Breaking Benjamin Guitarist Names His Top 5 Metallica Songs
Not every Metallica fan is worried about their cred with thrash metal purists.
Since he joined the modern incarnation of Breaking Benjamin in 2015, Keith Wallen has earned a platinum plaque for his contributions to Dark Before Dawn and a handful more pieces of wall art for gold-certified radio singles “Failure” and “Ashes of Eden.” So it’s little surprise that the guitarist's favorite release isn't the No Life 'Til Leather cassette.
“I know that it’s the most commercially popular [and] lots of people think that maybe they went too poppy and blah, blah, blah, but I've got to go with the Black Album,” Wallen said on a recent episode of the Metallica-themed podcast, Speak N’ Destroy.
“That one, it just sang to me. I just love it. The production, songwriting and performances are great. I have to say that’s my favorite album. Plus, that’s the one that got me into it and got me started. So it’s got some sentimental value there.”
Metallica’s self-titled fifth record has sold more than 16 million copies in the United States alone since it was first issued Aug. 2, 1991. The band’s first collaboration with mega-producer Bob Rock, documented with painstaking detail in the classic VHS release A Year and a Half in the Life of Metallica, the Black Album (as it's most often called) included several songs that have never left the Metallica setlist in the decades that followed.
Wallen is no stranger to what makes a heavy rock anthem work on the radio. A former member of Adelitas Way, he’s cowritten songs with likeminded bands Saint Asonia, Red, Fuel and Saving Abel. As part of live medleys that have included Pantera, Queen and Nirvana, Breaking Benjamin has performed bits of no less than three Black Album tracks over the years: “Enter Sandman,” “Sad But True” and “Through the Never.”
Wallen first had a chance to see Metallica on July 7, 1998, in Cincinnati, Ohio, as they toured in support of Reload. Alice In Chains leader Jerry Cantrell (who also opened for the Gary Cherone fronted Van Halen that year) and the Alice In Chains-esque Days Of The New, from Southern Indiana, opened the Pour ReTouring Me run.
“Every guitar magazine that had Metallica on the cover, I had to have," he explained. "A friend of mine who went to that concert with me, he and I would jam Load songs constantly. When Reload came out, we had this four-track recorder, and we’d sit there trying to re-record Metallica songs. I don’t know where those tapes are, hopefully they’re gone forever, because we sounded like [crap], but it was really fun.”
Only two of the songs Wallen named in his (admittedly ever-changing) Top 5 were performed that night: “Master of Puppets” and of course, “Enter Sandman.”
“You know, obviously I’ve heard ‘Enter Sandman’ a million times. It’s a staple throughout rock radio and pop culture. But if you can go back to that first time you heard that song, that’s what I’m trying to do here. Like, 'That sounds great!’ Just like, ‘YES.’"
His list also included the Ride the Lightning ballad “Fade to Black” (one of the first Metallica songs he worked out on guitar); “Orion” (also a favorite of Alter Bridge guitarist Mark Tremonti) and perhaps most surprisingly, “Mama Said.”
The bluesy, country-leaning ballad sits alongside the hurdy-gurdy heavy “Low Man’s Lyric” as one of the more adventurously introspective tracks from the Load/Reload-era. Wallen is particularly fond of the sound of the Fender Telecaster B-Bender (also used by James Hetfield on "Ronnie" and the intro to "The Unforgiven") and the warm lead vocal.
“My dad was a singer back in the day, and I always tried to let him hear stuff I was listening to where the singer was actually singing [as opposed to] a bunch of screaming or whatever, because I knew he could appreciate that. ‘Check this out. He can really sing! See, I’m listening to cool stuff!’ 'Mama Said' was one of those songs.”
In the wide-ranging conversation, Wallen also discussed his solo work, co-writing with other bands, what it might feel like if and when he meets Metallica some day and more.
The Speak N’ Destroy podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher and elsewhere. Previous guests include M. Shadows of Avenged Sevenfold, Lzzy Hale of Halestorm, David Ellefson of Megadeth, and Gary Holt of Exodus and Slayer, with Metallica as the conversational anchor throughout every episode.
Metallica: A Photo Timeline of Their Remarkable Career