James Hetfield reveals he writes riffs when he’s “really happy” and lyrics when he’s emotional

James Hetfield performing live
(Image credit: Mairo Cinquetti/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Jam-packed with James Hetfield’s angst-y electric guitar explorations and some of the most masterful guitar parts ever recorded, Metallica’s repertoire of riffs is up there with the very best in metal history, celebrated for its brutal high-gain tones and fierce fretboard-spanning constructions.

Who’d have thought, then, that the dizzying, rapid-fire opening riff of Fight Fire With Fire, or the riotous, chug-heavy opener from Sad But True, were written when Hetfield was in a “really happy, good mood”?

Not us, that’s for sure, though that’s exactly when they were written, according to the Metallica frontman himself.

The revelation came during a video message Hetfield recorded for Road Recovery – a nonprofit organization that provides support for young people battling addiction by empowering at-risk youths and teaching them comprehensive life skills.

“I know we’re going through some rough times,” said Hetfield in his message. “[I’m] just here to send a message of hope and that you're not alone... That we’re all living this together and we’ve been given a gift of music, which is a great thing to lean on and rely on.

“Gosh, I’ve been writing a lot of riffs, writing a lot of lyrics,” he continued. “Obviously at this time, a lot of feelings come up, you know? 

“When I get really emotional, that's when I write lyrics. When I get in a really happy, good mood, that's when I start writing riffs.

“That’s just what I do and you'll find your own thing,” he continued. “But yeah, you’ve been given the gift of music, so utilize that in great times and in struggle.”

Hetfield was one of a number of members of the metal and rock royalty to have joined forces with Road Recovery, with guitar legends Slash, Tom Morello and Peter Frampton all recording video messages of their own.

“I’ve been hanging out with Road Recovery for a while now,” said Slash, “and I’ve always found it a really enriching experience jamming with the kids. It’s just really inspirational, and it’s great to see how people can get inspired by the arts to be able to get out of a funk and turn your life around.”

To find out more about the charity’s mission, head over to Road Recovery.

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Matt Owen

Matt is a Staff Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.