James Hetfield

Recently a writer from The Quietus, Mark Eglinton, asked for my thoughts on Metallica’s James Hetfield. While it’s no secret that the fans, myself included, haven’t always agreed with every decision Metallica has made as a band, I’ve chosen to look at a subject which seems to have gotten lost in the chaos of Metallica’s superstardom: James, the musician.

James Hetfield is a an unsung virtuoso. His guitar and vocal sound, along with his song ideas, has enabled Metallica to go from being classified alongside Motorhead and Venom to being aligned with Bruce Springsteen and U2. Much of hard music today has been changed by his guitar tone, rhythm playing and vocal technique, making him arguably the most influential musician of his generation.

James has had more of an influence than most ‘lead’ guitarists and is a great lead guitarist himself. His occasional solos are among Metallica’s most memorable, proving that speed and chops are secondary to melody.
He also a terrific acoustic guitarist, playing intricate parts with a lot of depth, consistency and dynamics.

I’m convinced that had he chosen to play drums, bass or lead guitar in his band, James Hetfield would have been just as influential and virtuosic.

17 Responses to James Hetfield

  1. Awesome! For sure! James' riffs are musical in that they're just not riffs. They contain percussiveness alongside finesse and melody. Even the much loathed Load, Re-Load & St. Anger had an open, freshness alongside some great grooves driven by Het's riffs! His presence alongside Burton on Cliff Em' All's "Day on the Green" segment was powerful. His abrasive vocal style came across as the voice of the apacolypse while still carrying memorable melodies. Hearing your thoughts on Het means a lot to the masses since you came from the same scene. Thanks for sharing Skol! Cheers :o)

  2. what a great post Alex 🙂 and an awesome tribute for James, I-like millions other- guitarist, started listening to Metal music through/cause of Metallica, had my first pirated MP-lol-of them back in 2001 and been a fan since then..

    James is certainly an icon in Metal scene, and an Idol for many.
    I haven't seen them live in concert yet…..I'm super excited to hear abt Testament/Slayer/Megadeth tour ! will buy my ticket tomrrow on the pre-sale ! Thanks for the inspiration


  3. I don't like Metallica that much and I wonder how you'd rate James and Kirk as guitars player from 1 to 10?
    James has been very influential that's for sure but I don't think of him as a virtuoso. He surely can play really fast down strokes but I can hardly hear any melody in his creations.
    Metallica are very strong live and I enjoy watching them but I don't like hearing them on CD, it lacks something!!??
    If I had to name just a few great guitar players it would be:
    -YOU, Alex Skolnick a true virtuoso, gifted and talented musician. The Guitar God
    -Glen Drover (ex-Megadeth) for being so emotional when playing live
    -John Petrucci (Dream Theater) for being a melody master. The Prog King

  4. Yeah, James Hetfield is probably a bigger influence on my own guitar playing and songwriting than I'd be willing to admit.

    Obviously, he's been a major influence for Testament as well. But Alex, could you still narrow down what makes him so special in your eyes? Alongside Malcolm Young, Dave Mustaine and Rudolf Schenker he's pretty much the best rhythm guitarist around. Will there be a more elaborate post on James Hetfield following the most recent one?

    Greetings from Germany!

  5. Great post – I don’t really have anything else to add other than, yeah, I agree…..what a great, solid, well-rounded, talented musician/songwriter he is….kind of makes my humble opinion feel validated when, as Claudia J. refers to you above (and I have to agree), “The Guitar God” says so! 🙂

    I apologize for this in advance (and many fans may even find this offensive), but the above photo – James with long hair – made me think of it…… google "Hetfield hair watch". I just want to make it clear that I love James Hetfield and am a huge fan….BUT….if you have a really good sense of humor and keep an open mind, this website is hilarious!

    Thanks for all the great music, Alex. Take care!

  6. When I think of James Hetfield and Metallica, all I can think of are all the arguments my friends and I used to have on whether Metallica or Megadeth were better bands. Most of my friends liked Metallica better but I don't always go along with the crowd. Metallica was a favorite friend of mine during the rebelious years of high school though!!! Say what you want they are still around!

