Kirk Hammett pays tribute to Slayer and says Kerry King “doesn‘t get enough credit as a rhythm guitar player“

Kirk Hammett and Kerry King
(Image credit: GEORG HOCHMUTH/AFP via Getty Images; Roy Rochlin/Getty Images)

Kirk Hammett has credited Kerry King for influencing the intro riff to Metallica's Black Album classic Through The Never, and insists that the Slayer guitarist is perennially underrated as a rhythm guitar player.

With his bandmate James Hetfield widely heralded as having the best right hand in metal, Hammett should know all about flying under the radar as a rhythm player. 

In a recent interview with Total Guitar, the Metallica guitarist looks back on the writing and recording of The Black Album, and he spoke extensively about his approach to riff-writing, rhythm playing, and the players who influenced him. On  Through The Never, that was quite literally Kerry King. 

“It was me trying to be fast and heavy... Like Slayer!“ he said. “Hey, I love Slayer, what can I say? They’re the greatest. Kerry King has such a smooth technique when he plays. He can move from super heavy to super fast to totally jagged, and he does it effortlessly and fluidly.“

As fellow alumni of thrash metal's so-called Big Four, Slayer got a lot of credit before disbanding in 2019. For many they were metal's greatest live band, and in the late Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King, they had one of the all-time classic electric guitar partnerships. But Hammett believes we don't talk enough about King's rhythm chops.

“Kerry doesn’t get enough credit as a rhythm guitar player,“ said Hammett. “He’s a great rhythm player and a great lead guitarist, too. He’s always aggressive and I love consistency.“

Metallica are currently celebrating 30 years of The Black Album with a deluxe reissue and all-star covers project The Metallica Blacklist, which sees artists from all kinds of styles and backgrounds tackle their favourite Black Album track.

For many players, that would be Enter Sandman. Its riff, written late at night by a sleepless Hammett, sets the table for an album that changed Metallica's lives, and rearranged the pop-cultural landscape to accommodate rock and metal in the mainstream. 

Hammett said Enter Sandman was part of his quest to write “the ultimate catchy heavy riff“ and admits he doesn't think he has done so yet, stating that Deep Purple's Smoke On The Water has a magic all of its own. “I look at my instrument and think, ‘Fuck, man, there’s still so much I need to do,“ he said.

Should he get there, his former guitar teacher Joe Satriani will have played his part. When asked about the high-intensity triplets that open Holier Than Thou, Hammett credits the picking exercises that Satch used to set him for helping him to develop his chops, preparing him for playing tracks such as Whiplash, which require an unerring accuracy, speed and no shortage of oomph to perform.

“One of the exercises Joe Satriani showed me when I started taking lessons was double and triple picking on open strings, as well as tremolo picking... And that’s Whiplash, right there!“ he said. “I would do that across all six strings and back. It was a really good exercise.

VideoLesson: Enter Sandman

“Later on, I started looking into other exercises I could do to improve my wrist picking and found out that one is pretty much the best one you can use. It improves the velocity of your picking on one string. Then you can break it up into triplets, quarter notes, all sorts of stuff.“

This is also how Hammett gets ready for the stage each night. He'll typically pick a single-note chug and play it over and over again until he's loose enough to get through a set. And he had some advice of his own for any young players looking to master heavy metal rhythm guitar: keep practising.

“There are some rhythms or riffs that you might feel you can’t play, but after a couple of weeks or months you can play them in your sleep. You absorb them and they become a part of you, if you practise enough.“

Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars and guitar culture since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.