“The Unforgiven” is a power ballad by American heavy metal band Metallica. It was released as the second single from their eponymous fifth album Metallica. Though one of the slower tracks on the album, its chord progression is distinctly one of the heavier. The song deals with the theme of the struggle of the individual against the efforts of those who would subjugate him.
The song has since spawned two sequels (both in name proper as well as thematically, albeit not musically), in the form of “The Unforgiven II”, from the album ReLoad, and “The Unforgiven III”, from the album Death Magnetic.
The Unforgiven II
“The Unforgiven II” was written by James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich and Kirk Hammett and appears on the album ReLoad as a sequel to “The Unforgiven” (which appears on the album Metallica). Both songs have similar musical themes. The chord progression during the verses is strikingly similar to the one used in the chorus on “The Unforgiven”, and certain parts of the song bear a strong resemblance to Iron Maiden’s 1982 song, “Children of the Damned”. Over a decade later, the song was followed by a second sequel, “The Unforgiven III”, from the album Death Magnetic.
“The Unforgiven II” video is similar to the first video’s story, though a tunnel is substituted for the blank room shown in the first video. It begins with a shirtless boy stuck in a wall, showing the wall breaking piece by piece as the boy ages. As the video progresses, it becomes more abstract, with waves crashing on the other side of the wall. The final scene shows the wall turning into a woman, with the now older boy’s hand still embedded in her back. The boy opens his hand, allowing the woman to take the key out of his hand and allowing him to take his hand out of the wall.
The song has been performed live only once, on December 8, 1997 in Las Vegas.
The Unforgiven III
“The Unforgiven III” appears on the album Death Magnetic, released in 2008. It is the second sequel of the song “The Unforgiven”, which appears on the album Metallica. The song is precedent for the song “The Unforgiven II” (which appears on the album ReLoad), which is the first sequel. “The Unforgiven III” is structured similarly to “The Unforgiven”, containing a heavy verse and a soft chorus, “The Unforgiven II” had the opposite, making it different from the others. “The Unforgiven III” is also missing the opening horn note, opening instead with an acoustic piano with a horn section in the background. The chords progression during the piano intro is the same as the choruses of the previous songs.
In an interview for MTV, James Hetfield said that the song is “continuation of the same storyline about sin and consequence, forgiveness and unforgiveness.” Hetfield has also said that, of all parts of The Unforgiven, this is his favourite. Robert Trujillo said “it’s got a great flow and it’s very dynamic. It’s somehow connected to the [remaining] body music of the album.”
Stephen Thomas from AllMusic in his review of the album, described the song as having “symphonic tension” and “threading curdled blues licks through the thrash”. Yahoo’s reviewer Gibson describes the song as having “tremendous emotion and soul just and easily lives up to the Unforgiven name” It was not released as a single, as its predecessors were. A live version was performed for the first time on April 14, 2010 in Oslo, Norway. Its last live performance was in Melbourne, Australia on November 21, 2010. In 2010, it was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance but lost to “War Machine” by AC/DC.