Friday, August 2, 2013

Song Meaning, Analysis and Facts: The Unforgiven by Metallica

ARTIST: Metallica | ALBUM: black album | RELEASED: 1991
Song Meaning, Analysis and Facts: The Unforgiven by Metallica
"The Unforgiven" is James Hetfield's most personal track of all Metallica songs. The song explores James' tumultuous childhood. His dad left the family when he was thirteen for no apparent reason -- only a mare note was left behind explaining his departure. James got really mad at his father for leaving them behind, given that he was the breadwinner of the family and that his mom wasn't as effective at being a single parent. She made a living painting stuff, but besides that, she wasn't able to properly take care of James and her daughter. Nevertheless they managed to push on... but not for long. His mom passed away when James was sixteen after a losing battle with cancer.

James never really had close friends. At school he was an outcast because he was "different" from the rest of his classmates. He was raised in a highly-christian family. So at school, when it was time for Science he left the classroom because he was told by his parents that science was not as important as God's powers. James has recently revealed in an interview that it really awkward standing in the hallway outside the classroom having to explain his situation to other teachers passing him by. At home his dad used to read him and his sister the Bible and he would get so emotional, in fact, to the point where he would almost cry in tears. James, on the other hand, was totally confused as to why his dad was crying and why he's not.


When James' mother was in deathbed,  her relatives - who also happened to have a similar christian mindset - never really gave her any medicine or took her to to the hospital. They thought God would somehow take care of her but they were very wrong. Without a parent or close friends, James quickly fell into drinking. Even at some points in his adult life he was so addicted to it that his wife kicked him out of home. The Metallica documentary entitled, Some Kind of a Monster, released in 2001, shows James finally taking steps to address his alcoholism. 


For "The Unforgiven" James Hetfield put his personal feelings stemmed from his childhood turmoil into lyrics. As he said in an interview, "personal wounds are a great thing to write about." This is somewhat of a complicated song, such that each individual line doesn't necessarily posses a deeper meaning, but rather you have have to collectively consider them together in a verse or chorus. So without further ado, let' do some rock n' roll analysis of this song.

Analysis of lyrics:

First verse is about James' experiences when he was around, say, five years old. He was beginning to learn about the christian science he was taught by his parents. The line that sums this up is, "The young boy learns their rules."

Second verse talks about James' struggles as he was growing up to into a teenager. At this point in time, he was old enough to realize that his parent's christian beliefs wouldn't stop his mom from passing away. So, from that moment on he promised himself never to follow the footsteps of his parents, as stated by "That never from this day / His will they'll take away."

Final verse discusses James' conflicting relationship with his parents. James "battled constantly" with himself due to the fact that the faith his parents put on God didn't help any of them at the end: his dad abruptly left his family, and his mom died soon afterwards. After dust had settled, James was all by himself, contemplating committing suicide as stated by, "The old man then prepares / To die regretfully. "

The chorus is loosely written, in which James states that had he thought contrary to the beliefs he was taught, he might have been able to save his mom life. 
I'd like to know what you think of this song. Let me know your thoughts/input in the comments below.


  1. New blood joins this earth
  2. And quickly he's subdued
  3. Through constant pained disgrace
  4. The young boy learns their rules

  5. With time the child draws in
  6. This whipping boy done wrong
  7. Deprived of all his thoughts
  8. The young man struggles on and on he's known
  9. A vow unto his own
  10. That never from this day
  11. His will they'll take away

  12. What I've felt
  13. What I've known
  14. Never shined through in what I've shown
  15. Never be
  16. Never see
  17. Won't see what might have been

  18. What I've felt
  19. What I've known
  20. Never shined through in what I've shown
  21. Never free
  22. Never me
  23. So I dub thee unforgiven

  24. They dedicate their lives
  25. To running all of his
  26. He tries to please them all
  27. This bitter man he is
  28. Throughout his life the same
  29. He's battled constantly
  30. This fight he cannot win
  31. A tired man they see no longer cares
  32. The old man then prepares
  33. To die regretfully
  34. That old man here is me

