On Aug. 21, 2008, Metallica released “The Day That Never Comes,” the lead single from their ninth album, Death Magnetic.

The song found the band revitalized. St. Anger, the group’s previous LP, was Metallica’s final effort with longtime producer Bob Rock and their first release following the departure of bassist Jason Newsted. It was met with mixed reviews, with many wondering if the metal giants had finally lost their edge.

“The Day That Never Comes” would help quiet such remarks. Across nearly eight minutes, James Hetfield and company delivered the sort of powerful dynamics that helped make them one of rock’s preeminent acts. Foreboding opening melodies led to violent monster riffs; bassist Robert Trujillo seamlessly fit the band’s sound on his first release with the group, Lars Ulrich’s propulsive beats provided an unwavering backbone and Hetfield’s powerful voice towered above it all.

Yet, at the heart of “The Day That Never Comes” was a concept much more tender than the forceful song would suggest.

"It's a story about human beings who don't know each other, in a particularly tense situation," Ulrich explained to MTV. "It's really about forgiveness and redemption and understanding what goes on in people's minds.”

Even though the lyrics were reportedly built around a father-son relationship, Metallica opted for a military motif in the accompanying video to echo the song’s theme.

"That's the beauty, I think, of writing vague but powerful lyrics - that someone like a movie director can interpret it in his own way and obviously, someone creative is able to take the metaphors and apply them to whatever he needs in his own life," Hetfield explained. "The main [theme of the video] is the human element of forgiveness and someone doing you wrong, you feeling resentment and you being able to see through that in the next situation that might be similar and not take your rage or resentment out on the next person and basically keep spreading the disease of that through life."

Watch Metallica's 'The Day That Never Comes' Video

Even though it was released when the U.S. was embroiled in a second war in Iraq, Hetfield insisted that “The Day That Never Comes” was not political.

"There are so many celebrities that soapbox their opinions, and people believe it's more valid because they're popular,” the singer noted. “For us, people are people - you should all have your own opinion. We are hopefully putting the human element in what is an unfortunate part of life.”

“The Day That Never Comes” peaked at No. 31 on the Billboard Hot 100, a rare Top 40 turn for a metal act. It also hit No. 1 on the Mainstream Rock chart and charted in more than 15 countries worldwide. The single’s popularity helped Death Magnetic debut at No. 1 upon its release in September.

Metallica Albums Ranked

There are moments of indecision when compiling this list. After all, we really could have had – for the first time ever – a three-way tie for first.