Kirk Hammett - Portals (2022) - Album Review
By Paul Rigg
Off The Leash!
There was a time when guitarist Kirk Hammett was forbidden by his band, Metallica, from playing particular solos. But that time has now gone and, with Portals (24 June 2022; Blackened), Hammett is now off his leash and forging his own shred-laden path!
“When someone does a side project, it takes away from the strength of Metallica,” frontman James Hetfield once said, but that philosophy has clearly now changed, as demonstrated by the group’s explicit support for Hammett’s four-song debut solo EP.
Hammett’s passion, aside from his music, is collecting horror and sci-fi film art, as can be seen in his memorabilia-packed It’s Alive exhibition. There is a part of the guitarist’s personality that simply wants to create film soundtracks, so while his heart will always be in rock and metal, the record also incorporates flamenco and cinematic-type orchestral flourishes.
Hammett has been ably-supported in this endeavour by Greg Fidelman and Bob Rock on bass, Jon Theodore (from Queens Of The Stone Age) and Abe Laboriel Jr (from Paul McCartney’s band) on drums, and classical conductor Edwin Outwater.
The opener, Maiden And The Monster, was written by Hammett and his wife to accompany his art exhibition. It gradually swells from an ominous-sounding beginning to a crescendo created by the LA Philharmonic orchestra. “It plays like a soundtrack,” explains Hammett. “It clearly takes you through a journey that’s very typical of most monster or horror films, where it involves a creature […] who sees a woman and decides to abduct or possess her, [before] the hero comes”.
The second track, The Jinn, could almost be read as a nod to Hammett’s past, and is the song most likely to be appreciated by Metallica die-hards. On this cut he may be playing his main recording guitar, the ESP Karloff Mummy, but he is definitely employing a lot of wah-wah.
Metallica’s live shows famously open with Ennio Morricone’s Ecstasy Of Gold and that same spaghetti-western vibe is clearly at play on my favourite track on this EP: High Plains Drifter. Jangly guitars and touches of flamenco evoke Morricone’s style and put the listener increasingly on edge, but we know the payoff is coming and it is definitely worth it. Don’t miss the innovative accompanying video to this wonderful track.
The Incantation also showcases the majestic skills of the Philharmonic Orchestra before the song transforms into a kind of nightmarish circus waltz.
Hammett has often chosen - or been cajoled - into playing a quieter role in Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield’s schema, but on Portals he has let his wings spread, to very pleasing effect. The ‘metalhead’ is still very much present, but he has also explored new vistas in terms of sound and composition. If Hammett might be imagined as a monster in one of his favourite horror movies, here he is well and truly off the leash… and there is no telling where he might next roam!