Kirk Hammett has never been the flashy sort of shredder who exults in his own technical wankery. Instead, Metallica’s lead guitarist has cultivated a soulful, blues-based style that balances pummelling riffage against innovative melodic ideas that serve rather than overtake each song. It’s an approach that works enormously well on Portals, his solo debut and four-track EP.
Produced by Kirk himself, the tracks synthesise his biggest influences: metal, horror movies, classical music and the works of composer Ennio Morricone, whose Ecstasy Of Gold famously opens up Metallica’s live show. The result is four compositions that each play out as a distinct musical novella.
The inspiration for Portals took root in 2017, when Kirk composed a soundtrack to accompany his art exhibition in Salem, Massachusetts. That composition would become the EP’s seven-minute lead-off, Maiden And The Monster. Opening with creeping atmospherics and a watery melody, the track builds with thrilling dramatic flourish as the LA Philharmonic orchestra join in, pushing the track to a ferocious climax, awash in crushing riffs and a roof-destroying solo.
Tinged with exotic Middle Eastern patterns, The Jinn is the heaviest of the four, with simmering power riffs, propulsive drums and a sharp, staccato outro that vaguely recalls the simulated machine-gun bursts of One. High Plains Drifter and The Incantation were co-written with Edwin Outwater, the classical conductor who led the San Francisco Symphony on S&M2. Reverential tributes to Morricone, with jangly guitars and slow, dusty interludes, each builds into a fearsome crescendo, with ginormous, fuck-off solos that should be played from the tops of mountains.
Refreshingly, none of the tracks sound like unused Metallica demos, nor do they bleed together in a brain- melting patchwork of sweep picking and speed runs. Instead, Portals showcases the compositional and technical strengths of one of heavy metal’s most influential and visionary guitarists.