5. Metallica - Enter Sandman

Movies are scary.  Books are scary.  Songs?  Not so much, for the most part.  Movies and books are mediums where it's much easier to inspire fear in someone.  With the combination of video and sound, movies can shake you to your core.  Silence of the Lambs is a great example.  Even without images or sound, books can use bucketfuls of words to paint a very specific, terrifying mental picture.  This is shown perfectly in the Friends episode where Joey puts Stephen King's book The Shining in the freezer because it scares him so much.  But to do that with a song, that's the real challenge.

Music can inspire many emotions.  Go ahead and make fun, but a song like "My Heart Will Go On" by Celine Dion caused many a heart to swoon, its message of love was so strong.  On the other hand, music can incite feelings of anger or hate.  Check out my post on Limp Bizkit's "Break Stuff" for living proof.  But fear?  Granted, Danny Elfman has written some creepy stuff for his movie score work (The Nightmare Before Christmas, Sleepy Hollow and Red Dragon come to mind), and some Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson music flirts with fear, but the first song that actually stirred fear in me was "Enter Sandman" by Metallica.

The song starts off innocently enough with the slow guitar open, played by Kirk Hammet, but then the wah-wah guitar whisps around, feeling like the twilight you experience as you're drifting off to sleep.  Then there's a sudden thud as the drums and bass, symbolizing our increasing heart rate, let us know that things are not well.  And then Kirk kicks off into the instantly classic guitar riff he came up with that was the basis for the entire song*. The riff confirms the fact that this is not going to be a good night’s sleep.  Slowly, the guitar refrain is built upon and then Lars Ulrich's crash of cymbals confirm it - we know it’s going to be a bad night ahead.  And all of this is before a single word is sung.

Say your prayers little one
Don't forget my son
To include everyone

If the music were happier, you'd think that these were the kind words of a devoted father, tucking his child in bed for the night.  But from the start, we've known this isn't a happy, genteel lullaby.  For the first time, Metallica worked with legendary producer Bob Rock, who worked Metallica hard, asking more of them than any producer had ever had.  To add some heft to the guitars, Rock and lead singer/guitarist James Hetfield recorded three separate rhythm guitar tracks, creating what they called a "wall of guitars," cribbing the old Phil Spector philosophy of the "wall of sound."  It gives the song a full, dense sound that previous Metallica albums never really had.  He also encouraged more straightforward rock songs, of which "Enter Sandman" is one, rather than the complicated, sprawling epics of past records, like And Justice for All 's "One."  Rock tightened the production, the music and also tightened the lyrics.

James, Metallica's lyricist, originally had written "Enter Sandman" as a song about death, even referring to a suspicious crib death, but Lars and Bob Rock thought he could do better, and for the first time in the band's history, they challenged him to delve deeper - and do better.  James was open to the task, and the storyline to "Enter Sandman" is a classic one that's so memorable.  The lyrics are delivered in the trademark snarl/scream that James had always used on previous records, but Rock asked him to hit the notes of the melody more precisely than James had ever done in the past.   This resulted in a stronger vocal performance, which the song's lyrics really needed. 

Sleep with one eye open
Gripping your pillow tight

What makes the image so scary, is that it’s the universal fear of what may happen while we’re asleep.  From tales of the bogeyman to Nightmare on Elm Street, mankind has always been afraid of nightmares, especially the ones that are so hard to wake from.  As our evil tour guide into the land of dreams, James welcomes us to our nightmare:

Exit light, enter night. 
Take my hand, off to never never land.  

In Peter Pan, it's Neverland, so never-neverland is the anti-neverland.  This isn't the place where dreams come true and you can stay a child forever.  This is the place where children dream adult nightmares and are forever haunted by them.  The music matches the darkness and gloom of the lyrics, with the drums, bass and guitar all relentless in their attack on your senses.

A sprawiling and screeching guitar solo feels like a runaway train through our nightmare, getting faster and more frantic, combining with the distorted wah-wah effect that adds to our disorientation.  Kirk rides the neck back down to the low registers, quieting only to bring up the prayer that we all know so well, “Now I lay me down to sleep…”  Lars and bassist Jason Newsted keep the rhythm pounding, with Lars riding the tom toms while Jason plays the persistent bass line that echoes our heartbeat.  Then James taunts us with the song's most haunting lyrics:

Hush little baby don't say a word
And never mind that noise you heard
It's just the beasts under your bed
In your closet in your head

These are the lyrics that really get to me.  It reminds me of the story that Steven Spielberg told about making Jaws.  He was responding to a question about why he waited so long before revealing the terrifying shark.  He simply replied, "Nothing's more scary than what's in your head."  James Hetfield fed on our insecurities and paranoias and let us fill in the rest with our imagination.  And if your imagination is anything like mine, it can conjure up some terrifying stuff.  I'd tell you about one of my worst nightmares, but "Enter Sandman" is traumatizing enough.

After a nonstop four minute assault, the song ends the way it began, slowly bringing us out of sleep to return to the waking world, where we’ll never forget that nightmare that we had as a kid…

*Back when Metallica was recorded, the way Metallica wrote songs was that guitarist Kirk Hammet and bassist Jason Newsted would record riffs, melody and rhythm lines for songwriters James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich to piece together into songs of their creation.  It wasn't until their album St. Anger that Metallica began writing songs as a whole group, with everyone involved in the process.

(Interesting Fact #112:  In 2003, the United States military used "Enter Sandman" to antagonize their Muslim prisoners.  It was an interrogation tool, used to break down the will of the prisoners, making them easier to interrogate.  On the flip side, they also used the theme to the children's show Barney for the same purpose.  I would guess if you alternated Metallica with Barney, I'd break in about an hour.)

Three videos for this one.  The first is the official video of the song, with images that match the terror of the lyrics.  Secondly, there's a great live performance of the song.  Lastly, there's the headbanging cover by Apocalyptica, who covers Metallica songs with strings.  That's right, these guys bang their heads while playing the cello.

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