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Metallica's Momentous "One" | For The Record
Emerging from the thrash metal underground to the GRAMMY stage, Metallica broke new ground with the 1988 release of their fourth album, …And Justice For All, expanding their rabid fanbase — known as the "metal militia" — to a whole new level with their crushing opus, "One."
…Justice marked a return of sorts for Metallica, as it was the band's first album after the tragic death of their virtuosic bassist, Cliff Burton, on Sept. 27, 1986. With newcomer Jason Newstead taking over bass duties, Metallica's fourth album arrived on Aug. 25, 1988, a collage of brutal, chugging guitar riffs set to jarring, dark lyrical themes. The album's centerpiece was undoubtedly the seven-and-a-half minute "One."
An anti-war song at its core, "One" is based off Dalton Trumbo's 1939 book, Johnny Got His Gun and follows the story of a severely wounded WWI soldier relegated to the confines of a motionless life in a hospital bed.
The song builds from its somber, clean guitar opening movement with lyrics recounting the torturous confines of the post-war mind. Then it builds into one of metal's most iconic and grinding riffs, mimicking machine gun fire with double kick drum blasts and bottom-string guitar shots. James Hetfield's voice enters to articulate the suffering of the song's subject, incapacitated by battle, "Darkness imprisoning me / all that I see, absolute horror / I cannot live, I cannot die / trapped in myself, body my holding cell."
The haunting music video for "One" featured audio and video from the film adaptation of Trumbo's book and was the very first video Metallica ever made. Its rotation on MTV brought the band's underground thrash metal style to a whole new audience without compromising the band's artistic principles.
In early 1989, Metallica performed "One" at the 31st GRAMMY Awards. One year later at the 32nd GRAMMY Awards, the song earned the band its first ever GRAMMY Award for Best Metal Performance. Three decades later, it remains one of metal's most idiomatic and imitated songs.