What Would Cliff Burton Have Thought About the Music Metallica Made Without Him? James Hetfield Weighs In

  • Axl Rosenberg

For Metallica fans who hold the band’s post-80s output in low regard, the most common battle cry is “Cliff Burton never would have let this happen!!!” Obviously, we have no way of knowing if this is true or not — maybe he would have been only-too-happy to cut his hair and play “I Disappear” in exchange for for squillions of dollars. Still, it’s fun to speculate what the legendary bassist might have made of the band’s post-Burton era.

Which is probably why Team Rock asked James Hetfield to do this very thing!

What would Cliff have made of some of the directions the band went in the 1990s? Beginning with The Black Album in 1991 up to the time of St Anger in 2003?

“Well, I certainly would have thought there would have been some resistance, for sure. I think The Black Album was a great album and I appreciate the fact that we did have the balls to do that and have [producer] Bob Rock to work with us. It had to be, it really did. You know, when I go back and I listen to [previous album] …And Justice For All, it couldn’t have stayed on that path. We needed to bring in another set of trusted ears. [But] I think Cliff would have probably interjected some different stuff, getting his bass heard and some more musically challenging things, probably. I would certainly think that the Load and Re-Load [era], I would have had an ally that was very against it all – the reinvention or the U2 version of Metallica.”

When you say ‘an ally’, you mean that you personally were not comfortable with that mid-90s period of the band’s story?

“No, no, not at all. There’s some great, great songs on there but my opinion is that all of the imagery and stuff like that was not necessary. And the amount of songs that were written was… it diluted the potency of the poison of Metallica. And I think Cliff would have agreed with that.”

So by the time you got to St Anger, is that a new start for you or is that the end of the period you’ve just been describing?

“Well, I’m not sure. For me, St Anger kind of stands alone. It’s more of a statement than an album. It’s more of the soundtrack to the movie, in a way. There’s some really interesting and cool riffs, some great songs on there. But sonically it sounds fragmented, which is exactly where we were at the point. But in that fragmentation it brought us together. So it was a very necessary piece of the puzzle to get us where we are today.”

Which is about as honest an answer as you can expect Hetfield to give at this point in time. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard him throw Lars under the bus for the Load albums like that before. That may just be because I hate those records so much I never did very much reading about how they were made. Regardless, it should get the “It Should Have Been Lars” crowd all hot n’ bothered.

Read the whole interview here.

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