Metallica’s Lars Ulrich and Kirk Hammett Discuss Cliff Burton’s Final Show and Writing Contributions to Master of Puppets
Today sees the release of the super-duper-extra-special-deluxe re-mastered edition of Master of Puppets, and to remind everyone of that fact, Metallica’s Lars Ulrich and Kirk Hammett have granted a new interview to Rolling Stone. It’s worth reading the whole thing — the interview isn’t about Kirk losing his phone or Lars’ regrets about Napster or whatever, so it’s actually relevant and interesting! — but there are two parts that really stand out. Perhaps unsurprisingly, both of these parts about Cliff Burton.
First, Hammett addresses Burton’s songwriting contributions to Master of Puppets. The box set includes tapes with various demos and riff ideas from the period when the band was writing the record, but interviewer Kory Grow notes that none of these tapes came from Cliff. So how did Burton present his ideas to the band? Says Hammett:
“He played the intro to ‘Damage Inc.,’ with the volume swells, and then he played me the tune that was the inspiration for that, which is a Bach piece. And he said, ‘Does it sound alike?’ and I said, ‘No way, man. You’re totally in the clear. It sounds completely like your own thing.’ And he wrote the whole middle bit in ‘Orion’ on bass and then worked out the harmony parts on guitar but played them on bass. On the record, James and I were playing all this harmony and initially Cliff wanted to do all of those harmonies on bass. It wouldn’t have worked because it would have been more of a solo sort of thing, like the thing in ‘Damage Inc.’ So we integrated it into ‘Orion’ and came up with the guitar-bass arrangement that’s on the album. That was his swan song, really.”
Not to sound condescending, but there is something goddamn adorable about the idea of Cliff Burton being concerned that his material sounded too much like its primary influence. It’s easy to forget that Burton was still basically a kid when he died, and likely would have struggled with the same creative insecurities of any artist just getting their start. In other words, it’s nice to be reminded that Burton was an amazing musician, but not a deity.
ANYWAY, Ulrich and Hammett then go on to discuss their last-ever show with Cliff, which took place in Stockholm on September 26, 1986:
Ulrich: We’d finished playing all the “odeons” in England, which are these old, 3,000-seat movie theaters and we got to Scandinavia where they were more like ice-hockey holes – smaller, colder, darker. It was a different vibe. We played the show in Stockholm, and it went incredibly well. I think it may have been a rare case where we actually played an additional song that wasn’t on the set list, because the show was so good. That’s not something we did a lot then or now. So there was a good vibe.
Hammett: It was significant because it was the first show where James played guitar again [after hurting his arm in a skateboard accident. He strapped on a guitar and was able to play the encore; I think it was “Blitzkrieg” or something. But I remember the five of us, including [temporary replacement guitarist] John Marshall, being really stoked James was back and playing and looking like was gonna make a pretty healthy recovery. I distinctly remember that show being good, and the feeling when we got offstage was really great and positive and forward-looking. Like, “Great, James is back in and it won’t be long ’til we’re back to our old selves again.” It was that kind of mood after the show and then the accident happened and it literally felt like we were going from a hopeful sort of circumstance to one where we found ourselves in into a deep, black pit.
Ulrich: We did a lot of press that day, and we did a photo shoot for a Swedish magazine called OK, which was almost like a teenybopper magazine. We were sitting on the bus afterwards, talking about how cool it was, and Cliff and I were hanging out, having a beer. It’s a little fuzzy now but it was a good day.
Hammett: I remember right when we were about to leave in the bus, the fans started running towards us. And Cliff said, “Look at them. They look like zombies!” He was way into zombies. We were all just kind of laughing. Then we started playing cards. And we had a long, long drive. And everyone knows the rest of it.