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Kirk Hammett - Portals EP (Album Review)

Thursday, 05 May 2022 Written by Simon Ramsay

Photo: Ross Halfin

It’s no secret that Kirk Hammett’s contributions to Metallica have been micromanaged for years amid the band’s mix of domineering personalities and  regimented work, but with every element of this debut solo EP under the guitarist’s assured command, he’s revealed an ability to spin dynamic stories through impressive compositional choices that bring his epic, cinematic visions to life.

Mixed by Bob Rock, arranged by Emmy award winning composer Blake Neely and featuring Greg Fidelman on bass, drummer Abe Laborial and, crucially, conductor Edwin Outwater (who scored Metallica’s ‘S&M 2’) ‘Portals’ comprises four bombastic instrumental pieces that, predominantly inspired by the guitarist’s hardwired love of horror films, were designed to create mini-movies in your mind.

Utilising a powerhouse combo of chamber orchestra and full-blooded ‘band’ aesthetic, Hammett’s extensive musical vocabulary has been exploited to deliver vivid imagery and sense-tingling emotion from every bloody note. 

Maiden and the Monster is melancholy and romantic one minute, eerie and haunting the next. Highlighting a sharp understanding of narrative beats and how to establish plot, character and tone, while astutely ramping up tension, the titular duo engage in an edgy devil’s dance before drums thunder and a cascade of fiery licks brings their unholy alliance to a twisted climax.

Many six-string instrumental efforts, by their very nature, end up eliciting the kind of filmic quality that stirs imaginations to life. But, because Hammett was intent on doing just that from the get go, these cuts boast an authentic soundtrack feel that elevates them above the kind of self-indulgent technical workouts some guitarists believe to be interesting.   

High Plains Drifter brazenly twists The Unforgiven, Ennio Morricone, Sergio Leone and Iron Maiden’s To Tame A Land into a spaghetti western colossus. Featuring lone outlaw flamenco, death or glory strings and heroic fretwork, it’s impossible not to picture Clint Eastwood staring down the four horseman of the apocalypse under a blackened sky.

Although fans will drool over Hammett’s use of pedals, modal scales and phrasing, his playing is never gratuitous. Whether in unison with scything cellos, playing call and response with his orchestra, or sagely sitting back and letting them culture the atmosphere, everything here services songs that, courtesy of judicious twists and strong repeated motifs, are perfectly paced.  

Spooky behemoth The Jinn’s monochrome metal riff is a bastardised descendent of ‘And Justice For All’ (only with audible bass, thankfully) where he deploys progressive virtuosity, mournful strings and a barrage of menace to fuel the creature’s horrifying shape-shift. The Incantation’s sinister sorcery dispenses  creeping bass, bewitching sitar and militaristic drum crashes to cast its malevolent, charming and destructive spell.

Should Metallica’s shot callers let him make more use of his talents outside of the band (and we’d love to hear Jason Newsted’s thoughts about this release being sanctioned), ‘Portals’ could easily see Hammett land a lucrative side gig penning film and TV soundtracks. Someone give his phone number to Eli Roth, James Wan or Guillermo Del Toro, pronto.

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