  35. What I've felt
  36. What I've known
  37. Never shined through in what I've shown
  38. Never be
  39. Never see
  40. Won't see what might have been

  41. What I've felt
  42. What I've known
  43. Never shined through in what I've shown
  44. Never free
  45. Never me
  46. So I dub the unforgiven

  47. You labeled me
  48. I'll label you
  49. So I dub the unforgiven

Lyrics from: http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/metallica/theunforgiven.html

24 comments:

  1. I really loved youre analysis in general, and I have learned much about his background thanks to you. About the sentences "The old man then prepares / To die regretfully", i don't agree with you. I don't think it means he contemplated commiting a suicide, in my opinion it means that at this certain point in his life, after he looked back at his past and realized what he had gone through, he couldn't think that in his last moments he will feel proud and satisfied, and therefore he prepares to die regretfully.

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    1. Wow to water your heart on your sleeve like that and be able to sum up your childhood so completely shows the how amazing you are cause your letting thoughs that have gone through simular situations they're not alone. Your a true gift to all of those that have suffered simular situations

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    2. Ya I love this song and I'm going to have it played at my funeral. Yey Metallica!

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  2. Thanks for your interesting analysis. you could mention the concept of unforgiven i think. I "unforgiven" demonstrates an outcast against public beliefs.

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  3. I think I have always related this song to my life. being born into abuse, neglect and drugs. Always wanting better but playing the role I was born into. Making mistakes and finally breaking the cycle for my boys. Dub the unforgiven to me means, not being to forgive myself for mistakes made. Dying regretfully to me means when I die, I will have to face a higher power after committing sins.

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  4. I think I have always related this song to my life. being born into abuse, neglect and drugs. Always wanting better but playing the role I was born into. Making mistakes and finally breaking the cycle for my boys. Dub the unforgiven to me means, not being to forgive myself for mistakes made. Dying regretfully to me means when I die, I will have to face a higher power after committing sins.

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  5. I think this song is about the systems we've built to maintain order. As we grow up and grow old we are not free, "never me". While aware, we unwillingly become part of the system, bitterness starts and eventually becomes regret. He will never see his own potential. They (the world or the people he has encountered) caused this, and they are not forgiven by him, they are UNFORGIVEN.

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    1. It's actually 'thee' not 'the' unforgiven. So to me it means he is not forgiving himself for not being what he's felt or known.

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    2. It's actually 'thee' not 'the' UNFORGIVEN, so to me it means he isn't forgiving himself for not being him, not acting according to what he's felt and known.

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  6. For me, it means you will always be a prisoner of your past on several different levels. You will always carry those wounds even though you somehow, find a way to live on with them. Incredible song.

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  7. I love the song and the story.I would not know the feelings that he would have,but it must have been terrible.You will always have your battle scars.That is what makes us who we are.It is fantastic song writing.

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  8. Accept the truthed as will as fine and build new life is the path way to our the depressed.dont negathively thinks to faith and god cause there are somethings behind were we untold

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  9. Accept the truthed as will as fine and build new life is the path way to our the depressed.dont negathively thinks to faith and god cause there are somethings behind were we untold

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  10. It's an incredible song that one can draw their own interpretation to an extent, especially when one has suffered abuse, neglect, and abandonment. I been raised catholic and have suffered abuse and experienced abandonment by my parents when I was 7 or 8 yrs old, when sent to a catholic boarding school, that was 44 years ago and have since learned to cope and maintain my belief in Christ... However I have a problem with some fundamental Christianity mindset and on the other hand have had many spiritual experiences along the way that have restored or left intact my belief system. I find there is still validity in a higher power, particularly when one trust in God to his, or herself rather than it being force fed to you as a child.

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  11. I can relate to this song completely. It was such a moving song for me because I've never shined through what I've shown. I had a torturous childhood. This song was the words that my heart was trying to sing but couldn't bear to find the words.

