Jazz Drummer Larnell Lewis Hears Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” for the Very First Time, Then Plays It Near-Perfectly

Even if you don’t think you know “Enter Sandman,” you know “Enter Sandman.” For more than thirty years it’s been the signature song of Metallica, the best-known heavy metal band in the world, and as such practically unavoidable — unavoidable, that is, unless you’re jazz drummer Larnell Lewis. Previously featured here on Open Culture for his demonstration of the thirteen levels of drumming difficulty, Lewis is most closely associated with the fusion band Snarky Puppy, and has, fair to say, spent his professional life outside the realm of metal. Hence the intrigue of the challenge he takes on in the video above: can he play through “Enter Sandman” after hearing it just once?

Metallica die-hards know how formidable a task this is. Recording the song in the first place took the band’s drummer Lars Ulrich more than one take — in fact, it took him nearly fifty takes, in each of which he played just one section of the song, never the whole thing straight through.

The final mix edits together all of the most precise and intense pieces of his performance into one seemingly impossible-to-replicate whole. But for Lewis, learning a song by ear and then playing it perfectly is all in a day’s work, a process he demonstrates in the earlier video just below, talking his listeners through his mental process of active listening to a percussion-free song, then coming up with all the drum parts on the fly.

Watching Lewis actively listen to “Enter Sandman” has the appeal of those viral videos in which Youtubers hear hit songs for the first time — but even more so, since Lewis knows his craft backwards and forwards, and doesn’t hesitate to express his own reactions and perceptions. He notes a few tricky shifts into half time, and even one especially dramatic shot that he foresees missing when he tries his own hand at the song. Apart from that, however, he then plays the song himself with an accuracy that astonishes even the Metallica fans in the comments. As one says, it’s hard to say which is more unbelievable: Lewis’ extraordinary talent or the fact that he’d never heard ‘Enter Sandman’ before. The man must never have set foot in a gym — but then, he probably gets more than enough of a workout at the drum kit.

via Kottke

Related content:

Watch 13 Levels of Drumming, from Easy to Complex, Explained by Snarky Puppy Drummer Larnell Lewis

Watch Metallica Play “Enter Sandman” Before a Crowd of 1.6 Million in Moscow, During the Final Days of the Soviet Union (1991)

Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” Sung in the Style of David Bowie

A Bluegrass Version of Metallica’s Heavy Metal Hit, “Enter Sandman”

Metallica Playing “Enter Sandman” on Classroom Toy Instruments

The Neuroscience of Drumming: Researchers Discover the Secrets of Drumming & The Human Brain

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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Comments (5)
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  • Kristine Adams says:

    Astonishing! Start to finish, you shine, then shine some more, then arc us OUT with your strong burst of positivity, appropriate for any endeavor. THANKS & CONGRATS & THANKS TO YOUR BUDDY for this challenge!

  • JT Nolan says:

    Mr. Lewis,
    What a great job on Enter Sandman!
    You are absolutely brilliant
    A real pleasure.

    All the best,
    JT Nolan

  • Andy Bonser says:

    Dear Larnell,
    Great job on enter Sandman. However, I was completely impressed and astonished what you did with Chicks Pain!!!
    This was the first time I was ever exposed to you and heard you. Your talent is amazing. Thank you for sharing it. I am I guitarist of 50 years, self-taught. But I’ve always had a love of the drums I’ve dabbled many times I am a fluent to it and respect all the greats from, but are you rich to Mike Portnoy and Mike Mangini.
    Now I’ve discovered you and I have to buy some of your stuff to fully appreciate what you do.
    Thank you for doing this!!!

  • Ralph Toles says:

    Larnelle Lewis is one of my favorite drummers. He is extremely versatile, is I knew he could pull this off with now problem. Way to go! I must say that it is a dis-service to call him a jazz drummer.

  • Linda C says:

    Kudos to you on your performance Mr. Lewis. You had an amazing feel for it. I saw this performed in a live Metallica concert a number of years ago.

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