Of the four men who make up the legendary heavy metal band Metallica, guitarist Kirk Hammett is the subtlest and most deliberate.
His bandmates have made careers out of outwardly channeling their angst — musically, politically and artistically — but Hammett has always been in the background playing sick lead guitar and laying down searing riffs.
Whereas singer James Hetfield embodies the band's jockish, defiant spirit, Hammett embodies its musicality, an intelligent mix of pop hooks disguised as punk-infused metal.
Metallica is the crossover metal act that has been easy to love for more than 25 years, and the newly inducted Rock and Roll Hall of Famers have grown with their audience and adapted to a new generation of fans — so much so that they just released their first video game, Guitar Hero: Metallica.
Hetfield, Hammett, drummer Lars Ulrich and bassman Robert Trujillo star in their own Guitar Hero, the popular rhythm-based video game that gives players the full-band experience. Players can rock out as Ulrich on the game's drum-controllers, sing Hetfield's leads on a mic and play Hammett's solos on a guitar-joystick. And sure enough, Hammett, the real-life guitar hero behind Enter Sandman, Sad But True, Master of Puppets, One and so many others, digs the game's presentation.
“It's a completely different thought process,” Hammett said here during the South by Southwest music festival last month. “The whole execution of Guitar Hero is all brought down to [five] little buttons ... as opposed to hundreds of thousands of variations on your left hand and right hand [on a real guitar].
“It's compounded to simple movements, and it's super cool, I have to say.”
While these video games had included real-life musicians as characters before, it wasn’t until the mid-2008 release of Guitar Hero: Aerosmith that a game was formed around an entire band. Nothing against Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry, but Guitar Hero: Metallica makes for a better game-play experience, if only for the richness of Metallica’s catalog.
And some of that is the game programming itself. Through various mock performances, the band’s exact movements were logged and replicated in the virtual world.
“[The game] is very, very accurate,” Hammett said. “It is us playing the song when you watch it. It's Lars doing the whole theatrical drumming deal. It's James with his swagger. It's me with my weird, headbanging style. And it's Rob with his particular, heavy-handed approach. It's all there, and they did such an accurate job in capturing the way we move and the way we move together as a group.”
The music is a tight compilation of Metallica songs mixed with a catalog of music that was handpicked by the band, including songs from Queen, Slayer, Mastodon, Foo Fighters, Alice in Chains and others. Whether you like video games or not, it's easy to see the educational value in these games, something that hits home when your five-year-old nephew asks you to take him to see Rush, AC/DC and Iron Maiden.
“I love that aspect of it,” says Hammett. “This younger generation is being exposed to a lot of great classic rock and classic metal that they wouldn't otherwise know, especially if they're just listening to the radio … It's a great musical education for them. And I’d like to think that it's inspiring enough that maybe one of these kids would buy a guitar and learn how to play it.”