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This song truly marks the beginning of Metallica's commercialization. This isn't something that bothers me personally and whenever someone uses 'mainstream' or 'radio friendly' as an excuse to hate this song (or any other metal release) I feel responsible to remind them that Sabbath's first few albums hit the billboards and I've heard Iron Maiden and Metallica's earlier music on a local radio station that usually sticks to rap rock fusions.
Look at me ranting though, you're reading this because you want to know my feelings on this release. Metallica has never backed away from ballads and some of their best songs are ballads (Fade to Black and One) so it seems logical in my head to assume that even if they had stuck to their old sound a song like this would come through eventually.
This song is not heavy, it does not have a fast tempo or technicality. This song gains power from something else: pure emotion. From the second that acoustic guitar starts playing its like a wave of pure expression and it only builds from there. Next comes the singing, never before has James captured this much feeling in his vocals and the song continues build up as the electric guitar sneaks into the chorus and finally the finishes with that solo, a very short but powerful and moving solo. This song has one draw back, it is very simplistic. Simplistic enough that the first time I picked up a guitar I was able to learn how to play the beginning 'riff' with no knowledge of musical theory or guitar playing at all.
If you're a bit more of a casual listener of all forms of music you'll find this track to be enjoyable, if not then I'd recommend you avoid it.
This song absolutely marks the new commercial direction Metallica headed for with the release of the self-titled. All the girls in my school love this song, so that's a clue of how easy-listening this song is.
Anyways, I don't label songs as “bad” just because they are commercial. There are commercial, radio-friendly songs out there that are absolutely worth listening in my opinion, tunes like Priest's “Revolution”, Maiden's “Wasted Years”, Scorpions' “Blackout”, etc. Metallica are also a band that knows how to write good ballads, classics like “Fade to Black”, “The Unforgiven”, “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” and the essential “One” are some of my personal favourite tunes ever. So, Metallica had everything to really make “Nothing Else Matters” a better song than it is.
The problem is that this track is absolutely generic. The guitar lines try to be melancholic and sad, but they are pretty simple and common; the drum beats are pretty lame (Lars, you can do better than that!), the only things that save this tune to be a complete waste of time are Hetfield's vocals, his powerful voice is wonderful here, and the guitar solo, which is short but very emotional. A pretty good solo indeed.
As for the live tracks, they are useless unless you have never heard Metallica live. Otherwise, the tracks aren't worth listening. The demo of “Nothing Else Matters” is also useless, in my opinion.
So, better get other Metallica ballads instead of this one. Compared to “Unforgiven” or "Bleeding Me" this song is just a little piece of mediocrity.