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Kirk Hammett's five greatest Metallica solos

@TylerGolsen

Few musicians have mastered the art of the guitar solo like Metallica‘s Kirk Hammett. Over the course of his four-decade career with the world’s biggest metal band, Hammett has forged his own signature style through his lightning-fast licks, incorporation of the wah pedal, and prodigy-like picking.

A replacement for original lead guitarist Dave Mustaine, Hammett brought an easygoing attitude to the band that belied his furious power on the guitar. Picking up lessons that he learned from one of his earliest guitar teachers, Joe Satriani, Hammett emphasised variety in his technique. Never one to simply shred and go home, Hammett has incorporated elements of flamenco, jazz, classical, and blues into his playing.

If you want to know how essential Hammett’s solos are to Metallica’s identity, just listen to what they sound like without him. 2000’s St. Anger has a lot of things wrong with it, from the legendarily bad snare drum sound to the bloated runtime to the complete lack of memorable songs, but the fact that James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich asked Hammett not to solo on the songs might be the most egregious part of the record. Thankfully, they rectified that mistake on future albums.

Hammett has an entire discography full of memorable solos, but some stand out more than others. Sometimes his best work comes from labouring over his parts for hours or even days on end, crafting the perfect lines over multiple sessions. Sometimes he’s able to catch lightning in a bottle and produce the perfect solo with an impromptu casualness.

Here, we’ve collected five of Hammett’s solos that show off both his technical prowess and his unmatched versatility in the world of metal. these are five of the best Kirk Hammett guitar solos in the Metallica songbook.

Kirk Hammett’s five best solos:

‘One’

Hammett pulls out every trick in the metal book for his legendary solo on …And Justice For All’s ‘One’. From tapping to string bends to straight-up shredding, Hammett comes up with one of the all-time great solos without ever sounding like he’s copying or stealing anyone else’s style. According to him, it was largely the spontaneity of the sessions that made the solo so fantastic.

“Lars called me and said, ‘Can you come down? We need a solo on the new song demo,'” Hammett told Metal Hammer in 2020. “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!’”

‘Master of Puppets’

There’s a reason why ‘Master of Puppets’ has been Metallica’s most played song over their entire career, with nearly 1,700 performances to date. It remains the perfect melding of the band’s penchant for extended technically complex compositions and the catchy hookiness that the band would employ later in their career. ‘Master of Puppets’ is Metallica at their most ambitious.

Hetfield takes the song’s first solo, but it’s Hammett’s solo that gets most of the applause when the song inevitably gets busted out in concert. One of the best videos on the internet remains the band’s performance of the song at Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium in 2019. Through absolutely torrential rain, Hammett ascends and descends throughout the solo with being even slightly phased by the weather. It’s a masterclass.

‘Hero of the Day’

Sometimes you just have to listen to the man himself, and Hammett has been consistently vocal in naming ‘Hero of the Day’ from 1996’s Load one of his all-time favourite solos. “It’s very melodic, it’s very dynamic,” Hammett told journalist Chuck Armstrong in 2012. “I think that guitar solo serves the song in a way that I want all my guitar solos to serve their songs.”

“The way it goes from minor to major, it starts with a rhythmic thing then brings the next part to the next level,” Hammett adds in the Metal Hammer interview. “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.”

‘Fade to Black’

Another one of Hammett’s personal favourites, the studio version that appears on 1984’s Ride the Lightning contains some of Hammett’s best playing. But it’s when he’s able to bust out different variations on the theme in a live setting that the song truly takes off.

“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.”

‘Outlaw Torn’

Part of Hammett’s appeal is that, even though he sits comfortably within the genre of metal, he can channel just about any style in his playing. One of the most bizarrely satisfying Metallica-related ventures of the recent past is their string of performances with orchestras. The first of these shows was with the San Francisco Symphony in 1999, a series of shows that would be bassist Jason Newsted’s final outings with the band.

Originally from Load (a not terribly well received album, but it’s got two representations on this list), ‘Outlaw Torn’ allows Hammett to layout with moody long-held notes, fast-paced runs, and of course his signature auto-wah. But the way that Hammett is able to feed off the orchestra behind him reveals his scope of talent perhaps better than any other Metallica performance.