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Prime Cuts: Metallica's James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett Critique Key Songs in the Band’s Harsh, Noble History

Prime Cuts: Metallica's James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett Critique Key Songs in the Band’s Harsh, Noble History

"Creeping Death," Ride the Lightning (1984)

HETFIELD: We demoed “Ride the Lightning” and one other song in the studio before we recorded the album, so there’s actually a demo somewhere of those three songs with different lyrics. When we did the crunchy “Die by my hand” breakdown part in the middle, I sat in the control room after we did all the gang vocals, and everyone was just going nuts! That was our first real big, chanting, gang-vocal thing. There was almost some production value to it. That whole album was a big step for us. By then I had the Gibson Explorer. I grew to love that shape better than the V.

HAMMETT: When we first began playing that song in the garage, I noticed that the lead guitar part also incorporated the chorus. I thought that was a good opportunity to play something a bit wild and dynamic. The first figure in that song pretty much came off the top of my head. I was still using the black Flying V and the Boss distortion pedal through Marshall amps, with a TC Electronics EQ. For that song, Flemming [Rasmussen, engineer] suggested that I double-track the solo, which made it sound a bit thicker and fuller. We did that solo, after which we had to do this small fill at the end, a four-bar break with four accents afterwards. The plan was to fill the break up and play something over the four accents. When I studied with Joe Satriani, I did this chordal exercise, a diminished chord with four notes. I just played that over these four accents, and it worked out real nice.

"Fade to Black," Ride the Lightning (1984)

HETFIELD: That song was a big step for us. It was pretty much our first ballad, so it was challenging and we knew it would freak people out. Bands like Exodus and Slayer don’t do ballads, but they’ve stuck themselves in that position which is something we never wanted to do; limiting yourself to please your audience is bullshit.

Recording that song, I learned how frustrating acoustic guitar can be. You could hear every squeak, so I had to be careful. I wrote the song at a friend’s house in New Jersey. I was pretty depressed at the time because our gear had just been stolen, and we had been thrown out of our manager’s house for breaking shit and drinking his liquor cabinet dry. It’s a suicide song, and we got a lot of flack for it, [as if] kids were killing themselves because of the song. But we also got hundreds and hundreds of letters from kids telling us how they related to the song and that it made them feel better.

HAMMETT: I was still using the black Flying V, but on “Fade to Black” I used the neck pickup on my guitar to get that warm sound. I played through a wah-wah pedal all the way in the “up” position. We doubled the first solo, but it was harder to double the second solo in the middle because it was slow and there was a lot of space in it. Later I realized that I harmonized it in a weird way—in minor thirds, major thirds and fifths. For the extended solo at the end, I wasn’t sure what to play. We had been in Denmark for five or six months, and I was getting really homesick. We were also having problems with our management. Since it was a somber song, and we were all bummed out anyway, I thought of very depressing things while I did the solo, and it really helped. I played some arpeggios over the G-A-B progression, but we didn’t double track that solo. When that was finished, I went back and did the clean guitar parts behind the verse. James played an arpeggiated figure while I arpeggiated three-note chords. We ended up getting a very Dire Straits–type sound.


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