Zoltan Bathory: why James Hetfield is the perfect metal rhythm guitar player

Zoltan Bathory (left) and James Hetfield
(Image credit: David Wolff – Patrick/Redferns, Didier Messens/Redferns)

Last year, YouTube user MetalliGeek uploaded a video that featured Metallica frontman and electric guitar player James Hetfield's isolated guitar tracks from a choice selection of classic Metallica cuts such as Battery, Master of Puppets, Disposable Heroes, Welcome Home (Sanitarium), Blackened, One and Dyers Eve.

The video – which went incredibly viral incredibly quickly – was a true testament to Hetfield's unrivaled picking precision, famous for generating a concrete wall of riffing that has influenced probably millions of guitarists by this point.

It's that very style that Five Finger Death Punch guitarist Zoltan Bathory noted when citing Hetfield as one of the 10 guitarists that changed his life in a recent interview with Louder. When it comes to metal rhythm guitar, Bathory says, it gets no better than Hetfield.

“James is the guy who, his rhythm tone is basically the bar. If you can get that metal tone down – particularly around the Master of Puppets era – that’s basically the rhythm of heavy metal being perfected," Bathory explained. "He plays exactly what he needs to play – not a note less, or a note more. 

"It’s a foundation and that’s why I gravitated towards it. He’s as solid as a foundation can be. I’m very analytical when I look at other player’s playing, and the fact he can play so perfectly and just feed the song over the ego of the individual is why I love him so much.”

Hetfield's rhythm work is so unwavering, in fact, that – according to Gojira’s Joe Duplantier – Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich follows Hetfield's lead onstage, rather than the other way 'round.

"It's out of this world," Duplantier told Rock Sverige of Hetfield's rhythm work. "It's not necessarily impressive on a technical level, it's the precision and the consistency and it's sharp."

To read about all 10 of the guitar icons that formed Balthory's own, hard-charging style – a list that also includes Dave Murray, Vinnie Moore, Zakk Wylde – visit Louder.

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Jackson Maxwell

Jackson is an Associate Editor at GuitarWorld.com. He’s been writing and editing stories about new gear, technique and guitar-driven music both old and new since 2014, and has also written extensively on the same topics for Guitar Player. Elsewhere, his album reviews and essays have appeared in Louder and Unrecorded. Though open to music of all kinds, his greatest love has always been indie, and everything that falls under its massive umbrella. To that end, you can find him on Twitter crowing about whatever great new guitar band you need to drop everything to hear right now.