For Kirk Hammett, the guitar solo he performs on “Salt the Wound,” a track on Exodus‘ upcoming album Blood In, Blood Out (Nuclear Blast Records, Oct. 14), is a full-circle moment. Hammett had co-founded the thrash band when he was just 16, and shortly after he turned 20 in 1983, he joined Metallica. While things obviously turned out well for Hammett, he left a bit of unfinished business behind: While he had played on two early Exodus demos, he never made a proper recording with his original group.
“It was something I’d been wanting to do for a while,” Hammett tells Billboard.
He explains that he and Exodus guitarist Gary Holt began reconnecting a few years ago at the 2012 memorial concert for Exodus singer Paul Baloff (who died of a stroke in 2002), and the bond continued to grow when Slayer and Metallica did gigs together at events like the 2009 Sonisphere festival in Europe, since Holt was filling in for Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman on the road.
“I got an email from [Holt] about six months ago going, ‘Hey, I hope you can lay down a sick solo on the new Exodus album,'” recalls Hammett. “I thought about it for about two seconds and I emailed him back, and I’m like, ‘Yeah, man. I’m there.'”
Hammett laid down the track at Exodus’ studio and says that afterwards drummer Tom Hunting “threw some chicken on the barbecue, and we spent the rest of the day sitting around drinking beer and eating barbecue just like we did back when we were teenagers.” He laughs. “It was great. It did feel like a bunch of teenagers hanging out again, and it was very, very special. I love those guys to bits.”
He observes that when he and Holt used to write music together they would typically place two guitar solos next to each other, and that’s how the piercing “Salt the Wound” is laid out. “Ever since the beginning, when Gary started playing in the band, he and I have always tried to outdo each other,” says Hammett with a giggle. “At first I thought, ‘This is really not that cool. I don’t want to have to be worried about getting blown away,’ but then I thought, ‘Well, wait a second: This is actually bringing out the best in me. We’re bringing out the best in each other.’ That’s how it was back then, and that’s how it was when I got back into the studio.”
He continues with a devious chuckle, “I heard Gary’s solo that he’d already put on [the album] and instantly started thinking, ‘What can I do to blow his solo away?'” But Hammett emphasizes that the competition between he and Holt was “always friendly, always healthy and always for the good of the band.”
“At the end of the day, the two solos are super complementary to each other. You can tell who’s playing what, and it’s a great dynamic,” he says of the result on “Salt the Wound.” “I’m so happy about it, so tickled. It’s like coming back to a fraternity that you lost contact with.”
When Hammett was offered the spot in Metallica — he replaced fired guitarist Dave Mustaine, who went on to form Megadeth to great success — he says the decision to leave Exodus wasn’t too difficult to make because the latter band was in flux at the time and he had gelled really well musically and personally Metallica singer/guitarist James Hetfield, drummer Lars Ulrich and then-bassist Cliff Burton (who later died in a touring bus accident in 1986). But he admits that at times he felt pangs of remorse.
“That was a ship that I was steering,” he says of Exodus. “I pretty much jumped ship. I pretty much bailed on them, and I’ll admit that. Maybe I’m trying to make up for it these days,” he muses with a laugh.
If Holt and company ever had any really hard feelings, they never showed. Hammett says that when he delivered the news that he was leaving, “They were happy for me, but it was a little bittersweet. I remember they threw me a going-away party, and at the end of the party Paul Baloff said, ‘Hey, come over here,’ and I came over there, and he dumped a beer on me. Gary saw Paul dump a beer on me, so he walked over and dumped his beer on me too, and I just took it. I was just going. ‘Yeah, I know, OK. Whatever.'”