Metallica have created some of the most critically acclaimed music in the world of rock and metal over the course of four decades. And one of the foundations of their music has been Kirk Hammett's stellar guitar playing. He's behind some of the biggest face-melting tunes in history and he's never shown any signs of slowing down.
From creating ripping leads in the '80s to still shredding like a pro today, Hammett will go down in the history books as one of the premier lead guitarists of all time. In honor of The Ripper, we took the painstaking task of handpicking 10 of his best solos—but we aren't even going to try to attempt ranking them.
So, without further adieu, we present our favorite Hammett guitar solos in no particular order.
"Master of Puppets"From: 'Master of Puppets' (1986)
What can we say about "Master of Puppets?" Not only is it one of Metallica's best songs, it features a solo that has become so memorable that fans cheer along with it at concerts. As James Hetfield slows things down in the tune, he can rely on the thousands and thousands of screaming fans to help him and his bandmate nail the solo. Whether he's ripping into this solo with Hetfield or he's rocking a blazing fast solo to wrap the classic song up, Hammett always delivers. Also, PANCAKES.
"Fight Fire with Fire"From: 'Ride the Lightning' (1984)
Starting at the bottom-end of the wah pedal, Hammett blazes into an absolutely crazy solo in the middle of this classic thrash tune. Just like the song itself, the solo never slows down. At times, it's almost unbelievable how fast Hammett is shredding on his guitar, and just when you think things are wrapped up near the three-minute mark, Hammett blazes into an even more mind-numbingly fast solo.
"Harvester of Sorrow"From: '…And Justice for All' (1988)
By no means is "Harvester of Sorrow" a speedy metal tune. Somehow, though, Hammett works in his magic to make his guitar solo just fast enough to elevate the intensity of the song while not completely dismissing the original rhythm. At times, his guitar work keeps beat with the mild rhythm while at other times it takes the song to a completely new level, most notably around the 3:50 mark. Hammett is a master at keeping pace with the rest of the band while letting his fingers ignite a face-melting solo.
"Motorbreath"From: 'Kill 'Em All' (1983)
It doesn't last very long, but Hammett's first solo in "Motorbreath" is such a shredder that if it lasted any longer, you'd run the risk of having your face melt completely off. Hammett expertly executes the solo in a matter of seconds—10 to be exact—halfway through the song, and it takes "Motorbreath" to an even thrashier level than before. Oh, and did we mention that Hammett wails on a second solo for twice as long as the first one to wrap up the song? In the world of favorite Hammett guitar solos, it doesn't get much better than that.
"My Friend of Misery"From: 'Metallica' (1991)
In a 2012 interview discussing his guitar solos on Metallica's 1991 self-titled album, Hammett said, "They just kind of formed themselves. It was kind of an amazing process for me. That’s what every musician wants, they just want it to flow out." No solo stands out more on this album than "My Friend of Misery." After Jason Newsted's bass contribution is highlighted, Hetfield begins a very melodic guitar solo. It doesn't take long for Hammett to join his bandmate to add another layer of sound to the solo, and soon after that, Hetfield turns things over completely to Hammett who finishes the solo. Combined with Hetfield's efforts, this is easily one of Metallica's most unique guitar solos to date.
"One"From: '…And Justice for All' (1988)
"One" is one of Metallica's most dynamic songs, beginning with a very simple and even-tempered guitar riff. That mild-mannered rhythm ends abruptly when the band tears into the part of the song that is founded on Lars Ulrich's double-bass drum beat. Helping keep the rhythm as in-your-face as possible, Hammett rips into an unimaginably fast guitar solo around the 5:45 mark. By the end of the nearly seven-and-a-half minutes, there is absolutely no memory of the clean guitar from the beginning of the song, only the thought of Hammett's unforgettable solo and Hetfield's haunting lyrics.
"Stone Cold Crazy"From: 'Rubaiyat: Elektra's 40th Anniversary' (1990)
No list of favorite guitar solos is complete without a mention of Metallica's "Stone Cold Crazy." Originally a Queen tune, 'Tallica's cover takes an already fairly fast song and cranks up the ferocity with slightly altered lyrics and a couple of insanely fast solos. In one of Metallica's shortest songs— clocking in at two minutes and 18 seconds—Hammett wastes no time by introducing listeners to his first solo less than a minute into the tune. Things really explode during the second solo when it sounds like Hammett lets loose, which fits this song perfectly. "Stone Cold Crazy" made its first debut as part of the compilation Rubaiyat, an album that celebrated the 40th anniversary of Metallica's record label, Elektra.
"Whiplash"From: 'Kill 'Em All' (1983)
There's no arguing that Metallica's debut album is their thrashiest. Even though it wasn't a huge success at the time of its release, Kill 'Em All has turned into a part of thrash metal's foundation and legacy. There might be no other song that perfectly encapsulates the attitude of the album than "Whiplash." An absolutely in-your-face song, "Whiplash" is non-stop thrash at its finest, especially when Hetfield screams, "Here we go," and Hammett rips into a mind-blowing guitar solo. Just when you think it's done, Hetfield belts out "Whiplash," and Hammett keeps things going with another 12 seconds of screaming guitar solo perfection.
"Disposable Heroes"From: 'Master of Puppets' (1986)
Listening to Hammett's guitar work on Master of Puppets, it's obvious that he was trained by none other than the great guitar maestro, Joe Satriani. During the crushing tune "Disposable Heroes," it's almost expected that when Hammett begins his solo, it's going to be intense, but nobody could expect just how intense. Lasting for a minute, Hammett delivers a breathtakingly extreme guitar solo that lives up and exceeds all expectations. In the song, Hetfield sings, "I was born for dying." It's safe to say that if the song was about Hammett, the lyrics would be altered to, "I was born for shredding."
"Hero of the Day"From: 'Load' (1996)
Not every guitar solo has to be a facemelter. Hammett's solo in "Hero of the Day" isn't considered a shredding solo, but that doesn't mean it's any less rocking to fans or important. In an exclusive interview, the guitarist discussed his favorite solo; "Hero of the Day" was the song that first came to his mind. The axeman said about the solo, "It’s very melodic, it’s very dynamic. I think that guitar solo serves the song in a way that I want all my guitar solos to serve their songs.”