  7. Hello Alex,

    I do agree that James Hetfield is a reference in modern metal guitar playing and a major influence to many, but to call him a virtuoso, I believe is too much.
    Virtuosity (not to be confused with speed and technique only) is just for the chosen few: John Petrucci, Yourself, Al Pitrelli,
    Pete Lesperance, Richie Sambora,
    Marco Sfogli, and Glen Drover, in my very own opinion, which is as valid as anybody else's opinion.
    Kind regards

  8. Hettfield is an ass kicker. Plain amd simple. His solos are far much better than Kirk's, as a rythim guitar player he has no equal, and as I read in a guitar magazine, he does it while he sings and with his guitar on his knees. AN ASS KICKER.

  9. To me, Metallica doesn't just fit in the Metal category any longer.
    And, he is a talented and layered musician.
    I saw Peter Frampton this summer and for a seasoned player he still keeps up- pretty remarkable for his age.

  10. Roar–! James! Dad, and real guy-

    This was too easy for you-

    ALEX: HEY I heard a GWAR–review that gave new meaning to shock rock, and I said to he kids 0_o
    HOW old are they–to be doing the same old thing? Even the chili peppers rarely use the sock wasssssssup!

    Got any comments?

  11. i just saw metallica for the 7th time this year (i'm making up for not going to see them during the load/reload/st anger period, ok?) and i have to agree with you 100%. james is an amazing songwriter, practically invented thrash w/that rhythm style and guitar tone (his right hand is SICK) and a really good singer as well.

    i have to say, though, that if you told any of us back in 1983 that this band — a band you could NOT hear on the radio, see on TV or find in any mainstream media — would end up one of the biggest, most popular bands in the world, we would have laughed. of course *we* love them, but metal was so underground, trading tapes and all that, that who could have thought of such a thing?

    thanks for this jaymz-love alex!

  12. Hey everyone-

    I was just planning a quick response here, but it blossomed into a whole new post, check it out!

    I finally have a day off on tour. The schedule's been really grueling and hasn't left much time for writing. Pardon the delay and the fact that I can't respond to many questions right now. Thanks for understanding.

    Speaking of thanks, today is Thanksgiving and I'm wishing you all a great one. One of the things I'm really thankful for is all of you.

    Happy Tday!!


  13. Alex,
    Hope your Thanksgiving was filled with the blessings of good friends and family. Happy Turkey Day! It’s all about an attitude of gratitude.

    There are many ways to impart gratitude. You can say “Thank you” with words, by giving a small token of appreciation, or by reciprocating. All are considered acceptable gestures. However, sometimes it’s nice to be able to give something back. It’s an amiable way of returning the favor.

    The stories you share on your blog, have given me encouragement to be true to myself, speak my voice, share my gift and work in two very different environments. Thank you very very much! 🙂

    Sharing my gift, is how I choose to give back some of what you impart to us. Continuing to send you the universal energy and angelic light you need to release any blockages, feel well and be well for as long as you want it or need it. As always, it is of your choice. May you feel as well at the end of this tour with TSO as you did at the beginning. (Hopefully better!)

    Thank you for the amazing TSO shows. It’s hard to believe, but each year, it just gets better and better.
    BTW – It was nice to hear you sing!

    Take care my friend,

    Often times, when we try to convey a multitude of words in a matter of minutes, we stumble a little and may not always express the sentiment as truly intended. 😉

  14. Hi Alex, This was a great blog,I really enjoy reading your stories and views on here,Some of them make me laugh especially the one about that spicy noodle soup..Lol!.I really love the way you get your views and opinions across,you are very well spoken,talented and gifted musician and individual..I enjoy all of your projects,but I really enjoy watching you in Tso..not just how you play,but your presence on stage as well.So thanxs for the music..and a Happy Tday to you too! Im sure there alot of fans that are thankful for also..Take and see ya in Dec:):)

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