Metallica's Kirk Hammett Reveals Plans to Write More Horror-Inspired Classical Music

Kirk Hammett of Metallica
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Kirk Hammett of Metallica performs on stage at Twickenham Stadium on June 20, 2019 in London, England. 

At Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum on Tuesday (July 24), Metallica's Kirk Hammett told the sold-out audience that he's written his second classical piece with his wife, Lani, and plans to do more.

"She just signed off on it today," he said to claps.

The conversation was part of a ROM Speaks event for It's Alive! Classic Horror and Sci-Fi Art From The Kirk Hammett Collection, moderated by Dan Finamore, a curator at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, who conceived the exhibition with Hammett and organized the companion book.

The exhibition runs until Jan. 5 and features more than a hundred pieces from Hammett's personal collection, mainly consisting of 20th-century graphic posters, but also costumes, toys, props and decorated guitars. He acquired a couple of new pieces last year.

The music the couple wrote is meant to convey the feelings one gets from the posters -- among them Dracula, Frankenstein, Barbarella, Bride of Frankenstein, Creature From The Black Lagoon, Invasion of the Saucer-Men, King Kong, Notre Dame De Paris and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

"It will come to the museum in a bit, at some point. It will be available for people to hear. This second piece of music is instrumental, as well as the first one. It's called 'The Jinn.' The jinn is a Middle Eastern term for genie. Again, it's an audio story that unfolds. And the title 'The Jinn' will hopefully set the mood for how you experience music because it tells a story of the jinn."

Dustin Rabin
Kirk Hammett talks horror and sci-fi collection at Royal Ontario Museum.

Hammett's first classical piece, "Maiden & The Monster," was composed for his inaugural It's Alive! Exhibit in 2017 at the Peabody Essex Museum. "It's a piece that tells a story, in audio terms, and it kind of implodes like a film unfolds. It's meant to be played while you're observing everything in the show," he explained.

"I'm getting more and more into classical music, classical composers, and a lot of classical composers take on the horror genre. There are quite a few composers who were the first soundtrack music. [Russian composer] Modest Mussorgsky wrote Night On Bald Mountain and if anyone knows that piece, it's the soundtrack to any horror movie that was made in the 1920s and '30s."

He added that Tchaikovsky's famous ballet piece Swan Lake is "in almost every horror movie from 1931-33. So I want to go into that direction," Hammett says. "I want to start orchestrating music, and telling musical stories through music, in much the same way as a lot of these classical guys did in the 19th century, 20th century. It is a real curiosity of mine and it comes at a good time because in September we [Metallica] are going to be playing two shows with the San Francisco Symphony and I'm going to be immersed in all kinds of classical music and classical musicians. It's going to be fantastic."

For an hour, Hammett spoke excitedly with Finamore about his collection, zeroing in on specific pieces, the characters, the colors, the composition, the political and social environment of the times and the stories he knew about select pieces and the illustrators, although most are anonymous. He said a monument should be erected for unknown artists the way there is for unknown soldiers.

Hammett first started collecting comics and monster magazines when he was six or seven years old and continued throughout his childhood. He would painstakingly assemble and paint monster models, "and then I'd blow them up with fire crackers and throw them off the roof," he laughs.

At age 15, he discovered the guitar so his collecting "fell by the wayside." Later, when Metallica started getting more successful, he "jumped right back into it," buying monster toys of the 1960s, then artwork and then movie posters. He noted the posters give a "feeling of romance," a "feeling other than that of horror or being afraid or scared."

"Getting lost in a horror movie is not that far away from me getting lost in guitar playing," he added.

Metallica just played Moscow the day before he arrived in Toronto and Friday (July 26), he's playing covers in The Wedding Band, alongside Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo, singer Whitfield Crane of Ugly Kid Joe and drummer Joey Castillo, formerly Queens of the Stone Age, at exhibit sponsor Cosmo Music's concert venue, Cosmopolitan Music Hall, in the Greater Toronto Area.

Word is they're playing classic rocks covers, but maybe they’ll throw in some Swan Lake.