“The God That Failed” is the tenth track from Metallica’s 1991 self-titled album. The song was never released as a single, but was the first song of the album to be heard by the public. It was one of Metallica’s first original releases to be tuned half a step down.
Composition and recording
Lyricist James Hetfield described the song as “very nice… Slow, heavy and ugly.” Lead guitarist Kirk Hammett recalls the inception of his solo in the song: “I had this whole thing worked out, but it didn’t fit because the lead was too bluesy for the song, which is characterized by real heavy riffing and chording.” According to Hammett, he and producer Bob Rock worked out his guitar solo on the song. Together they composed a melody to which Hammett wanted to add harmony. The producer suggested that this would make the song sound too “pretty”, and instead recommended playing the melody an octave higher. The final guitar solo was put together from over a dozen performances by the guitarist during the recording of the album. Hammett calls the resulting work one of his favorite solos on the album
The central theme of the song is faith and human reliance on it, and of unrewarded belief in a God that fails to heal. The lyrics and song material were inspired by Hetfield’s anguish on the circumstances surrounding his mother’s death. She died of cancer after refusing medical attention, solely relying on her belief in God to heal her. Hetfield felt that had she not followed her Christian Science beliefs, she could have survived.
Baylor University Assistant Professor of Religion, Paul Martens points out that the song has been admired by some anti-religious groups, such as the websites “Alabama Atheist” and “The Secular Web”. Martens notes, however, that Hetfield does not celebrate God’s failure in the song, but instead blames God, through his mother’s faith and death, for contributing to the meaninglessness of life. Hetfield himself, however, has not confirmed Martens statement.