Kirk Hammett wanted ‘Enter Sandman’ to be the next ‘Smoke on the Water’ and it’s probably a blessing that didn’t happen to the song. 

In a new interview with Guitar World, Metallica’s guitarist discussed their classic track in depth, detailing its creation and revealing that he really wanted it to be like the iconic Deep Purple hit before the riff became inspired by a completely different band.

“I sat down and I said to myself, as I always do, ‘I want to write the next ‘Smoke on the Water’, and I just started messing around,” he said. “I got the swing kind of feel going, and then I was thinking of Soundgarden and how they were using dropped tunings.”

Hammett explained that Soundgarden’s ‘Louder Than Love’ was a big influence on the sound of ‘Enter Sandman’. “This was when grunge was at its earliest stage – we’re talking late 1989 or so,” he recalled. “No one was even calling it grunge yet. But I was loving a lot of it, and it was influencing me somewhat.

I wasn’t playing in a drop tuning, but with those tunings it’s often octave work – you get the low D, and then you go to the upper D and it sounds really heavy. I wasn’t in drop D, I was just in E, but I was messing around with the low and high octaves, and then I threw a tritone in there, an A#, went to the A, and that’s the riff that came out.”

Hammett continued: “I remember that when the first part of it came to me, I thought, ‘It sounds like it’s asking a question, and now I’ve got to resolve it.’ So that’s where the chunky chord part, with the G and F#, came in. And famously, when I originally wrote the riff, that chunky thing happened at the end of every line.”

It was then that Lars Ulrich played his part in finalising ‘Enter Sandman’. “Then Lars said, ‘Repeat the first part.’ So we changed it to where we repeat the first part three times and then the chunky chords come in,” Hammett explained. “That made it hookier and bouncier – less heavy metal. It made a good-sounding riff fucking great.

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But if you think about the way the riff was originally – chunkier, more metal – you know, maybe it could have ended up on …And Justice for All.”

‘Smoke on the Water’ famously has become a standard of guitar lessons. Rolling Stone placed it at number 434 in its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time while Total Guitar named it the fourth best guitar riff ever.

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Check out ‘Smoke on the Water’ by Deep Purple:

Check out ‘Enter Sandman’ by Metallica: