If you’re a thrash metal purist, Metallica’s self-titled “Black Album” was a travesty. For the rest of the music-loving world, it was a revelation. The California-based band went from producing punk-infused thrash to something a little more melodic. The boys showed the world their new sound (and haircuts) in August of 1991.
Thirty years later, Metallica’s transitional record is one of the best-selling albums in the world. The RIAA gave it Platinum certification 16 times. Before dropping the album, the band promoted it with a series of tours as well as five singles. The second of those was the laid-back melodic track “The Unforgiven.”
According to Far Out Magazine, James Hetfield said that the score of a western movie inspired the song’s intro. But, they reversed the music from the score so that no one would notice. Additionally, they haven’t publicly revealed what song inspired the intro for “The Unforgiven” for legal reasons.
One Clint Eastwood movie immediately comes to mind. However, the Eastwood-helmed Unforgiven didn’t come out until 1992, long after Metallica wrapped recording sessions for their self-titled album.
If you know a little about Metallica’s history and have seen enough Clint Eastwood movies, you probably already know what song it was. Now, this isn’t confirmed, but I think I have it nailed down.
Ennio Morricone: The Link Between Metallica and Eastwood
Ennio Morricone scored hundreds of films in his long career. He was a master composer, conductor, and musician. His credits include several Clint Eastwood westerns including The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and The Dollar Trilogy. Metallica frontman James Hetfield has openly discussed his love of Eastwood’s movies and Morricone’s scores in the past.
Furthermore, Metallica takes the stage to Morricone’s “The Ecstasy of Gold” from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. They’ve done so for years, according to Ultimate Classic Rock. They also recorded a cover of the song on the 2007 tribute album We All Love Ennio Morricone.
That’s all fine and good. However, we’re talking about music here. So first, listen to the intro to Metallica’s “The Unforgiven.” Pay close attention to the finger-picked acoustic section in the opening bars.
Now, check out Ennio Morricone’s “The Ecstasy of Gold” from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
The way the melody line lays over the arpeggiated chord at the beginning of Metallica’s song sounds an awful lot like the beginning of the Morricone tune. However, most people would never think to link the two. Furthermore, their cover of the song sounds a lot like they’re playing “The Unforgiven” in reverse.
The fact that Metallica looked to a Spaghetti Western score to inspire one of their biggest hits proves that inspiration can come from anywhere. Keep your eyes open, your next great idea might be waiting for you to find it.