25 Years Ago: Metallica Continues Story With ‘The Unforgiven II’
On Feb. 23, 1998, Metallica released “The Unforgiven II,” the second part in what would become a trilogy.
The single followed in the footsteps of 1991’s “The Unforgiven,” a popular power ballad from the Black Album that became one of Metallica’s most recognized tracks. While the original track began with the song’s main character as a young boy, "The Unforgiven II” picks up when he is older and likely a teenager.
Where "The Unforgiven" was sung as a narrative, "The Unforgiven II" is a first-person account. In the lyrics, frontman James Hetfield sings to a female counterpart, who, like his character, has gone through trauma.
“Lay beside me and tell me what they've done / And speak the words I wanna hear, to make my demons run,” he sings at the song's opening. Things get darker in the second verse, as Hetfield eerily croons, “Come lay beside me, this won't hurt, I swear / She loves me not, she loves me still, but she'll never love again / She lay beside me, but she'll be there when I'm gone.”
Watch Metallica's 'The Unforgiven II' Video
Structurally, “The Unforgiven II” shares many traits with its predecessor. The same held note opens both tracks, the chord structures are noticeably similar and even some lyrics – such as “What I've felt, what I've known” – are repeated.
"A lot of times I go back, and I'll find new things in the old things I've written," Hetfield explained in a 1998 interview with Maximum Guitar, examining what inspired "The Unforgiven." “Though it was about my life, sentiments are the kind of thing that stays with you. They're pretty basic and elemental. To revisit them from a different, older perspective is very interesting. It's like a story that keeps going.”
Released as the second single from Metallica’s 1997 album, Reload, “The Unforgiven II” earned heavy rotation on radio, reaching No. 2 on the Mainstream Rock chart. Despite this success, it has rarely been played in concert by the band. According to Setlist.fm, Metallica has performed “The Unforgiven II’ a total of only six times: once in 1997 and five times in 2015.