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(Credit: Gene Ambo)


Cliff Burton on his favourite Metallica song

Over the past four decades, Metallica have dominated the arena of heavy metal music much like thin air just before a moshpit. Much of Metallica’s success comes from their assiduous creativity and the members’ innovative styles and instrumental talent. 

While James Hetfield’s vocals and Kirk Hammett’s guitar prowess have defined the band’s sound over their long tenure in the world of rock, their sound in the early years was given its thumping identity by the founding bassist, Cliff Burton. Before his untimely death from a freak road accident, while the band were sleeping on their tour bus in 1986, Burton had helped bring Metallica to global prominence, playing on their first three albums.

As well as being a bass virtuoso, Burton was integral to the band’s songwriting process and was behind some of the group’s most influential and beloved early classics, including his instrumental track ‘(Anesthesia)-Pulling Teeth’ as well as contributing to classics like ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’, ‘Fade to Black’ and ‘Master of Puppets’.

James Hetfield’s favourite Metallica songs

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In 1986, just a few months before his death, Burton discussed the band’s new album, Master of Puppets, with the Thrash Metal magazine. Referring to the album’s title track as “Master, Master,” Burton said: “I think, is the best Metallica song yet. The lyrics are getting a lot better. Everything is kind of growing a bit. It’s progressing.”

Master of Puppets was the final album that Burton played on and showed a marked change in the group’s style as they fine-tuned their musical talents. In an interview with The Guardian in 2016, Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich recalled Burton’s irreplaceable contributions to the album. “It was Cliff Burton’s last album,” Ulrich said. “I remember how brilliant he was at arranging harmonies and the melodic side of everything. He had to hang around a lot while we sorted out the drums and rhythm guitars. He was really, really bored. But when he came to record his parts he was out of this world.”

Later in the interview, Ulrich remembered that when mixing the record in Los Angeles, the band hung out with the Iron Maiden manager, Rod Smallwood. “We used to hang out with Iron Maiden’s manager, Rod Smallwood. He had a house two blocks from Sunset Boulevard that frequently became an after-hours hang. So one night, our song ‘Welcome Home (Sanitarium)’ came on in the background. Rod said: ‘That was really cool. Can I hear it again?’ It was as if God had spoken. I thought: ‘You know what? I think this is going to work out’.”

Listen to Metallica’s ‘Master of Puppets’ from the seminal 1986 album of the same name below.