vocal interplay was even more pronounced here, making it all the more tragic that this was one of the latter’s final public performances.

Alter Bridge – Rise Today (Blackbird, 2007)

Rise Today is an anthemic post-grunge clarion call, inspiring the listener to, well… rise today and change the world. When Alter Bridge’s singer/guitarists Myles Kennedy and Mark Tremonti translated the single to acoustic guitars, it sounded less like a triumphant command than a near-hopeless plea for action. It’s still the same song, just with a sorrow not carried on the electric version.

Katatonia – Lethean (Dead End Kings, 2012)

Since ditching death/doom in 1998, Katatonia have been regularly tapping into the resonance frequency of everybody’s tear ducts. 2012’s Dead End Kings may be the sullen Swedes’ masterpiece, mixing pure emotion with some anthemic hooks and progressive chops. Lethean got even sadder, however, when it was turned into an acoustic meditation on 2015’s Sanctitude album.

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.