The members of the most famous metal band on the planet Metallica have never released solo works in their 40-year history. James Hetfield once said that when someone makes a side project, it takes away the power of Metallica. Everyone remembers the departure of Jason Newsted from the band, one of the reasons for which was Jason’s Echobrain project. Many years have passed since then, and now one of the oldest musicians of the band, Kirk Hammett, has finally received permission from the band, recorded and released his first solo instrumental work – the mini-album Portals.
Among guitarists, and many Metallica fans, there is an opinion that Kirk’s professional qualities as a guitarist are not very high. Many note his low technicality and rather dirty game. The more interesting the presented work, because. here Kirk acts not only as a musician, but also as a composer.
The very idea of writing this kind of music was born a few years ago, when Kirk took part in the It’s Alive exhibition, which showed rare, vintage posters of horror and science fiction films that Kirk collected and to which he brought a collection of vintage horror movie posters, as well as a pair of guitars. To create an atmosphere, he recorded some background music, which then formed this mini-album.
The album was released on April 23 on Metallica’s own label Blackened Recordings. The album was produced by Kirk Hammett himself with the help of the famous producer Bob Rock, this is the one who produced the Black album of 1991. The album features 4 instrumental tracks that are quite long in time. A huge number of musicians took part in the recording of the material, including conductor Edwin Outwater, with whom Kirk collaborated at the Metallica concert “S & M2”, as well as musicians of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. By the way, another Metallica producer Greg Fidelman played bass guitar on one of the tracks.
Kirk himself describes this work as follows:
These songs are what I call “audio cinematic”; I’m creating sounds and pieces of music for the movies playing in my head. Hopefully they’ll create movies in other people’s heads in a similar fashion.
The mini-album was recorded all over the world, from Los Angeles to Paris. “Portals” is the result of Kirk’s life travels, heavily influenced by classical music, soundtracks, horror films and a bit of Ennio Morricone.
The first track Maiden and the Monster was written by Kirk together with his wife Lani Hammett. The song was recorded back in 2017 as something like a musical horror novel. In an interview, Hammett talked about this track: “It plays like a soundtrack. This is a kind of journey that is very typical for most monster or horror films, where we are talking about a scary creature that sees a girl and decides to kidnap and possess her, the girl needs help, tries to escape from the monster, and then the hero comes”.
The composition itself goes through different musical sections, which intertwine to tell their own stories and offers a good spread of different musical moods. A mid-tempo guitar solo immersed in orchestral instruments that create an ominous mood and atmosphere.
The second number is The Jinn, also written with Lani Hammett and recorded in 2019. This is the heaviest and most metal composition on the album, but at the same time, if I may say so, the clumsiest. It is filled with a huge number of musical ideas and looks more like a compilation of riffs than a conceptual whole work, although it may have been intended that way.
The third track High Plains Drifter, the shortest on the record, was written by Kirk in collaboration with the conductor Edwin Outwater, with whom Kirk collaborated at the Metallica concert “S&M2”. Queens of The Stone Age drummer Jon Theodore also took part in the recording of the song. Here ‘s what Kirk says about the appearance of this work:
The music for “High Plains Drifter” initially came from a flamenco piece I had written. It was a two-and-a-half-minute piece, and I really liked it, but it was one of those riffs that would be hard to integrate into Metallica. I knew I wanted to do something with it, even though it came out spontaneously. I had been sitting outside messing around with a flamenco acoustic guitar I’d just bought, and it flowed out in the moment. I was determined it would have a life. It would have its moment.
The piece itself is based on a beautiful guitar melody and has beautifully realized orchestral arrangements. But over time, the composition gains momentum and ends with an epic solo.
As for the name High Plains Drifter, it refers to Clint Eastwood’s classic 1973 western of the same name: The song wasn’t supposed to be specifically music for this movie, but as soon as it was written, I immediately thought it conveyed the same feeling as the movie, so the piece was named accordingly.
Kirk presented this composition to the public before anyone else. Despite its modest duration, it is the culmination of all the work and, in my opinion, the best on the record with a wonderful arrangement and a magnificent soaring guitar solo.
And the last track is The Incantation, also co-written with Edwin Outwater and the longest on the record. It starts with a gloomy call, but soon a guitar riff appears, somewhat reminiscent of Black Sabbath. Quite an epic and gloomy composition with good orchestral support, but somewhat stretched.
As a conclusion. The presented EP is not at all similar to the music of Metallica. You can talk a lot about Kirk Hammett as a musician and about his technique, but as I understood on this mini-album, Kirk did not plan to show his coolness and technicality, but only wrote cinematic music for horror films. The job of a film composer is to amplify what’s on the screen by evoking emotions and maintaining tension. Since there is no screen, the picture should appear in the listener’s mind. It didn’t become some kind of revelation, but it sounds very good and even funny in some places. By the way, Hammett recently said in an interview that he intends to work with Outwater again on new music in the future. So we are waiting for the continuation.