by guest contributor Will Gulseven
This week marks 30 years since legendary Metallica bassist Cliff Burton tragically passed away in a freak bus crash during the band's Master of Puppets tour in Sweden at the age of 24. As well as providing ferocious bass sounds that shaped Metallica's early albums, Burton also had a deep understanding and appreciation of a huge range of music, meaning that his contributions to the band's work enabled them to emerge a cut above other metal acts of the time. Cliff is rightly hailed as one of the most influential bass players of all time to this day, so we took a look at his five most iconic Metallica moments thirty years after his death.
'Anaesthesia' is where it all began for Cliff Burton and Metallica - after seeing him play this solo onstage with his previous band Trauma, they immediately hired him for Metallica in 1982. Frontman James Hetfield's unassuming 'bass solo, take one' intro precedes Cliff's inimitable bass roar that moves through classical-tinged melodies and arpeggios before being joined by Lars Ulrich on drums and thundering to the climax. A huge statement of intent from Burton, and an early hint of what was to come over the next two albums.
You'd be forgiven for thinking that the ominous bass line that introduces 'For Whom the Bell Tolls' was played on guitar, but that was all part of Burton's inventiveness - turning his bass into a distorted, wah-wahed lead instrument in a genre where bassists usually took a back seat to guitarists. It's worth noting that neither of Cliff's future replacements in Metallica, Jason Newsted and Robert Trujillo, have attempted to ape his exact bass tone when playing 'For Whom the Bell Tolls' live - further cementing Cliff's status as a one of a kind bass player. Check out this incredible live version from 1985.
While the only instrumental on Metallica's debut album 'Kill 'em All' was the bass solo 'Anaesthesia', the band stepped up their instrumentals in a big way on the following two albums. 'The Call of Ktulu' from 'Ride the Lightning' is a 9-minute epic, but it's arguably 1986's 'Orion' that saw Metallica reach their peak. As the only classically-trained member of Metallica, Burton was - excuse the pun - instrumental in the development of the band's sound from straight-up thrash into a more nuanced sound that alienated some of their purist fans at the time, but led to the exploration of a much broader range of sounds. Burton's playing shines throughout Orion - from the growling fade-in, to the driving melody two minutes through, to the almost soothing break halfway in, culminating in one of his finest moments in the final bass solo.
Another classic from 'Master of Puppets', 'Damage, Inc.' is mostly an all-out thrash monster that brings the album to a high-energy close. But, never being satisfied with the easy option, Burton opted to add in a tension-building intro section, based on the chords from the chorale prelude of J.S. Bach's 'Come Sweet Death'. Played on bass, but reversed and harmonised in the studio, the intro to 'Damage, Inc.' is yet another example of how Burton's musicianship elevated Metallica to be musically head and shoulders above their thrash contemporaries in the mid-80s.
Released two years after Burton's death, 1988's '…And Justice For All' saw Metallica go further down a path of musical experimentation, with most tracks clocking in at over 6 minutes and flitting between time signatures, tempos and key changes. To this day it's a polarising album due to its experimentation, its production, and the playing of replacement bassist Jason Newsted - but it's nonetheless an album that has Burton's influence stamped all over it. 'To Live Is To Die' is the band's tribute to Cliff, made up of riffs he wrote before his death and containing a spoken word section taken from a poem written by Burton.