To Live is to Die – Cliff Burton Remembered

Sometimes musicians are just too damn good for the Earth to safely contain the hefty magnitude of their greatness, and thus they must be taken from us abruptly and before their time. Such was the case with original Metallica bassist Cliff Burton, who died 26 years ago yesterday (September 27th), following a fateful swapping of tour bus beds with lead guitarist Kirk Hammett, which resulted in the bassist being crushed.

Speaking to Revolver earlier this year for their ‘fallen heroes’ issue, drummer Lars Ulrich spoke of Burton’s influence on the music of the band:

It was definitely his music, and his attitude, and his approach towards life that really inspired me and James to broaden our horizons, broaden Metallica’s horizons musically. So when I think of Cliff, that’s what I think…variety and unpredictability, you know.

Indeed, the best way to honour fallen heroes is to observe their accomplishments, and while Metallica have taken to their Facebook page to offer remembrance in the form of a free, classic concert download from the 1984 Ride the Lightning tour, I have taken it upon myself to form a list of my personal favourite Cliff Burton songs.

5. For Whom the Bell Tolls

That intro. That ball-droppingly incredible into. Having listened to the studio version, you could be forgiven for thinking that the sound actually belonged to Hammett’s lead, but you’d be wrong. Proving himself a master of unconventional techniques, Burton and his distorted bass manage to bring the fist of Zeus to pound on our imploring eardrums.

4. (Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth

Yes, a bass solo is an obvious choice for any Cliff Burton ‘best of’, and yes, the simple words ‘bass solo’ may be enough to make some people skip ahead to the next track. Nonetheless, in this showing of skill from Metallica’s first outing Kill ‘Em All, Burton, an inhuman mass of hair and torn jeans, reminds us all of the true capabilities of his instrument in the hands of a master. The bass need not peddle to the needs of other, louder sounds, or be confined to simply keeping rhythm – it can itself steal the show.

3. To Live is to Die

Though he was two years gone prior to the release of …And Justice For All, Burton and his monstrous bass lived on with this composition, the band remembering him not only through sentiment, but the music itself – which features riffs written by the bassist before his passing. And you know you have achieved something when your memory sounds like Godzilla stomping around a city, stopping to weep briefly, and then resuming to destroy.

2. The Call of Ktulu

It takes a twisted genius to capture the essence of author H.P. Lovecraft’s brand of cosmic horror with music, but Burton, wah pedal underfoot, somehow managed it with this epic number. In no short accomplishment, the bassist succeeds in summoning the octopus-faced demon from the depths that is Cthulu, and then proceeds to kick his arse, all in the same song. It truly is hard to believe that something as trivial as a bus crash could stop the man.

1. Orion

Drawing on his classical training and interest in prog rock, Orion is a demonstration of everything that Cliff Burton gave to Metallica, forming a true instrumental masterpiece, by all accounts. Orion cements Burton’s reputation as not just a bassist, but an expert composer – and one who drove Metallica to be more than a simple thrash metal band.

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About Josh Gripton

Josh is an English student currently studying English Literature with Creative Writing at University in the UK. When he's not wasting time acquiring the grappling beam in Super Metroid, you'll find him being far more productive - listening to Black Sabbath and reading comics. He hopes his work at The Silver Tongue will help him get his writing out to the public and professional world, heaven forbid.