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Kirk Hammett wanted Enter Sandman to be “the next Smoke on the Water”

Kirk H
(Image credit: Mick Hutson/Redferns)

Kirk Hammett revisits the writing of Metallica’s breakthrough single Enter Sandman in a new interview with Guitar World, and the San Francisco-born guitarist says that his aim at the time was “to write the next Smoke on the Water.”

Diving deep into the creation of the band’s hugely successful ‘Black Album’, Hammett reveals that the iconic riff for Enter Sandman was birthed in a hotel room late one night on the band’s Damaged Justice tour.

“It was something that literally came to me at three o’clock in the morning,” Hammett recalls. “I had been listening to the new Soundgarden album at that time [Louder Than Love] and, you know, this was when grunge was at its earliest stage – we’re talking late 1989 or so. No one was even calling it grunge yet. But I was loving a lot of it, and it was influencing me somewhat. 

“And so I sat down and I said to myself, as I always do, ‘I want to write the next Smoke on the Water.’ And I just started messing around. I got the swing kind of feel going, and then I was thinking of Soundgarden and how they were using dropped tunings. 

“I wasn’t playing in a drop tuning, but with those tunings it’s often octave work – you get the low D, and then you go to the upper D and it sounds really heavy. I wasn’t in drop D, I was just in E, but I was messing around with the low and high octaves, and then I threw a tritone in there, an A#, went to the A, and that’s the riff that came out. 

I remember that when the first part of it came to me, I thought, ‘It sounds like it’s asking a question, and now I’ve got to resolve it.’ So that’s where the chunky chord part, with the G and F#, came in. And famously, when I originally wrote the riff [sings the riff in its original form], that chunky thing happened at the end of every line. 

“Then Lars said, ‘Repeat the first part.’ So we changed it to where we repeat the first part three times and then the chunky chords come in. That made it hookier and bouncier – less heavy metal. It made a good-sounding riff fucking great. 

“But if you think about the way the riff was originally – chunkier, more metal – you know, maybe it could have ended up on …And Justice for All.” 

Slipknot’s Corey Taylor recently revealed that the lead-off single from the band’s self-titled fifth album was one of the first songs he learned on guitar.

“That was kind of our generation’s Stairway To Heaven or Smoke On The Water,” he declared. “It's one of those riffs that… I like to call it the Guitar Center virus. Anybody who comes in [to a Guitar Center store] is either playing …SandmanCrazy TrainSmoke On The Water or Stairway… or Whole Lotta Love… You have those gateway riffs where you go, ‘Oh! I figured it out!’”

For more from Kirk Hammett and James Hetfield on the writing of ‘The Black Album’, visit the Guitar World site.