‘Enter Sandman’ is one of the most iconic songs in Metallica’s discography. With its eerie lyrics and churning guitar parts, it is perhaps the darkest bedtime story in rock. But, if it hadn’t been for the talents of guitarist and songwriter Kirk Hammett, it may never have existed at all. Below we look at how the iconic song (which was recently covered by Rina Sawayama for The Metallica Blacklist album) came about.
Born on November 18th, 1962, Kirk Hammett is the lead guitarist and core songwriter of arguably the greatest heavy metal band of all time, Metallica. He joined the group in 1982 after forming and performing with Exodus for several years.
Having grown up obsessed with classic horror movies, Hammet developed an interest in music after his brother Rick showed him his record collection, which included albums by Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and UFO. He decided to sell his horror magazine collection to buy LPs from the local record store, and, by the age of 15, was writing songs of his own on the guitar. After purchasing a 1978 Fender Stratocaster copy, Hammet eventually bought a 1974 Gibson Flying V and quickly went about finessing his style.
In a recent interview, Hammett recalled how, when he came to write ‘Enter Sandman’, he’d wanted to get away from the trashy hair metal which seemed to dominate the charts at the time. Instead, he wanted to compose something more minimalistic, more inspired by grunge artists like Soundgarden than White Snake.
However, he knew that the song needed to be a radio-friendly hit. “We didn’t want to go down the same progressive, demanding route. We had our sights set on bigger things. You have to remember that there had been some mega albums around that time – Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Bruce Springsteen – eight million, nine million copies sold. And we wanted that. It’s obvious. We wanted a Back In Black.”
Like so many great songs, ‘Enter Sandman’, seemed to come from nowhere. Hammett recalled how: “The ‘Enter Sandman’ riff was a riff that just fucking appeared. It was three o’clock in the morning, I was sitting in my bedroom. People say: ‘What were you doing up at three o’clock in the morning?’ Well, I was still in tour mode. I was playing my guitar, I had nothing else to do. I’d been listening to Soundgarden all day. They were a band that me and James loved. I was just trying to capture that feel. That riff came out of nowhere.”
Hammett then took the song to the rest of the band, building around the two central riffs that he had written. After re-working the lyrics a number of times, the song was finally finished and became the lead single on Metallica’s 1991 record, The Black Album.
Today, it is still one of the most recognisable songs from the heavy metal canon and is so sown into the fabric of American rock music that even people who have never listened to Metallica in their life know the lyrics to ‘Enter Sandman.’ That’s no small feat.