Prime Cuts: Metallica's James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett Critique Key Songs in the Band’s Harsh, Noble History
Another gem from the Guitar World archive ...
Metallica’s 1983 debut, the explosive Kill ’Em All, taught a grateful world a lesson in unbridled thrashing fury. Since then, their sound has passed through numerous stages, but the guttural intensity that was the hallmark of the young Metallica remains the essence of the band today.
Over the past 25 years, Hammett and James Hetfield have established themselves as metal’s quintessential guitar alliance. In the following retrospective, Kirk and James take a walk down Metallica memory lane and critique some of the key songs in the band’s harsh, noble history.
“Seek and Destroy," Kill ’Em All (1983)
JAMES HETFIELD: The idea for “Seek” came from a Diamond Head song called “Dead Reckoning.” I used to work in a sticker factory in L.A., and I wrote that riff in my truck outside work. This was our first experience in a real studio. I used a white Flying V, which was the only guitar I had back then. I still have the guitar in storage. The song is based around a one-note riff that was up a little higher. Though most of my riffs are in E, that one worked off an A.
KIRK HAMMETT: When I was doing that guitar solo, I was using James’ Marshall. That was the Marshall—it had been hot-rodded by some L.A. guy, the same guy who hot-rodded Eddie Van Halen’s Marshalls—and when it came time to do my guitar leads, I just plugged into that. I had maybe four or five days to do all my leads. I remember thinking, There’s 10 or 12 songs on this album, so that means two a day. I had to throw down a solo, not think much about it, and move on.
I had my trusty old Ibanez Tubescreamer, my trusty wah pedal and my black Gibson Flying V that I used on the first four albums. It was either a ’74 or a ’78, I’m not sure. I didn’t have much really worked out; I knew how I wanted to open the initial part of the solo after the break, so I just went for it two or three times.
And then the producer said, ‘That’s fine! We’ll use it!’ There were no frills, no contemplation, no overintellectualizing—we weren’t going over the finer points. On a couple of notes in that solo, I bend the notes out of pitch. For 18 years, every time I’ve heard that guitar solo, those sour notes come back to haunt me! [laughs] I remember on that tour, whenever it came time to do that guitar solo, I was always like, Okay, I’m gonna play this so much better than the way I recorded it!
I had been taking lessons from Joe Satriani for, like, six months prior to joining the band, so his influence was pretty heavy in my mind and in my playing. He passed down so much information to me, I was still processing a lot of it. When it came time to do the solo, I was thinking, I hope Joe likes this. I hope this isn’t something he’ll just pick apart, like he has in the past.
"The Four Horsemen," Kill ’Em All (1983)
HETFIELD: Dave [Mustaine, Metallica’s original guitarist] brought that song over from one of his other bands. Back then it was called “The Mechanix.” After he left Metallica, we kind of fixed the song up. The lyrics he used were pretty silly.
HAMMETT: Prior to recording that song, we put in a slow middle section that wasn’t there when I first joined the band, and it needed a slow, melodic solo. I remember going through the song with everyone, and when I got to that part, I played something really melodic. Lars looked up at me and said, “Yeah, yeah!” He’s a big lead guitar fan. One of his biggest influences is Ritchie Blackmore. For that song I put down one lead, then added one on a different track.
I wasn’t sure which one to use. I listened to both tracks at once, to see if one would stand out. But playing both tracks simultaneously sounded great, and we decided to keep it like that on the record. Some of the notes harmonized with each other, and I remember Cliff [Burton, bassist] going, “Wow, that’s stylin’—it sounds like Tony Iommi!”