How Cliff Burton shaped Metallica's expansive thrash assault – and changed the sound of metal bass guitar forever

Cliff Burton and James Hetfield onstage with Metallica
(Image credit: Pete Cronin/Redferns)

“The major rager on the four-string motherfucker”, as the late Cliff Burton was approvingly described during his first gig with Metallica on March 5, 1983, is a revealing phrase. It’s a very California-in-the-’80s thing to call a musician, one part Bill & Ted and one part Spinal Tap, but at the same time it’s completely perfect. 

The “major rager” tag was bestowed on Cliff by Metallica’s then-guitarist Dave Mustaine, something of a rager himself, and it has gone on to represent an era of heavy metal – and specifically, the beginnings of garage-level thrash metal – that still entrances a tribe of metalheads, even those too young to witness it in person. 

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Joel McIver

Joel McIver was the Editor of Bass Player magazine from 2018 to 2022, having spent six years before that editing Bass Guitar magazine. A journalist with 25 years' experience in the music field, he's also the author of 35 books, a couple of bestsellers among them. He regularly appears on podcasts, radio and TV.