They say there is not much more you can say about Cliff Burton that hasn’t already been said, to that I say bull****, actually there is so much you can say about Cliff that you sometimes are at a loss to explain him with the justice any explanation of an icon deserves. He is timeless, he is without peer in Thrash, and his influence is immeasurable. Hyperbole? No. Truth.
Describing what he did in words is not really possible.
Because Cliff was as much about feel than he was about notes and words, and to properly describe what a piece of music makes one feel is almost impossible.
Music is guttural, it is instinctive, it is deeply ingrained in the soul, and those things are hard to describe. Listening to Metallica live for the first time, with Cliff, in Tucson AZ in 1986 is the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to describe in my life. The raw power, the stop on a dime precision, and the visual impact of four kids banging their heads while the most accomplished music I had ever heard was a LITERAL blow to my musical soul. It literally changed my artistic life forever at the young age of 14.
And that’s what I mean by his influence being immeasurable. The influence of one man, that influenced his bandmates, that changed the musical world CANNOT be properly measured, nor can it even be properly analyzed, because everything we do will not do it justice. We can only try.
Pre-Burton Metallica was a raw, speed oriented tight machine of Thrash expression. Yes, they were good, some even say great, but then Cliff entered the picture and it all changed.
Post-Burton Metallica became the Beethoven of Thrash Metal, they completely changed WITHOUT losing that venomous raw edge where their dense, bottom heavy power came from. No, they built on top of it and created the masterpiece Ride The Lightning. This was the first album that Cliff had serious input on, and where he doesn’t receive song credits its still clear that he changed the whole way James/Lars/Kirk composed their music. It became bigger, more emotional, tighter, progressive, majestic, ambitious, and…well, you get the picture. Their compositional abilities EXPLODED and Metal was never the same afterwards.
Just a little over two years after the release of Ride The Lightning we lost Metallica’s shining light – Clifford Lee Burton.
After the death of Cliff Burton Metallica was never the same, and though they would go on to release their final masterpiece, And Justice For All, hindsight proved that they running on the last fumes of Cliff’s immense influence on them. After Justice it all changed. And that’s why I consider the death of Cliff Burton to also be the death of Metallica.
Hindsight, it’s a funny thing because it reveals truths we missed when an event first occurred, and the passing of Cliff is no different. When he died Metalheads were shocked, and the loss was impactful, but at the time it didn’t feel like we lost the true icon we did and that’s because most of us didn’t understand the Earth-shaking impact that he had. It all went so fast. In about three short years Cliff Burton changed it all in Metal, and at the time we kinda missed it. In time, as I learned and studied Metallica’s music of that era I began to understand the loss, and as time went by it shocked me how many fans did not know how he truly changed the game. All I can say is thank God for the internet, because it as been through this communication medium that Cliff’s legend has grown to where it is now, among the Metal icons of all time.
God bless Clifford Lee Burton,
May your soul rest in peace my friend, we will ALL see you on the other side. Save a bowl for me bro.
— Carlos Castro
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