Few guitarists can stand toe to toe with Metallica’s axeman Kirk Hammett. The band may have formed in 1981, but they didn’t really hit the heights expected of them until Hammett showed up with some seriously dizzying solos, the like of which would influence and inspire artists for decades to come. Recently, Hammett opened up to Louder Sound about his time with the band and picked out his favourite solos from his impressive career.
When Hammett joined Metallica, he had already garnered a fearsome reputation with his previous band Exodus and, when a vacancy became available in Metallica, there was only one man that they wanted to fill it. This opportunity arose in May 1983 after Metallica travelled to Rochester to record their debut album Metal Up Your Ass. Then-lead guitarist Dave Mustaine was struggling profusely with his battle with substance abuse and violent tendencies, which led to him being fired from the band and eventually forming Megadeth.
Metallica was left in a predicament by Mustaine’s departure, but they knew Hammett could fix their woes and phoned him on the very same afternoon. At this point, Hammett was just a 20-year-old kid that had never even left California, but, with determination, he scrambled together enough cash to get him the next flight to New York for his audition, which he passed with flying colours. James Hetfield later recalled: “The first song we played was ‘Seek and Destroy’, and Kirk pulled off this solo, and it was like…things are going to be alright!”
Ever since then, Hammett has been delivering killer solos on every Metallica release. But across the myriad of different licks he’s provided, what are his favourites? He sat down with Louder Sound and shared just that.
The first track is ‘Hero of the Day’, taken from the band’s record Load from 1996, about which Hammett says: “The way it goes from minor to major, it starts with a rhythmic thing then brings the next part to the next level… A lot of people would disagree, and I don’t know why, but to me, it’s one of my favourite things I’ve ever done.” It’s clear that Hammett isn’t focused on what gets the crowd going but on the technical aspect of performing for them. It’s a watermark of any truly serious musician.
Second up in the triumvirate of classic Metallica solos is ‘Fade to Black’ which belies the usual metal philosophy of harder is better and faster is always stronger. Speaking about the 1984 Ride The Lightning Track, Hammett said of the song: “One of a slew of solos I love playing live because I get to improvise, change it all up, never play the same solo twice. I don’t know what the fuck I’m going to play from the first lick, and I love that, I love knowing that I’m dancing on the knife-edge, that’s the excitement I fuckin’ live for.”
Completing the list of classic Metallica solos, Hammett opts for the band’s sensational 1988 song ‘One’, noting it’s particularly strange conception: “Lars called me and said, ‘Can you come down? We need a solo on the new song demo.’ I remember showing up with my guitar, Lars played me the track a couple of times and I fiddled with it, figured out where James was going. I said, ‘OK, press record.’
“Next thing I know, my hand is tapping on the neck, following the chord progression, it just came out of air! Afterwards, I was thinking, ‘Well, that was kind of a trip!’” It has since become one of Metallica’s most adored licks and confirmed Hammett’s place in the history books of rock, if he hadn’t already etched his name in there.
Below, you can check out ‘Hero of the Day’, ‘Fade to Black’ and ‘One’ and get lost in the pure musical magic Hammett conjures with every performance.