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  12. I think what he's saying in his song how a soon as he's born, he's being taught how he's supposed to think instead of being able to think for himself. Thoughtout his life he trying to think for for himself but is "battled constantly" with his family because of his free thinking. And he so tired of fighting again them, "a tired man they see no longer cares", explains itself. he let what others want him to believe rule him than what he believes his entire life. Now he regrets not saving his mom, he regrets all his mistakes, he regrets believing in his father so he "prepairs to die regretfully". He "dub thee unforgiven" because he will never forgive them for what they did thoughout his life and cannot take it back.

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  13. Holy Shit!!!! This is all way too familiar in my own life. "He tries to please them all. This bitter man he is." That's my whole freaking life!! Try making everyone happy just to find that no one is happy, least of all me. Worked myself sick and crazy but I have never been enough for anyone. Fuck!!!!

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  14. Holy Shit!!!! This is all way too familiar in my own life. "He tries to please them all. This bitter man he is." That's my whole freaking life!! Try making everyone happy just to find that no one is happy, least of all me. Worked myself sick and crazy but I have never been enough for anyone. Fuck!!!!

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    1. You can't please everyone so you gotta please yourself. .. there is some truth to that no? But you will never truly be pleased unless you Jesus. That's our calling in life so it's the only that will satisfy the soul.

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    2. yeah, that's kind of what I take from the song too. I don't know, I've had a lot of issues with substance abuse/dependency, so many times I tried to get clean for the people around me. While I didn't have a horrible childhood, I definitely had a dysfunctional family which left me pretty confused and alone feeling as a teenager. When I started using my main drug of choice, heroin, it felt like something that had long been missing in my spirit had been filled in (cliche as it may sound), and I chased it, and in the process burned a ton of bridges, broke a lot of promises, and told a lot of lies, I tried to live two lives, so that I could please others, but still do what I felt necessary in order to go on. Eventually I totally couldn't take it any more and I left my home and moved to the other side of the country and lived under a bridge for a couple of years, and said fuck it, at least I'm being me. Obviously I'm not at that place in my life anymore but I still end up feeling like I'm being told how to live my life all the time, and while I acknowledge what I did was killing myself, I don't believe it's all that black or white, or at least it doesn't have to be, but I can't change the society I live in. I guess to sum it up, I often feel that the things that make me happy are the same things that make people I care about miserable, and so transparency is nearly impossible, nor is an honest relationship.

      At the same time it's not even about the substance for me in the end, it's about how fucked up society we live in is where if you're weird or different, and how that drives people like me to seek escapism, in any form, in order to handle the feelings of disconnect with others. At some point, a lot of people break and just say fuck it, and retreat into themselves. Truly remarkable people though try to change things, I'm not one of them though.

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  15. Sometimes I feel tired of what is, I hate the rest, and I find music, I make ringtones for the phone ^^,
    Mix Gear solid ringtone | Marimba ver 1 ringtone

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  16. is this a poetic song?? I really want to sing this in POETRIC SLAM...

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  17. Please read about the real Islam by visiting
    www.islamreligion.com

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  18. As someone stated above, this song is most likely about how James was pressured to follow his father's footsteps, about family feuds involving religion, how he just gave up on the fight against his family and how he regrets not saving his mom.

    I can relate a lot to that since I was born in a strictly religious family where I couldn't even drink alcohol if I wanted to. Now, while I didn't had a terrible childhood like most people here, I could never be my true self within my family.

    I'm an atheist, but I was always afraid of telling them the truth. I left my home years ago and I've been away from them ever since. I did tell them about it a year ago and of course their reaction was the worst possible, I'm basically banned from the family.

    I know exactly how it is to not be free. But I can't say I don't regret things, I mean, it is family after all, things could've been different. So, I'll probably die regretting this life choice, but until then I'm gonna be who I want to be.

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