Kirk Hammett – Portals (EP Review)

Kirk Hammett High Plains Drifter review

Kirk Hammett – Portals
Released: April 23, 2022

Line Up: 

Kirk Hammett // guitars 
Edwin Outwater // keyboards
Greg Fidelman // bass
Jon Theodore // drums
Abraham Laboriel // drums
LA Philharmonic Orchestra 

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Metallica members have famously avoided doing too much outside of the Metallica band/brand. As depicted in the 2004 film Some Kind of Monster, there was a sense that doing other projects in someway diminished the focus on Metallica, and led to then-bassist Jason Newstead’s departure. Whilst a lot has changed in Metallica-land since then, the news that lead guitarist Kirk Hammett was releasing an EP under his own name was a pleasant surprise. Portals is aptly named as it provides an insight into Metallica’s quiet achiever with each track serving as a gateway into Hammett’s considerable talent. Whilst critics might snicker in suggesting its four songs of Hammett wailing on a wah wah pedal, it is much more than that. It definitely rocks and has some metal moments, but serves as more of a soundtrack or jam collection than clearly defined rock songs.

Portals kicks off with the 7-minute horror-themed ‘Maiden and the Monster’. It instantly recalls Metallica instrumentals such as ‘Call of Ktulu’ with its slow, melodic build as Hammett’s guitar harmonies twist and turn. We also can hear the foreboding orchestra in the background, a sense of doom adding to the tension. Like a good horror film though, the antagonist remains out of reach for most of the track, the doom being hidden as Hammett loops his progression before adding a psychedelic/Sabbath riff that he can make the lead scream over. It’s thrilling when it gets there and the resulting headbang is well earned. It’s impressive to hear what Hammett can do beyond the usual 90 seconds he has to get his solo in. 

Metalheads are going to put second track ‘The Jinn’ on repeat. It’s the most metal song here, a little bit more immediately heavy though with a Pink Floyd-esque collision of drums, keys and guitars. The orchestra comes to the fore on this one, with strings adding to the melody before the abrupt cut out and reset. It reemerges from the silence with a slower tempo, the guitar refrain and strings working as one, likewise the heavier cello and Hammett’s lead playing in unison. It’s a chunky, spicy riff that gives Kirk room to just wail over… and yes, he uses the familiar wah wah effect. It picks up tempo and gets an Iron Maiden dual lead thing going, which is pretty sweet. It closes out with a nice little bass line from producer Greg Fidelman

Kirk, James and Lars love Ennio Morricone’s film scores (as noted by the use of ‘Ecstasy of Gold’ as their intro music for nearly 40 years). ‘High Plains Drifter’ reflects that admiration with a composition that conveys the sweeping plains of the western plains, a sensation of sleeping under the stars by a camp fire and finally the possibility of danger and a sudden demise. It’s thrilling stuff, with Hammett breaking into classical guitar moments to go with his electric playing. Co-written with S&M2‘s composer Edwin Outwater, it really nails the cinematic feel with a crisp solo that could go for days if the format allowed. 

Kirk Hammett Portals Tracklisting

Outwater also co-wrote ‘The Incantation’. It’s got a wicked riff, supported by drums and strings, putting listeners firmly back in horror film mode. It twists and turns as Hammett shreds with bluesy precision. He gets his distorted licks in too though, dipping into his book of spells and giving the bass and drums some room to jam before adding his own electric sitar. You could leave this one on repeat for a while but may well start to ask why your blood pressure and anxiety are increasing – there’s something lurking in the spaces between notes and it isn’t pretty. The last few minutes really heighten this anxiety with some killer lead work over an increasing tempo. It climaxes with deathly, military drums accompanying the shredding leads and closes with a solemn return to the opening refrain. Eight minutes has flown by and I hardly noticed. 

OK yes, he uses the wah wah a lot on this one. But far from a rehash of his Metallica contributions, Portals really shows what Hammett can do as a composer and guitarist, with different moods and tones from song to song. Each represents a different scene or even film, the lack of lyrics and vocals giving listeners space to interpret their resulting daydreams as they see fit. If you enjoy instrumental albums then Portals is well worth checking out, though it probably won’t hold the attention of most Metallica fans, it is a rewarding sonic experience that I will be returning to when the mood strikes.

Kirk Hammett High Plains Drifter review

Kirk Hammett – Portals EP tracklisting: 

1. Maiden and the Monster
2. The Jinn
3. High Plains Drifter
4. The Incantation 

Rating: 7.5 / 10
Portals is out now via Blackened Recordings for Record Store Day, 2022. 
Review by KJ Draven (Twitter and Instagram

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