Prime Cuts: Metallica
Kirk Hammett and James Hetfield look back on some of Metallica’s brightest moments.
"The God That Failed," Metallica (1991)
HETFIELD: That’s a very nice song. Slow, heavy and ugly. There are a lot of single-note riffs and more open-chord shit on this album. A lot of the rhythms I came up with were a little too complicated—half-step changes and other weirdo shit that Kirk had trouble soloing over. So we simplified some things. All the harmony guitar stuff on this album is incorporated in the rhythm tracks. I played rhythm all the way through, then I overdubbed harmony guitar things. There are harmony solos and harmony guitar in the rhythms, but they’re very distinct from each other. We found that layering a guitar six times doesn’t make it heavy.
HAMMETT: I had this whole thing worked out, but it didn’t fit because the lead was too bluesy for the song, which is characterized by real heavy riffing and chording. So producer Bob Rock and I worked out a melody, to which I suggested that we add a harmony part, but Bob said it would only pretty it up. So we ended up playing the melody an octave higher, and it sounded great. We basically mapped out the whole solo, picking the best parts from about 15 solos I’d worked out. It’s one of my favorite solos on the album.
One thing I did on this album that I hadn’t done before was play guitar fills. I filled up holes—like when James stops during the vocal, I put in a little stab or, as Bob calls it, a “sting.” My solos on this album are a little offbeat. Though a lot of guitar players start the solo on the downbeat—the first beat of the measure—I come in on the upbeat of the third measure of a bar, like on “Enter Sandman” and “Don’t Tread on Me.”
"Hero of the Day," Load (1996)
HAMMETT: The first time James heard my solo on "Hero of the Day," he didn’t like it. He said, "It sounds like bad Brian Robertson!" [laughs] I was, like, "What do you mean?" And then, after much "debating" back and forth, we kind of agreed that it wasn’t so much the solo that was the problem but the lack of anything going on underneath it. So he went and put something down underneath it that made it sound, well, a little better to his ears, I guess. It was one of those things where one musician hears one thing one way and another musician hears it completely different.
For the Load album, I was experimenting so much with tone that I had to keep journals on what equipment I was using. For "Hero of the Day," I know I used a 1958 Les Paul Standard with a Matchless Chieftain, some Boogie amps and a Vox amp—again, they’re all blended. I was listening to a lot of David Bowie at the time, particularly the sounds on Low, and I was really interested in playing guitar parts to see if I could shape the character of the song by playing parts instead of solos. And to a certain degree that’s what I was trying to do during "Hero of the Day." It’s a guitar solo in the classic sense, but it’s a part of the song as well. I was very into the idea of creating soundscapes and crafting textures. I was tired of playing ripping, shredding solos; I wasn’t into proving myself like I was around, say, …And Justice for All. It’s great to be able to have that in your back pocket and use it when necessary. But for the most part, taste, tone and atmosphere are my main concerns.
I’ll tell you a funny story, though. In ’94, a guy came up to me and said, "How come you stopped doing double stops? You used to play a lot of double stops, and then you stopped doing it. I miss it." And when we were recording Load, all of a sudden I remembered him saying that. I thought, Yeah, you know, he’s right! So in that song "Better Than You," which ended up on ReLoad, I just crammed both solos with all sorts of double stops. And that was totally for that guy.
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