EP Review: Kirk Hammett - 'Portals'

Ranked by Rolling Stone as the 11th greatest guitarist of all time, Kirk Hammett is best known for his contributions to gargantuan rock band Metallica. After contributing to a discography that most artists would be proud to produce half of, Hammett tries his hand at his first ever solo project. The next managing director at The Mic, Jake Longhurst, gives his thoughts on 'Portals'.

The first solo EP by Metallica’s guitarist of 40 years has a lot of pressure associated with it, not only by the massive status Kirk Hammett has attained over his many years with Metallica, but also by being the first side project any of the band have ever made. Metallica have a bit of a rule about side projects, where they have decided that to make sure the band gets as much attention and focus as a band that size deserves, they agreed not to do side projects. However, it would appear that the band have decided to slide that rule back briefly for Mr Hammett, and now the metal world is waiting with baited breath to see what the first ever Metallica side project will look, or rather sound like.

The EP is a four track instrumental, that Hammett described in an interview as ‘audio-cinematic’, in that he is aiming to transport the listener into a different world within each song, allowing them to be whisked away in the sound. The band Kirk Hammett has managed to collate is a very impressive group of musicians, who have expertly aided him in the creation of this brilliant work. Joining him are, amongst others, Greg Fidelman and Bob Rock on bass, who are both producers who’ve worked with Metallica in their time, as well as classical conductor Edwin Outwater. He’s also joined by previous collaborator Jon Theodore, also of Queens Of The Stone Age, on drums, as well as Abe Laboriel Jr jumping behind the kit, who’s best known for his part in Paul McCartney’s band.

"High Plains Drifter has a brilliant sense of tempo and atmosphere, crafting energy and intensity in a classical way, but still with modern drums playing out below it."

Turning to the songs, the first track The Maiden and the Monster was originally composed by both Hammett and his wife, as something of a musical horror novel. In a 2017 Rolling Stone interview, Hammett spoke about the track and his thought process, stating “It plays like a soundtrack. It clearly takes you through a journey that’s very typical of most monster or horror films, where it involves a creature or some sort of protagonist or antagonist who sees a woman and decides to abduct or possess her and then goes through the motions of either seducing her or outright abducting her. It goes through a little bit of an attraction-repulsion sort of thing, a love-hate thing, but then, there’s a definite period where the maiden needs help, tries to get away from the monster, and then the hero comes.”

The piece firmly transitions through different sections musically, which tells its own story through tone and the varying speeds of different instruments expertly, weaving a story that plays out in your head brilliantly. The music itself is a mix of more melodic, European style guitar with a large mix of classical and modern instruments surrounding it, contrasting with American riffage and solos with more conventional rock and metal instruments underneath it.

Track two, The Jinn, is a perfect blend of the two styles I just mentioned. Early in the track it’s far more melodic, but as the track progresses it feels more and more similar to conventional rock, to the point where the last minute and a half feels almost like a Metallica outro, which rather than sounding like a cop-out makes it seem like an homage to the band that’s taken up 40 years of his life as his sole output, and it’s almost as if he feels the need to recognise that, which comes across excellently.

The third and penultimate song High Plains Drifter has a brilliant sense of tempo and atmosphere, crafting energy and intensity in a classical way, but still with modern drums playing out below it. Again, this track starts soft, with a gentle start that you can imagine rolling hills would sound like, but gradually increases in pace and intensity until it becomes the sort of sound that a cavalry charge or horse chase could create. The guitar then makes a brief feature in a blistering solo towards the back end of the song, and finally it fades out back to the soft tones of the beginning. This track is noticeably shorter than the rest, at almost two minutes shorter than the next shortest song, which does certainly limit the capacity it has to affect the listener, but rather than being constrained by this it packs more feeling into the five minutes it has to play with and hits you with a gut punch of sound to really wake you up.

The final track Incantation begins with a somber trumpet call, but before long a syrupy riff rings out across the song, calling to mind the excellent ‘80’s doom scene that was so inspired by the fathers of metal, Black Sabbath. This eight minute long piece is the longest on the album, a sharp contrast to the song before which is only a bit over three fifths of the length, so it does have more space to breathe, allowing Hammett to fully expand the scope of the EP’s sound, and cap off the album in a manner befitting that of such an eagerly awaited release.

The EP as a whole feels remarkably continuous, and I must commend Hammett on this, as for his first ever proper release without Metallica this feels very well put together, well thought out, and above all enjoyable to listen to. My favourite track would have to be the single, High Plains Drifter, purely because the transition on it from slow to fast just hit all the right spots in my brain and I absolutely loved the energy throughout, however there isn’t a bad moment on this EP. Whether this is an excellent start to what may be a budding solo career, or a great one off effort, if you’re at all interested in Metallica, Kirk Hammett, instrumental music or just trying something cool I would definitely recommend you give this a go.

Jake Longhurst


Edited by: Elliot Fox

In article images courtesy of Kirk Hammett via Facebook. Video courtesy of Kirk Hammett via Youtube.