During a career-spanning interview on November 5 at 92Y in New York City, METALLICA drummer Lars Ulrich was asked which songs from the band’s “Black”, “Load” and “Reload” albums late METALLICA bassist Cliff Burton would have liked. “I’ve got an easy answer: all of ’em,” Lars responded. Next [question]! No. Listen, it’s a great question. I appreciate that.
“As I grow older, the one thing that I’m so shitty at is the what-if questions. What if this hadn’t happened? Or what if Cliff was still alive? Or what if the Earth was flat instead of round?” he continued. “It’s, like, okay, what if I was sitting over there and you were sitting over here, then we’d have a completely different conversation.
“I think that there would have been an evolution [if Cliff was still in METALLICA]. And, obviously, I believe very much that it’s the sum of the parts, the band. So if Cliff was still in the band, something else would have happened and those records would have some sort of different feel to them. It’s the same thing as saying, ‘What if Jason Newsted was still around now? What would [METALLICA‘s latest album] ‘Hardwired… [To Self-Destruct]’ sound like?’ You know what I mean? It’s great stuff, but I’m not the guy that can give you definitive answers.
“I think that, like with everything, Cliff was incredibly, incredibly opinionated and was actually quite inspiring to both James [Hetfield, METALLICA frontman] and I, because at that time, it was so much about a gang and a kind of collective, and then Cliff would just go… he would use the word ‘I’ a lot more and we would use the word ‘we,'” Lars said. “And so he was just very, sort of like, what he liked, what he didn’t like. But he also rolled along with and understood that there was a part of METALLICA that…Maybe he liked ‘Orion’ better than he liked something else. Do you know what I mean? I think that’s totally fine. Being in a collective, being in a group, being in a gang, it means you have to compromise. If not, then go be a solo artist.”
Asked what his feelings were after Burton died, Lars said: “I didn’t slow down long enough to feel. We were, at that age, unequipped to deal with that kind of tragedy and that kind of shock. We just jumped deeper into whatever vodka bottle was close and compartmentalized it.”
Ulrich said that he was never scared that METALLICA was going to come to an end after Cliff‘s death “because I think, actually, the way that we dealt with it was that we never made that an option. I don’t think there was ever a conversation that I was part of where we sat and said, ‘What should we do now?'” he explained. “It was more like, ‘How quickly can we get it back on track?’ And we realized very quickly that, at 22 years old, the quicker we got it back on track, the less we would have to deal with it. And it was sort of under the auspice of ‘Cliff would have wanted it that way.’ And I think that, yes, Cliff would have wanted it that way. We may have heard ourselves say that a little too much. But when you’re 22 years old, you don’t know how to deal with this shit.”
In a 2016 interview with TeamRock, Hetfield was asked what he thought Burton might have felt about the drastic changes in METALLICA‘s look and sound that the band made through the 1990s and early 2000s with albums like “Load”, “Reload” and “St. Anger”. Hetfield replied: “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… I would certainly think that the ‘Load’ and ‘Reload’ [era], I would have had an ally that was very against it all — the reinvention or the U2 version of METALLICA.”
Following the “Load”/“Reload” albums and tour, METALLICA went into a tailspin that resulted in the exit of bassist Jason Newsted, Hetfield spending the better part of a year in rehab and the band nearly splitting up.
METALLICA returned to a heavier style more reminiscent of its early albums on 2008’s “Death Magnetic”, while its new disc, “Hardwired… To Self-Destruct”, arrived last November.
On September 27, 1986, Burton lost his life at the age of 24 in a coach crash near Ljungby, Sweden. His huge talent and achievements were chronicled in book form with the 2009 global publication of “To Live Is To Die: The Life And Death Of Metallica’s Cliff Burton”, written by U.K.-based author Joel McIver and published by Jawbone Press. The foreword was provided by METALLICA guitarist Kirk Hammett.