Image via Wikipedia
Title: My Friend of Misery
Genre: Heavy Metal
Release Date: August 12, 1991
Personnel: James Hetfield (Rhythm Guitar, Lead Vocals), Kirk Hammett (Lead Guitar), Lars Ulrich (Drums), Jason Newstead (Bass, Backup Vocals)
Even if you don’t like heavy metal and listen to it as little as possible, chances are you’ve heard the album Metallica (The Black Album) or at least a song from it. “Enter Sandman”, anyone? Chocked full of monster hits, The Black Album was the album that made metal popular and more accessible to the world. Despite the album’s major success and most record sales for any heavy metal album (I’m not including Gun N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction), it wasn’t without controversy. Remember, this is the same band that produced the pure thrash of Kill ‘Em All, the blistering and groundbreaking work of Ride the Lightning, heavy metal’s pinnacle in Master of Puppets, and the sorely underrated technical masterpiece that is …And Justice for All. So why in the world would a band that pushed itself to its musical boundaries and create iconic songs in the process decide to slow things down a bit? Maybe down the road, we at ED will sit down for a full review of The Black Album, and answer that question in depth. Besides, this review isn’t about the entire album; it’s just about one song: “My Friend of Misery.”
It’s hard to fathom that with an album having sold over 16 million copies, there’d be some songs on there that were under appreciated or overlooked. It is the opinion of this most humble blogger that “My Friend of Misery” has not gotten the recognition that it rightfully deserves. I’ll admit, despite having heard The Black Album dozens of times, this particular song somehow managed to escape my attention. I guess with the likes of “Enter Sandman”, “The Unforgiven”, “Wherever I May Roam”, “Nothing Else Matters”, and “Sad But True”, it’s not too much of a stretch for this gem to remain hidden. Before you read any further, please listen to “My Friend of Misery”, even if you’ve heard it before. Taking the time to really hear the music and words will perhaps give you an appreciation for this song that I have only recently acquired. Now, let us delve into the song.
(Left to Right) Jason Newstead, James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett – Image via Fanpop
The song begins with a beautiful bass solo by Mr. Jason Newstead. The solo is mellow, patient, and enthralling all at the same time while leading to Hetfield’s simple, yet dominating guitar riffs. The riff on this song continues the heavier emphasis on Hetfield’s rhythm guitar on The Black Album setting the tempo for each song. Bob Rock, being the producer for The Black Album, wanted a heavier emphasis to be put on Ulrich’s drumming rather than the band relying on frantic-paced guitar pieces and moving toward a more generic, mainstream sound. I think the latter was accomplished, in that the album was by far the band’s most radio friendly album to date, but Ulrich’s drumming wasn’t what was memorable about this album to me. It was Hetfield’s rhythm guitar. Personally, I feel Hetfield has been the engine that has driven Metallica for nearly thirty years with his undervalued rhythm guitar play, and he is the main showcase in “My Friend of Misery.”
Not only is Hetfield’s guitar the juice of the song, his voice provides the soul and the very lifeblood of the song as he delivers each lyric. Hetfield’s not known to be bashful on stage when it comes to showing emotion when delivering a song, but on “My Friend of Misery”, he seems to find another gear. Even on “Nothing Else Matters”, a song about one of his girlfriends, Hetfield doesn’t seem to exude the same passion as he does on this song. The lyrics are indeed not a mystery, as the subject of the words seems to be an outsider looking in on the things of this world, and takes a very pessimistic view about what he sees. Here’s the first verse:
You just stood there screaming
Fearing no one was listening to you
They say the empty can rattles the most
The sound of your own voice must soothe you
Hearing only what you want to hear
And knowing only what you’ve heard
The interlude slows things down and affords the listener time to mull on the music he has just heard and lets it minister his soul. Hetfield then strums his guitar with a bit of a country sound, until Hammett begins an intricate guitar piece alongside Hetfield’s dominating riff which plays throughout most of the song. After giving us some time to enjoy Hetfield and Hammett tickling our ears with a beautiful and harmonious guitar duet, Hammett’s solo comes in right on cue, and he delivers a whammy-happy solo that is packed full of fun while he is no doubt making his happy face. After nearly two minutes of Hammett’s guitar going back and forth with Hetfield’s “My friend of misery…yeah! yeah! go!”, Hammett closes things out in satisfying fashion.
Kirk Hammett making his happy face – Image via Guitar World
Hopefully, I didn’t bore you by only writing about one song, but it has become one of my favorite songs on The Black Album, and I think deserves any form of spotlight I can afford it.
“My Friend of Misery” was one of three songs co-written by Newstead on The Black Album, and was intended originally to be an instrumental. Newstead played the bass solo from the song on Metallica’s Wherever We May Roam tour with some additional parts to pick up the pace.