“The Outlaw Torn” by Metallica
It is generally understood that “The Outlaw Torn” is akin to a bereavement song. That conclusion has been rationalized largely based on an alleged quote James Hetfield made in that regard. But there are two issues with that explanation. One is that said quote does not appear to be readily verifiable on the internet, despite this song’s popularity. And secondly, in their entirety, the lyrics don’t really read as if the addressee is dead.
The Addressee of “The Outlaw Torn”
It has also been put forth that the inspiration behind this piece was the death of Cliff Burton. Cliff was a member of Metallica until his passing in 1986. Well, that would kinda depend on when the song was written. As painful as the death of a loved one may be, it’s a bit hard to imagine that a musician would drop a track memorializing such a person a decade after the fact (though it does sometimes happen).
So taking all of that into consideration, perhaps the explanation that the intended addressee is James Hetfield’s father is more acceptable. James’s parents divorced when he was just entering his teens, and he went on to be raised by his mom, until she passed away a few years later. Afterwards, instead of going to his dad, James went to live with his older half-brother. James perceived the situation as his pops deserting him, which resulted in two of them having a strained relationship. Interesting to note is that his dad did pass away in 1996, though some months after this track was dropped.
But the reason that explanation has weight to it is because the vocalist is depicted as ‘now waiting his whole lifetime’ for the addressee. That sounds like something a son may say to an absentee father, especially if they actually had a relationship previously. And as implied by such an assertion, the addressee is failing the vocalist in terms of fulfilling his desire of coming around.
God, the Addressee?
Things really get interesting as the song progresses. Some analyst have also put forth that what may actually be going down here is the vocalist taking on the character of Jesus addressing God. And out of all of the above explanations, that one makes more holistic sense than all others. That’s because the phrase “outlaw torn” points to the idea of the vocalist being some type of persecuted loner, as Jesus is commonly understood to be, especially leading up to his death.
Moreover, in the second verse it is inferred that the narrator adopted such a modus operandi under the direction of the addressee. And in fact in the bridge, he is entreating said individual to keep him strong during his trials and tribulations. Also, when the vocalist refers to himself as being “torn”, that can also be interpreted this way:
“Jesus” is now starting to doubt his mission. And why? Because amidst the hardships he is currently dealing with, he feels a lack of reprieve from the addressee, who he perceives as being able to relieve his suffering. And yes, such a backdrop does sound a lot like how Jesus was portrayed during his final days.
Conclusively, we don’t know for sure if that’s what “The Outlaw Torn” is actually about. However, all lyrics considered, the “Jesus addressing God” explanation would make more sense than believing that the vocalist is addressing a dead homey or deceased parent. The true victim in this case isn’t the addressee but rather the singer himself. And as far as the thesis sentiment goes, he’s actually looking forward to this selfsame addressee easing him from his current suffering.
Facts about “The Outlaw Torn”
Metallica released this track, through Elektra Records, as part of their album “Load” on 4 June 1984.
This song was not amongst the singles issued from that project. And as things usually go in such cases, it has flown under the radar. But as voted by actual rock fans in 2019, this stands as the legendary band’s ‘most underrated song’.
This track is pretty lengthy, weighing in at 9 minutes and 49 seconds’ long. As originally written by James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich, this song is actually longer by about one minute. Said original was later released, as a B-side to “The Memory Remains”, in 1997.
Hetfield and Ulrich are also credited as producers of “The Outlaw Torn”, in conjunction with Bob Rock.
A live version of this song can also be found on “S&M , the album Metallica dropped alongside the San Francisco Symphony in 1999.
“The Outlaw Torn” is the last track on the playlist of “Load”.
“Load” was an extremely successful album, though one that polarized fans of the band. On this project, the heavy metalists decided to experiment more with a blues’ sounds. And “The Outlaw Torn” is reportedly one of the songs that falls clearly into that category. This may explain why Metallica is known not to play it too often.
The album, “Load” officially got launched on June 4 of 1996. It was released as the 6th studio album of Metallica, a heavy metal band from the United States.
The entire album was recorded at The Plant, a recording studio located in Sausalito, California.
“Load” was produced by the band’s lead singer and guitarist, James Hetfield with assistance from co-band members, Lars Ulrich and Bob Rock. It was released through Elektra Records, a subsidiary of Warner Music Group.
The album’s potential success was evident from its first week of release when it sold over 680,000 copies within the US alone. In doing so, it debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and remained on the said chart for 4 weeks in a row. This became the best performance by any album from the band as well as 1996’s overall best debut in the US.
Aside from the US, the album was also No. 1 in the UK and the countries listed below:
“Load” was eventually certified 5x platinum in the United States, 4x platinum in Canada, 2x platinum in Australia and 5x Gold in Germany.