Kirk Hammett has hit back at online haters with a challenge to shredders who think they can outplay him: “What’s the point?” He also attacked the musical utility of sweep picking, describing the technique as “incredibly easy but it sounds incredibly hard… Why do it?”
In an exclusive interview with Total Guitar, Hammett ridicules the idea that his solo on Lux Æterna is bad because it isn’t hard to play. “Yeah, my fucking friends down the street could probably play a better solo than Lux Æterna – but what’s the point?” he argues. “For me, what’s appropriate is playing for the song and playing in the moment.”
Lux Æterna, the first single from Metallica’s new album 72 Seasons, saw Hammett targeted for his spectacular Floyd Rose abuse. Some YouTubers even performed their own ‘improved’ versions, while others dubbed it Kirk’s “worst solo”. One video was memorably titled “Why everyone HATES the solo in Metallica’s new song”.
Kirk is defiant about such criticism. “I was just laughing the whole time,” he says. “I could string together like six or seven three-octave arpeggios in 16th notes, sit there every day and practice it and go, ‘Hey, look what I can do!’ but where am I gonna put it? That won’t work in any Metallica song!
“Arpeggios? Come on! In a guitar solo, mapped out like a lot of people do, four or five chords with a different arpeggio over each one? It sounds like an exercise. I don’t want to listen to exercises and warm-ups every time I hear a song.”
Hammett will make an exception to that rule – but only for three people. “The only guys out there who I think convincingly play arpeggios as a means of expression are Joe Satriani, Yngwie [Malmsteen], and Paul Gilbert,” he admits.
He has harsh words about sweep picking, the beloved technique of shredders like Michael Angelo Batio. “Sweeping to me is a weird thing to begin with because sweeping’s incredibly easy but it sounds incredibly hard,” he laughs. “That’s cool once or twice, but I mean, why do it? When it first came out in the late ’70s, by the early ’80s everyone was doing it. By not doing it, you stood out.”
Kirk’s comments echo similar sentiments by Marty Friedman, who told Guitar World back in 2015 that playing sweep picking arpeggios straight up and down is “lameness”, adding “Any monkey can learn a technique. Playing a technique is not playing music.”
As Metallica’s music has evolved, Hammett argues the type of solos the songs need has changed, too.
“I know my modes, Hungarian scales, symmetrical scales, I know all that shit. Is it appropriate? Maybe earlier in our time, but not now,” he says. “What’s more appropriate is coming up with melodies that are more like vocal melodies. And guess what? The best scale for mimicking vocal melodies is the pentatonic.”
While some guitarists are dismissive of Hammett’s heavy reliance on the minor pentatonic scale, Kirk argues that with just five notes, it’s more challenging. “It’s actually harder to say stuff with pentatonics because you don’t have that many notes,” he reasons. “It’s easier to play modal. I will challenge anyone on that.”
Readers should not think this means Hammett does not appreciate technique, however. “I love from the heart playing, and I’ve heard real technical playing that’s from the heart,” he insists.
“Allan Holdsworth, Eddie Van Halen, Joe Satriani, Yngwie – they all play from the heart, but for a lot of guys it’s just like sports or the Olympics. Music is to reflect beauty, creativity, feeling, life. There is a place and there’s an audience for all that stuff, but I feel there comes a time when people just get tired of that.
“Today, you know, people are doing really interesting stuff with technique,” Hammett concludes. “Technique is reaching new boundaries and I love that, but I have to stress it’s important to play for the song. If you do that, your music will have that much more integrity and lasting power.”
Hammett’s shift away from modal scales and arpeggios mirrors his move to more improvisational solos, which led to him proclaiming, “It drives me nuts having to play that fucking guitar solo in Master of Puppets every time – I’m freaking bored of it”.
Read the full interview with Kirk in the new issue of Total Guitar, available now from Magazines Direct.