Fan poll: JAMES HETFIELD's top 5 METALLICA vocal performances | Revolver

Fan poll: JAMES HETFIELD's top 5 METALLICA vocal performances

Thrash riff-master is an underrated rock singer
metallica james hetfield 2023 KEVIN WILSON metlife 4, Kevin Wilson
photograph by Kevin Wilson

Usually, when people rave about Metallica, they're talking about the genre-defining riffs. The neo-classical songwriting. The stadium-filling melodies. The speed of their early years. The stompy groove of their later years. What isn't always expressly mentioned is frontman James Hetfeld's voice — an inimitable, gravelly roar that's immediately recognizable to almost anyone with even the vaguest idea about metal.

As Metallica have evolved from thrash pioneers to mainstream hard-rock gate-crashers and then back again to speed-metal crown-bearers, Hetfield's voice has developed, too. In the early days, he yelled with a ferocity that matched their blazing instrumentation. As the band's sound became more refined and catchy, his voice carried their anthems to untold heights of hesher acclaim.

We asked our readers to pick the single best vocal performance that Hetfield has ever laid down. All we'll say is that we did not expect the final tallies to look the way they do. See the top five vote-getters below.

5. "The Unforgiven"

Metallica had released a few great ballads prior to the "Black Album," but ultimately, "The Unforgiven" became their definitive lighters-up anthem. Sure, the weepy main lick is great, but it's Hetfield's emotional singing that takes this song to cinematic levels of grandeur. He's clearly operating at a different level then he was during "Fade to Black," that's for sure.

4. "No Leaf Clover"

"No Leaf Clover" already stands out in Metallica's catalog for being one of two new, original tracks the band wrote for their collaborative live album with the San Francisco Symphony, S&M.

It's one of their most ambitious, resplendent and frankly un-metal songs, and a lot of that is due to Hetfield's unique vocal delivery. He's trying out several new moves on here; singing through a claustrophobic effect, crooning in a lower range than usual, and pulling out some fresh vocal patterns that dance atop the orchestral instrumentation. It's a different side of Hetfield, and the voters approve.

3. "One"

"One" is a Metallica all-timer for many reasons. The crushing breakdown. The galloping solos. The harrowing lyrics about a man who's been rendered physically dead, but mentally alive, and doomed to suffer, by war.

None of it would work as well without Hetfield's presence on the mic. He wisely employs a lighter, cleaner singing delivery during the first couple verses, and then kicks into his gritty snarl as the narrator's cries for mercy become more desperate. It's a tough song to sell sincerely, but he pulls it off and then some.

2. "Bleeding Me"

Metallica fans have been split on Load since it came out. The 1996 LP saw the band depart even further from their thrash roots in pursuit of a highly melodic, swaggering hard-rock sound.

"Bleeding Me" wraps all those elements into its lengthy eight-minute runtime. Throughout, Hetfield sings with a Southern twang that's significantly more warm, vulnerable and classically rock & roll than how he sang in his long-hair years. It's not for everyone, but clearly Revolver readers dig it.

1, "The Outlaw Torn"

There were plenty of classic 'Tallica songs that could've landed at No. 1 — "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)," "Sad But True," "Fade to Black," etc. — but the people have spoken, and they chose another Load song, "The Outlaw Torn."

The album's sweltering outro track has plenty of musical high points, including Hetfield's vocals, which alternate between a heartfelt croon and a hot-blooded belt as he sings lyrics penned in honor of late, great Metallica bassist Cliff Burton.

Hetfield hits the notes in a way that begets arm-in-arm sing-alongs, but once again, it's the raw emotion in his voice that makes this so effective. You can audibly hear how much the words mean to him, and that soul-bearing connection comes through in the song. Love or hate Load, it's hard to deny Hetfield's singing on "The Outlaw Torn."