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Metallica's Lars Ulrich: What Cliff Burton Taught Us as Musicians

(Image credit: Pete Cronin/Getty Images)

Talk Is Jericho recently checked in with Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich.

During the interview, Ulrich touched upon the late Cliff Burton’s musical contributions to the band, elaborating on exactly what the bassist brought to the band in their early days.

"If you listen to the difference between Kill 'Em All and Ride the Lightning, obviously there was this huge … the pallet was expanded," Ulrich said.

"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."

Damian Fanelli

Damian is editor-in-chief of Guitar World magazine. From 1998 to 2014, he was one third of Mister Neutron, an instrumental rock act that toured the universe and elsewhere and released three albums via Austin-based Deep Eddy Records. These days he performs with several New York City-area bands and can often be spotted with one of his many, many, many B-bender-equipped guitars. In past lives he was GW’s managing editor and online managing editor – and he still can’t believe he got to write the liner notes for the latest SRV box set.