“We’re bored, let’s do some stuff” – How James Hetfield wrote Metallica’s longest-ever song in a Zoom call with Lars

Metallica onstage at the Johan Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam
Metallica onstage at the Johan Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam: James Hetfield [top-right] throws the horns and conducts bassist Rob Trujillio and drummer Lars Ulrich (Image credit: PAUL BERGEN/ANP/AFP via Getty Images)

James Hetfield has revealed that he and Lars Ulrich were bored on Zoom when he came up with the riff to Inamorata, the 11-minute epic that closes out Metallica’s new album, 72 Seasons, and the longest song the band has ever recorded.

Speaking to Apple Music’s Zane Lowe in the vast expanse of the Johan Cruijff Arena, Amsterdam, AFC Ajax’s home stadium, Metallica were discussing the size and scope of their M72 Tour, the origins of the Snake Pit, and the connection with fans when Lowe asked them about the riff. 

Just where does something like that come from? 

As it turns out, Hetfield is not so sure, but it’s certainly Black Sabbath-inspired. Sometimes it just comes out the electric guitar, an element of Iommi-by-osmosis to writing riffs like that. But where it actually came from was a Zoom call with Ulrich, and like most Zoom calls, the general vibe was tedium.

“Written on Zoom, by the way,” said Hetfield. “Lars and I sitting there, fiddling around, trying to connect over Zoom and write. The Pandora’s box was opened at that point. We’re bored, let’s do some stuff. And that was one of the riffs that came out of that session.”

The boredom soon disappeared when they knew they were onto something. Ulrich, who has been Hetfield’s most-trusted songwriting partner and arranger since Metallica started, knew there was something in it. The raw materials were there. Quite how it would end up they weren’t sure but it was the type of riff that invited further investigation.

“It was special from the first moment,” said Ulrich. “It was special. It obviously didn’t start off as an 11-minute song but it wanted to keep going, and there was a feeling as the ideas continued to show up that the song was calling out for, ‘now we’ve got to take these detours and now we’ve got to go here, this bass breakdown…’ 

“I hear all the riffs, and these guys have to let me sort of cherry-pick the ones that will turn into songs, and from the first time I heard that, I thought, ‘That sits somewhere else.’”

The Black Sabbath influence is undeniable. When asked about Inamorata, co-producer Greg Fidelman, who was there throughout the sessions for 72 Seasons, had a different recollection of how that riff came together, telling Total Guitar that was a riff from the tuning room, a pre-show idea that was written in C#.

“Yeah, I think Inamorata is in C# or some very bizarre key,” said Fidelman. “I don’t know why James was in C# when he was coming up with it. When we started working on it we said: ‘This is a weird key. Maybe should try this in A or in E?’ But for some reason that’s just not as cool. You’d think, ‘Let’s put it lower, it’ll sound even heavier.’ But it was the opposite. 

“When we tried it in more common keys, everyone was like, ‘Now I don’t like it so much!’ So we embraced that challenge of writing a heavy song in C#. You don’t really have a lot of open strings as an option in that key, so it was to come up with some ideas that we may not have otherwise come up with.”

Writing riffs in C#, one of Tony Iommi’s favourite tunings, is invariably going to invite comparisons with Black Sabbath, and it might well put you in that headspace, too. But Hetfield says all of this is unconscious, telling Lowe that he has know idea where they come from – and nor does he want to find out.

“I don’t think about it, man,” he said. “I was thinking, ‘Wow, that’s pretty cool. Thank you, Tony Iommi. Or whoever I just channelled. Or Cliff [Burton], whoever it is, thank you. Or thank you guitar for spitting that one out.’ It just happens. I can’t explain it, and I don’t want to know. I am a messenger, a vessel of riffs, and Lars has the spectacular ear of, ‘What was that!? Play it back.’”

72 Seasons is out now via Rhino/Blackened Recordings. Hetfield, Ulrich and company’s next stage of the M72 World Tour takes place on 17 May at Stade de France, a two-night stint that sees them return two days later. 

As per their self-imposed rules for this epic run, they will play two entirely different setlists on each of the nights. See Metallica for full dates and ticket details and check out the full Apple Music interview with Zane Lowe above.

Inamorata might have started out on that Zoom call with Ulrich but earlier this week Hetfield spoke of Metallica’s new creative era when he sat down with the band’s So What! fanzine for a candid interview about the songwriting process and how he wanted to involve Kirk Hammett more. 

“I was much more ready to open my heart to everyone in the band: lyrically, emotionally, and creatively,” he said. “I was really an advocate, going out of my way to say, 'Send in your riffs. We need stuff, c’mon,' you know?”

Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars and guitar culture since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.