Metallica’s “The God That Failed” Lyrics Meaning

There are two realities from James Hetfield’s past which serve as premises for the sentiments expressed in this song. First is that his parents were devout Christians, in particular belonging to the Church of Christ, Scientist. 

You can view the lyrics, alternate interprations and sheet music for Metallica's The God That Failed at

Second is that his mother’s religious conviction was so strong that it contributed to her passing away. Or more specifically she refused medical treatment on the deathbed due to her belief system as prescribed by the aforementioned sect. And accordingly, generally speaking “the god that failed” which James is referring to is the one she so vigorously believed in who did nothing to save her life.

So this song deals with what its producer, Bob Rock, referred to as “very-complex” matters. Indeed when one tackles the topic of religious ideologies, such is often the case. For instance, “The God That Failed” has been embraced by the likes of atheists. However, this isn’t a case of the singer stating he does not believe in God. Rather what seems to be going down is that he is speaking, once again, to certain religious beliefs.

Verses 1 & 3

It is easy to perceive that the first and third verses are indeed about someone like James Hetfield’s mother. This individual is depicted as a person who takes “pride” in their religion. However, this person’s faith has also made her close-minded. That is to say that she was not privy on hearing what she deemed were “discouraging lies”, i.e. criticisms, of her belief system. And at the end of the day, the metaphors presented point to the idea that this way of thinking indeed failed her.

Verse 2

Now the second verse is even more complex than the narrative mentioned above. And here is an alternate theory which may explain the ideas being put forth. In this passage it is arguable that Hetfield is addressing God Himself.  And what the singer is saying is that God gave his “child”, i.e. Jesus, “to save” the world. 

However, when all was said and done Jesus was crucified (i.e. sent to the “grave”), and God was “left… cold”, as in the masses of people still not receiving the intended message of Jesus’ life. So looking at the Biblical tale from that perspective would also imply that God “failed”. But again, this explanation is an out-on-a-limb attempt to decipher what can be classified as a painfully ambiguous passage in a song with a theme that is critical of mainstream-religious understanding.

Thesis Sentiment of “The God That Failed”

And in terms of the thesis sentiment of this tune, ultimately what Metallica seems to be saying is that people’s faith in religious beliefs should not reach the point of impracticality. Or if it does, they are likely going to have experiences in which God, so to speak, disappoints them. And the reason for such would be that their religious ideologies are not actually in tune with the reality of the world we live in.

“The healing hand held back by the deepened nail
Follow the god that failed”

Facts about “The God That Failed”

This track is from Metallica’s self-titled 1991 album. The song and the album were released by Elektra Records on 12 August 1991.

The credited writers and co-producers of this song are Metallica’s James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich. And the other producer is Bob Rock.

The first live performance of “The God That Failed” was on 30 May 1994.

Metallica, a band who is known for referencing famous pieces of literature, likely got the title of this song from a 1949 collection of essays by prominent writers of that day which is also entitled “The God that Failed”.

2 Responses

  1. Rick says:

    This is crazy. I’ve been a Metallica fan SINCE 1991. And I always thought this song was about his mother. Its been written about in books and on blogs ad infinitum. But just today. Literally, today, 7/8/2020, I was reading on a website that referenced the 1949 collection of essays you mentioned here by the same name, “The God that Failed.” In fact, I ordered a used copy of it. While his mother falls into this category in a certain sense, I think your literature connection to be the real impetus for the title, and fits the lyrical content. It is a meshing of ideas. James’ political ideology is mostly conservative. He is a professed “straight edge” guy. Having written “One” inspired by a book from the 1940s (“Johnny God His Gun”), and having written “Don’t Tread on Me” to counter-balance some the anti-government leanings of AJFA (that is ACTUALLY documented, unlike many suspicions surrounding TGTF), I believe the book is based upon the book, which is a was a handy rebuttal of Marxism and Soviet Communism. Which, incidentally, isn’t so much unlike Christian Scientism. Thank you so much for this article. I think you are spot on.

  2. Anonymous says:

    God never fails us. It’s the wrong teaching of so called preachers like what the mother was hearing preach not to seek help. Yes, God can heal. He has healed me many times when my husband or children were told I probably won’t survive through the night. The church the mom was affiliated with guided her wrong. Common sense speaks loud if your heart and mind isn’t poisoned by false words. God gives us choices and gave doctors knowledge to help in time of need. It’s sad that she left her life in the wrong hands of false teaching. She sounded like a very strong and loving Christian. Just wrong choice!

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