METALLICA's KIRK HAMMETT On 'The Black Album': 'The First Time I Heard It On The Radio, I Was Blown Away By How Good It Sounded'

December 22, 2020

In the latest episode of "Icons", Gibson TV sits down with one of the most influential metal guitarists of all time, Kirk Hammett. Since 1983, Hammett has been the lead guitarist and a contributing songwriter for heavy metal trailblazers METALLICA. Prior to joining the band, he formed the group EXODUS during the birth of the San Francisco thrash metal movement.

Through archival and never-before-seen photos and video, Kirk takes viewers on a ride through his 37 years as lead guitarist of METALLICA while sharing personal stories about his childhood, getting his first Gibson Flying V, the tragic death of bassist Cliff Burton and the recording of the group's pivotal albums, including "Kill 'Em All", "Ride The Lightning", "Master Of Puppets", "...And Justice For All" and 1991's self-titled LP (often referred to as "The Black Album").

Speaking about the recording process for "Metallica", Kirk said: "[Producer Bob Rock] came down to rehearsals for 'The Black Album', and he said to us, 'No one has ever caught the power and energy of you guys live on tape or on vinyl.' And I thought about it, and I thought, 'He has a point. There is yet to be a recorded song that captures the energy and the urgency that comes with seeing us live.' And that was his goal. And, to a certain extent, looking back at the [METALLICA] albums that he did do, he caught a lot of energy in the studio. His whole way of recording us was so radically different than anything we'd ever done.' All of us playing together in the same room to record the drums was a milestone for us, 'cause in the past, it was just James [Hetfield, guitar/vocals]. And we honestly thought that whenever we were all playing together like that in a room that Lars [Ulrich, drums] always played better. And using that recording technique proved that that was the case."

Hammett continued: "The first time I heard it on the radio, I was blown away by how good it sounded. 'Cause 'One' [from '…And Justice For All'] sounded pretty good on the radio, it sounded pretty good on MTV, even though it was compressed as shit, but there was something about 'The Black Album' and all the tracks that just made it leap out of the radio. Maybe it's 'cause there's so much presence in the drums — the drums are so crisp. I don't know. But every track that's played on the radio just leaps out of the radio; there's just so much presence. To me, that's the thing that I keep on going back to — how good it sounds when I hear it on the radio.

"['Enter Sandman'] never struck me as being a hit song. None of those songs ever struck me as being hit songs. They struck me as being just really good, concise songs with great periods of heaviness and great periods of melody. And when the album just started selling the way it did, I could not believe it. And I even had a bet with our tour manager. He said, 'It's gonna sell six million by this date.' And I was, like, 'I'll give you my Porsche 911 Carrera if that happens.' And guess what? It happened? And guess what? I had to give him my Porsche 911 Carrera."

Hammett added: "For me, I think Bob, he's an amazing producer, and he's also an amazing engineer, and he has an amazing ear for guitar sounds, for drum sounds. Some of the best guitar sounds that I have ever gotten in my life I've gotten with Bob Rock. And a lot of it is just chasing tones, blending amps, blending guitars. What I like about Bob Rock is that he is into the pursuit. If he hears something — a sound or a performance — he will pursue that, or make you pursue it, until he believes you've reached that point."

"The Black Album" was the first of four collaborations with Rock, with whom the band clashed throughout the recording of the disc.

In 2014, "Metallica" became the first album to sell 16 million copies since Nielsen SoundScan started tracking sales in 1991.

"Metallica" in 2009 surpassed SHANIA TWAIN's 1997 record, "Come On Over", as the best-selling CD of the SoundScan era.

METALLICA performed "The Black Album" in its entirety at a number of European festivals in 2012.

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