Learn 4 surprising Metallica guitar chords from their classic songs

James Hetfield
(Image credit: Ross Marino/Getty Image)

Love them, or hate them, heavy metal megastars Metallica sure know a thing or two about composition and songcraft. Sure, they may have dropped all the guitar solos at one point, and Kirk may overuse the wah pedal… but let’s dig into an overlooked facet of their writing; the chords they use.

Underneath the onslaught of James Hetfield’s downpicking and Kirk Hammett's wah-soaked leads you’ll find some exceptional chord work. And when the band step back into some of their more tender moments, their penchant for interesting, and sometimes unsettling chords, comes into play.

Let’s check out four really interesting chords from the bands varied back catalogue!



(Image credit: Future)

The minor add 9 chord is the perfect accompaniment chord for any moody metal ballad. This is heard in the track Welcome Home (Sanitarium) but Metallica also reference similar chords to this in tracks like Fade to Black and One.

The added 9th interval gives the chord a slightly haunting sound which makes the E minor tonality feel slightly more unsettling.

James Hetfield interview: "When I pick up the guitar I want to be the drummer



(Image credit: Future)

This chord appears in the intro of The Call Of Ktulu, a song which in itself is jam-packed full of weird and wonderful chords, and features the last credited songwriting contribution from former guitarist Dave Mustaine. This particular chord appears in the intro and it is quite an unsettling sounding chord, perfect for setting the scene. 

What you have here is a Dmin chord, but with the 5th interval sharpened, giving it an augmented feel inside of a minor chord.

The 10 essential songs beginner guitar players can learn now



(Image credit: Future)

This chord that sets off the track Battery. This is a very moody sounding chord and in the larger context you could probably consider this to be a minor chord, however in this specific intro, the 3rd is not played. The track however is in a minor key, so you’d assume if extending this chord, it would contain a minor 3rd.

The name sounds scary, but this is just an E5 power chord with the highest note sharpened by a semi tone giving you the b9.



(Image credit: Future)

This chord appears in the track The Four Horsemen, however, it’s sporadic appearance raises the question of if it was intentional or accidentally.

Regardless of that, this is an interesting chord to look at. It’s just a regular C5 power chord, but the 5th of the chord (The G note) is also added an octave lower in the bass. Having the 5th on the bottom adds an extra low punch to the chord and is a great way to spice up power chords rooted off the A string.

Memories of Cliff Burton, Metallica's lost bass titan, from Kirk Hammett, Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield: "I get emotional when I think about Cliff and when we're together we think about Cliff"

Leigh Fuge

Leigh Fuge is a guitar player and content creator with a love for all things '80s. When he’s not creating gear demos for his Youtube channel he’s teaching students via his online guitar course Right Notes Music Tuition. Off camera he spends most of his time travelling around the UK performing at functions and corporate events.  www.instagram.com/leighfugeguitar