The 7 songs Metallica have only played live once

James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett performing live
(Image credit: Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images for P+ and MTV)

Since starting in 1981, Metallica have recorded more than a hundred songs, a great many of which have become immortal heavy metal anthems. Enter Sandman, Nothing Else Matters, Master Of Puppets and Fade To Black are all beloveds whose omission from a setlist would incite riots – but what about the other end of the spectrum? Interestingly, of all the gut-punching metal they’ve put out, there are only seven songs by the Four Horsemen who’ve only ever made a setlist once. Hammer’s compiled these deep cuts and almost-lost classics below, listing them in the order of their initial release.

Metal Hammer line break

Escape (Ride The Lightning, 1984)

Metallica loathe Escape. This pop-rock cut from Ride The Lightning was reportedly written under pressure from the record label for the album to contain a “hit single”. In the end, the track was never even sent to the radio stations and it’s only been played onstage (begrudgingly) once. “No! Don’t do it! Don’t do it Lars!” James Hetfield publicly begged before starting the song at the Orion Music And More festival in 2012.

To Live Is To Die (…And Justice For All, 1988)

A Metallica album having an instrumental during its latter half had basically become mandatory by …And Justice For All. However, To Live Is To Die is the most emotionally resonant part of that series, since it was penned as a tribute to Cliff Burton following his 1986 death. The one time it was ever performed in full onstage was during the band’s 30th-anniversary celebrations in December 2011, at the behest of current bassist Robert Trujillo.

Fixxxer (Reload, 1997)

Easily one of Metallica’s most underrated songs, Fixxxer closed Reload with a massive, emotional odyssey. ‘Can you heal what father’s done, or fix this hole in a mother’s son?’ James Hetfield pleads during one of the most heartfelt choruses he’s ever written. It might even be too heartfelt for the band to handle nowadays, as its sole airing was in 2021 for an incredibly special occasion: a 40th-anniversary livestream broadcast worldwide.

Sweet Amber (St Anger, 2003)

Even among the St Anger apologists out there, Sweet Amber is a maligned song. This deep cut is just a mess, its more soulful and bluesy riff clashing horrifically with the needlessly loud trash can snare Lars Ulrich dragged to the studio. As a result, while St Anger and Frantic still sneak their way into the odd Metallica set, this clanger’s only ever been played at a gig in Lubbock, Texas, on September 4, 2004.

Hate Train (Beyond Magnetic, 2012)

Metallica have never been ones to waste anything they’ve done. So, when they had four recordings left over from the Death Magnetic sessions, they released them as a companion EP in 2012. None of them are particularly essential listens, as proven by the most-played track, Hell And Back, making it onto just 16 setlists. Meanwhile, opener Hate Train – like the other three songs – got its sole showcase at the band’s 30th-anniversary shows in December 2011.

Just A Bullet Away (Beyond Magnetic, 2012)

The musical content of Just A Bullet Away is pretty meat-and-potatoes latter-day Metallica: gritty, hulking metal that runs for eight minutes. Credit where it’s due, though – it’s fucking bleak. ‘Even the promise of danger has gone dull, staring down the barrel of a .45. Suck on the barrel! Suck it ’til it’s gone dry!’ is one of the darkest commands to make the band’s lyrics. Nonetheless, we’re still not madly surprised it only got played once.

Rebel Of Babylon (Beyond Magnetic, 2012)

Of the four Beyond Magnetic songs, Rebel Of Babylon is by far the most interesting. Its acceleration from gentle guitar strums and solemn vocals to white-knuckle thrash gives it a dynamic layer the rest of the EP lacks, while Papa Het grunts some poetic observations on addiction: ‘Take your dirty spoon and dig your grave.’ That still didn’t save it from being tossed into the one-and-done pile, again only glimpsing a setlist in December 2011.

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.