Metallica’s Lars Ulrich: Cliff Burton Loved Beethoven and The Police, Wasn’t So Fond of Iron Maiden and Diamond Head

  • Axl Rosenberg

Guitar World reports that during a recent podcast interview with Chris Jericho, Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich made some interesting revelations regarding late bassist Cliff Burton. It’s a long quote, but it’s worth reading in its entirety:

“If you listen to the difference between Kill ‘Em All and Ride the Lightning, obviously there was this huge … the pallet was expanded. We’ve never experimented with harmonies, melodies … If you take ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls,’ that melody, ‘Fade to Black,’ the super-melodic outro—that was all stuff [Cliff] brought to the table. The intro of ‘Fight Fire with Fire,’ that was more or less his. There was this whole thing that came from the classical upbringing that he had.

“He studied classical music and he could sit down and talk with you about Bach and Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. In 1981, James Hetfield and I didn’t sit there and talk a lot about classical endeavors, you know? [Laughs] We had a little more narrow-minded outlook. So Cliff—he loved the energy, he loved the aggression, but I don’t think he was a big fan of like, Iron Maiden. I remember early on when we started traveling on the tour bus, I’d put on some Maiden or something—he didn’t get out of his seat to start banging up and down. [Chuckles]

“I’d play some Maiden, some Diamond Head, and then he’d put on [ZZ Top’s] Rio Grande Mud or Degüello or some Yes album I’d never heard of, and I was like, ‘Huh?’ He’d sit there and fly the flag for Jethro Tull or … one band he loved was the Police, he’d always play the Police.

“His whole net was just really wide and really unencumbered by how it was supposed to be if you were in a metal band, which obviously James and I hadn’t quite graduated to at that time.

“Cliff, hands down, was the one that was the most musically varied at that time. Anybody that sits and goes, ‘Cliff wouldn’t have done this, Cliff wouldn’t have done that,’ it’s just a nonstarter of a conversation, because we don’t know. If you take like, ‘Enter Sandman,’ it’s a great riff and we tried a lot of stuff with [Jason] Newsted and it was just sort of like, just thumping straight eighth notes—it just works for the song! I don’t think Cliff would have said, ‘Fuck you, I’m not doing that!’ His thing was just what’s best for the song.”

I strongly suspect this quote is going to cause some meltdowns on the ‘net. There’s a generally-accepted thesis that Metallica would have “stayed metal” and avoided the creative mediocrity of the Load and St. Anger albums had Burton lived. Just a couple of months ago, even James Hetfield ostensibly backed this theory, stating that if Burton were still alive, “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.”

But what Ulrich is saying flies directly in the face of that line of thinking. Furthermore, it calls into question Burton’s metal cred by positing that he maybe wasn’t so keen on Iron Maiden, one of the most revered bands in metal history.

All of which creates a helluva philosophical conundrum for metal fans. Do they condemn Burton, who’s as close to a saint as anyone in metal history? If they don’t, they’ll have failed to defend Maiden, a band against whom negative comments are usually not permitted. So Ulrich’s claim basically presents an I, Robot-esque conflict of immutable laws. Commence short circuit.

The way around this philosophical Blue Screen of Death would be to accuse Ulrich of being less-than-truthful. But why bother? Who gives a shit what Cliff Burton did or did not like? It doesn’t change the fact that “(Anesthesia) – Pulling Teeth” is awesome, does it?

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