JAMES HETFIELD & KIRK HAMMETT
Metallica were a band that existed as a concept before they really existed as a band – drummer Lars Ulrich was angling to get his new band on the Metal Massacre compilation in 1981 when he’d barely met Hetfield – and at first, their guitar attack was Hetfield and lead guitarist Dave Mustaine. However, personality conflicts and Mustaine’s chemical intake led to the first of what would be several abrupt lineup changes in the band, with Kirk Hammett replacing Mustaine the same afternoon that he was sacked.
It proved to be a wise choice: Mustaine went on to form Megadeth, and the riff-heavy Hetfield and technically astonishing Hammett swiftly developed a level of musical telepathy that made them metal’s answer to the Rolling Stones. That grounding also meant they had the versatility to weather the ‘90s and ‘00s, when other metal acts found themselves wildly out of step with the musical fashion of the times.
As other bands looked and sounded like hair metal throwbacks, the guitarists carefully worked out how to strip back their excesses without sidelining the heaviness, and were rewarded with the biggest successes of their career. While most guitarist teams find what works and stick with it, Metallica proved you can change things up and not lose your identity.