‘Enter Sandman’, the lead single and opening track for Metallica’s eponymous fifth album, released in 1991, remains a significant feature of the band’s legacy. With James Hetfield on the rhythm guitar and vocal, Kirk Hammett on the lead guitar, Lars Ulrich on drums and Jason Newsted on the bass, ‘Enter Sandman’ remains one of the highest-selling singles by the band to date. Such was its popularity, the song was included in all of the band’s live albums and DVDs that were released after 1991 and has been the go-to song for concerts and award shows. Over the years, the American heavy metal band has undergone various changes in its lineup, but ‘Enter Sandman’ remains the central point.
In 1986, Metallica’s bassist Cliff Burton was killed in tragic a bus accident while the band was on the European leg of its Damage, Inc. Tour. Losing a prime member of the band shattered them completely and, of course, it also left the band’s future in doubt. It is at that moment that they decided to carry on with their work, as Burton would’ve wanted, and started to audition bassists for the band who could take Burton’s place.
Jason Newsted, who had been a member of the thrash metal band Flotsam and Jetsam, auditioned for Metallica with more than 40 other people. Newsted, however, strategically got hold of the band’s setlist and studied it. Needless to say, drummer Ulrich was pleasantly surprised when Newsted presented it to him during his audition, and the band ultimately decided on him as Burton’s replacement. Newsted, primed and ready, performed at the Country Club in Reseda in California as his first show with the group and solidified his role.
Looking back, though, Newsted started out on his musical journey at nine years of age with a guitar, which was the first instrument he learned how to play. However, by the time he was 14, he switched to bass, being influenced and inspired by notable bassists from the likes of Gene Simmons of Kiss to Geezer Butler of Black Sabbath, Lemmy Kilmister, Geddy Lee, Rob Grange and so on.
‘Enter Sandman’ showcased Newsted’s brilliant bass lines, which complimented the song perfectly. Unlike most bass players out there, though, many of whom played the bass with their fingers, Newsted often opted for picks to strum the strings to get the right teeth — but this earned him a lot of backlashes, too. As he himself said, “I’ve always got crazy pushback because of not playing with my fingers as a bass player – look at the scoreboard. When it comes to playing with a pick and aggression and tone that can come from the attack, you can’t get that with fingers.” But Newsted, skilled as he was on the bass, was not averse to playing the instrument with his fingers either. It simply depended on the kind of sound that was desired for the production. As he further commented: “There are a lot of places you can do with fingers that you can’t do with a pick as well, and I appreciate that.”
It is true that Newsted had some big shoes to fill standing in place of Cliff Burton – whose memory was still raw in the minds of the Metallica fans. But Newsted stepped up to the plate and produced some of the greatest and most distinctive bass tracks for Metallica’s later albums. His performance on ‘Enter Sandman’ is a testament to his genius as one of the greatest bass players in the history of rock music.
Treat yourself to Jason Newsted’s gripping isolated bass track for Metallica’sEnter Sandman’, below.