Kirk Hammett on Metallica's Kill 'Em All

Kirk Hammett recalls the band's debut Kill 'Em All in this interview
Kirk Hammett recalls the band's debut Kill 'Em All in this interview (Image credit:

Metallica have never done anything the easy way. On the eve of recording their first album Kill 'Em All, they fired lead guitarist Dave Mustaine after a savage fistfight with James Hetfield. Hetfield had accused Mustaine of kicking his dog.

Within hours Ulrich was on the phone to Kirk Hammett, the then-20-year-old guitarist from Exodus, asking him to fly out to New York for an audition:

"I was familiar with their music before I joined the band. Exodus played with Metallica quite a bit, so I knew the songs. I had the No Life 'Til Leather demo and listened to it quite a bit. It was what everyone in the San Francisco underground metal scene was listening to in 1982."

Here's what else Kirk has to say about Metallica's monumental debut...

What were your initial impressions of the guys in the band?

"I'd met James and Lars when I was in Exodus. The more I got to know James, the more I thought he's just a really cool guy, really clever. We had similar upbringings and he was a great guitar player who's into a lot of the same things as I was, musically. It was fun hanging out with him.

"James liked to wrestle when he was drunk, though. So whenever we were drunk, things would start getting physical. I learned early on that if James reached that point where he was just wanting to wrestle, I would make sure there was a bunch of people in between him and I."

What about Lars Ulrich?

"The first time I spoke to him was when Exodus played with Metallica. They had just finished their set and as I was talking to him, he started taking his stage clothes off, and before I knew it he was completely naked in front of me. I was just shocked.

"I said to myself, 'Oh, he's European. Europeans do stuff like this.' But my eyes never left his eyes. I wasn't going to step back, check him out or anything like that. But I was slightly shocked and mortified by his undressing."

And Cliff Burton?

"He wasn't going to take shit from anyone and he always let everyone know that. It was Cliff who named the album. Originally we were supposed to call the album Metal Up Your Ass.

"He started taking his stage clothes off, and before I knew it he was completely naked in front of me. I was just shocked." Kirk Hammett meets Lars Ulrich

"We got a phone call from our manager telling us half the record outlets wouldn't carry the album if it's called that, because the name was obscene. Cliff said, 'You know what? Fuck those fuckers, man, those fucking record outlet people. We should just kill 'em all.'

Someone, I can't remember who, said, 'That's it! That's what we should call the album.'"

What happened when they asked you to audition?

"I had a week to learn the songs. At the end of that week I flew out and I had a week to rehearse with them, and then we started playing shows. Every show just kept on getting better. When it came time to go into the studio, Johnny Z, our manager said, 'You know you have to play Dave's solos.'

"I said I didn't really want to. 'Then why don't you take the opening to every solo, so that people think that they're Dave's solos and then you can go somewhere else with them,' he said.

"As a 20-year-old kid, put in a position like that, you don't want to rock the boat too much, especially being the new kid in town - the fresh guy. So I said, 'Sure.' That's exactly what I did. I took the first four bars of most of the solos and changed them. When I changed them it was always for the better and everyone liked it."

What do you remember about the actual recording?

"The guitar stuff was recorded through James's magical, mythical Marshall. It was his first Marshall amp and he had it modified by some guy in LA, the guy who used to modify Van Halen's guitars [Jose Arredondo] and it just had a really great sound.

"I say magical, mythical Marshall because it's not around anymore. Shortly after we did Kill 'Em All, we played some shows in Boston and someone broke into the equipment truck and stole it."

What guitars did you use on these sessions?

"We used the only guitars we had - James's white Gibson Flying V and my black Gibson Flying V that I used for the first four albums. When we were tracking, so much time was spent tuning those guitars because we didn't have any backup guitars or techs and roadies in the studio like we do now."

What do you remember about recording your parts?

"Once all the rhythm tracks were done, I came in. We just tweaked James's Marshall a little, and then I started recording the solos. I always record in the control room without cans on because listening to my guitar through headphones is just not the same.

"When everything was recorded, the engineer and the producer decided that they wanted to mix the album themselves, then pretty much locked us out of the studio while they were mixing it. They added all these weird delays and reverb and these things that we wouldn't have done.

"It's young, raw, obnoxious, loud, fast, energetic, and inspirational... It was the achievement of our lives." Kirk Hammett remembers Kill 'Em All, 25 years on

"That's why there's such a drastic sonic difference between Kill 'Em All and Ride The Lightning. There are also things that we would have liked to have fixed or re-recorded, but we couldn't because we just basically ran out of time."

Which of the songs do you think stand the test of time?

"From start to finish it's a complete package. It's young, raw, obnoxious, loud, fast, energetic, and inspirational, and everything in between. When it came out, it was the achievement of our lives. We could hold it and show people and go, 'Hey, look, we made an album. We're on vinyl.' It was a great feeling"

It's more commonly said that Metallica forged their identity on Ride The Lightning, with some of the slower, introspective songs on it like Fade To Black. Is that accurate?

"I definitely thought we did it on Kill 'Em All. We were just very inspired back then. We were young, we were hungry and had a lot of youthful energy. Part of the reason why we would play so fast is because we were just nervous."

Finally, can you talk about the artwork on Kill 'Em All?

"Our manager told us because we were on a budget, we had to go with this photographer [Gary L Heard]. He's going to shoot the back cover portrait, and he's going to ask you for ideas for the front cover.

"Cliff Burton mentioned something about wanting there to be a bloody hammer on the cover - but then Cliff carried a hammer with him everywhere he went. He always had a hammer in his luggage, and he would take it out occasionally and start destroying things."

Like what?

"Mostly dressing rooms. We were going into the UK from France, and we got stopped at customs and they were going through our luggage. And all of a sudden this guy was going through Cliff's luggage, and he pulls out this hammer and looks at it, and looks at Cliff, and Cliff goes, 'Hey, you never know when you might need it.'"

Did they take it away from him?

"No, it was a different world back then. They just took all the porn. We were a rock band, we all had porn with us, they took it. But they didn't take the hammer."