"If it wasn't for early prog, heavy metal would sound different today": Metallica's Kirk Hammett on discovering prog rock

(Image credit: Ross Halfin)

In 1989, to acknowledge the fact that rock and metal bands were increasingly laying siege to the Billboard charts, the Grammys introduced a new category: Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance Vocal or Instrumental. The nominated artists were Metallica, AC/DC, Jane's Addiction, Iggy Pop and, somewhat randomly, Jethro Tull, with the smart money being wagered on Metallica taking home the award for their acclaimed ...And Justice For All album.

Famously, that did not happen, and instead, to much surprise, Jethro Tull triumphed, with Crest of a Knave: their record company subsequently took out ads in Billboard magazine stating ‘The flute is a heavy, metal instrument.’ LOLZ, as absolutely no-one ever said in 1989.

By his own admission, Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett was slow to pick up on Jethro Tull's charms, insisting to Goldmine last year, "But that’s really not the reason why I wasn’t into Jethro Tull, believe me. I just never got around to it." Once he discovered Tull, however, the guitarist immersed himself deep into prog, falling in love not just with classic artists such as Yes and King Crimson, but also the likes of The Mars Volta.

In conversation on the Kyle Meredith with... podcast, Hammett talked more about his new-found love for the genre.

"I'm super influenced by classical music and prog these days," he told the host. "I just discovered prog by the way, I just never got around to listening to it, and then a few years ago I was just like, Hey, I need to start listening to this stuff, because this stuff is really cool and important and instrumental in what, you know, heavy metal is today. I think you can definitely draw a line there, especially with the early prog: I mean, if it wasn't for that early prog, you know, heavy metal would sound different  today... the prog influence was huge."

'I've always been a Rush fan," Hammett continued, "but I never really listened to, you know, Yes, Jethro Tull, Genesis, King Crimson... all those kind of affiliated bands. At one point I was just like so into Yes, it was all I listened to for like a couple weeks, it was like driving everyone crazy around me. But you know it's just great stuff, really instrumental and important stuff."

You can listen to the full interview with Kyle Meredith below:

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.