We’ve all heard of the ‘forbidden riff’, a label attached to the Led Zeppelin song ‘Stairway to Heaven’. Since the release of the 1992 film Wayne’s World, it has been met with disdain by those claiming to be true proponents of the rock world. Musical hipsters and guitar nerds worldwide regard what was once classed as Led Zep’s ultimate number as something that needs to be forgotten, material that only musical laymen concern themselves with.
‘Stairway to Heaven‘ is so overdone that if you rock up to a guitar shop, rehearsal space or gig to play the now-iconic riff, it is only right that you should be criticised for playing such an obvious track, much like Oasis’ ‘Wonderwall’ and God forbid, ‘Mr. Brightside’. However, the discourse on these songs is so extensive, and we believe it’s time for another track to be put in the musical chokey.
I’m just going to come out and say it: Metallica’s 1991 mega-hit ‘Enter Sandman’ should be the new ‘forbidden riff’ and, if you ask me, it’s a case that you can’t argue against. As of the inception of the TikTok era, and since meme’s infiltrated every facet of life, the song has been resurrected in comedic fashion. Whether it be the main riff of James Hetfield’s incredibly gruff gasp for air “we’re off to never-Neverland”, the “hush, little baby, don’t say a word”, or even Kirk Hammett’s wah driven solo, pretty much every element of ‘Enter Sandman’ is as overcooked as your mother’s Turkey at Christmas.
Lyrically and musically, it’s a shocker, and you can see why Metallica purists hate The Black Album – it is so cheesy that it made the crossover into the mainstream. It’s an entry-level track for anyone wanting to get into rock or metal, but apart from that, the song is so poor that it is screaming to be slapped with the ‘forbidden riff’ sticker until the end of time. Even for 1991, it’s hard to imagine what anybody really saw in the song. If ‘Make America Great Again’ was a song, it would be ‘Enter Sandman’. This was obviously not the band’s intention, but that’s the sort of person it resonates with.
A meathead anthem, with an earworm of a riff that quickly becomes annoying, the song also played a significant part in bass player Jason Newstead quitting the band. He explained to the Metal Hammer podcast: “I liked playing the songs and I can raise myself up to perform the songs for the people and give it all I’ve got, but ‘Enter Sandman’ for the three thousandth time in a certain amount of days – it fucking wears on you”.
Newstead captured the essence of the argument perfectly. At least ‘Stairway to Heaven’ has differing dynamics to keep you somewhat entertained. Furthermore, it could be argued that ‘Enter Sandman‘ was the first sign of things to come for Metallica. Afterwards, they grew increasingly ridiculous, culminating in 2003’s St. Anger.
We hereby make our pledge that ‘Enter Sandman’ shall be henceforth ascribed the title of ‘forbidden riff’. Move over, ‘Stairway’, there’s a new irritant in town.