Kirk Hammett is well aware of the criticism of his playing on Metallica‘s “Lux Æterna” — he just doesn’t care.
Since the thrashers released the 72 Seasons lead single in November, several YouTubers have posted videos of their takes on the solo, with some earning tens to hundreds of thousands of views. User Brandon D’Eon was unflinching with the title of his video: “Why Everyone HATES the Solo in Metallica’s New Song.”
Hammett has heard these critiques and is unbothered by them. “Yeah, my fucking friends down the street could probably play a better solo than ‘Lux Æterna’ – but what’s the point?” the six-stringer asked Total Guitar. “For me, what’s appropriate is playing for the song and playing in the moment.”
The guitarist said he “was just laughing the whole time” as the online hate trickled in. “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!” he argued.
Hammett said he has no interest in laying down an ultra-flashy solo with a different arpeggio over each chord. “It sounds like an exercise,” he noted. “I don’t want to listen to exercises and warm-ups every time I hear a song.” He did name three exceptions to the rule: “The only guys out there who I think convincingly play arpeggios as a means of expression are Joe Satriani, Yngwie [Malmsteen] and Paul Gilbert.”
Elsewhere in the interview, Hammett doubled down on the importance of playing solos that serve the song rather than shredding for the sake of shredding, taking particular aim at the sweep-picking technique that dominated in the ’80s. “Sweeping to me is a weird thing to begin with because sweeping’s incredibly easy but it sounds incredibly hard,” he said. “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.”
Listen to Metallica’s ‘Lux Æterna’
Hammett said he’s more concerned with “coming up with melodies that are more like vocal melodies,” which is why he prefers the pentatonic scale, which uses only five notes per octave. “It’s actually harder to say stuff with pentatonics because you don’t have that many notes,” he argued. “It’s easier to play modal. I will challenge anyone on that.”
That’s not to say the Metallica guitarist doesn’t admire technique when utilized properly. “I love from the heart playing, and I’ve heard real technical playing that’s from the heart,” he said. “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.”
Hammett also recently lamented having to play the “Master of Puppets” solo identically every night. “People love that guitar solo and they come to see that. That’s fine,” he told Total Guitar. “For that part of our career, all those solos are locked in. I don’t view them as solos anymore; they’re parts. I’m freaking bored of it, but it’s exciting for people to hear.”
Fans will have plenty more Hammett solos to evaluate when Metallica releases 72 Seasons on Friday. Hammett, meanwhile, will have to grin and bear it through “Master of Puppets” when the band launches the M72 World Tour at the end of the month.
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There are moments of indecision when compiling this list. After all, we really could have had – for the first time ever – a three-way tie for first.