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Why the Death of Cliff Burton Is One of the Biggest Losses for the Genre of Heavy Metal

Updated on August 23, 2019
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Ara is a Journalism graduate from California State University Northridge who is looking to always explore his writing opportunities.

Cliff Burton: February 10, 1962-September 27, 1986


Introduction: the Death of Cliff Burton

One of the most tragic events in the history of heavy metal was the untimely death of former Metallica bassist Cliff Burton. As fans of Metallica know, Cliff Burton was taken from the world far too soon when the tour bus that he was in skidded on an icy road in Sweden. So why is the death of Cliff Burton one of the biggest losses for the genre of heavy metal?

Reasons 1 & 2 For Why Cliff Burton's Death is a Big Loss

  1. His age: this one is obvious but Cliff Burton passed away at the very young age of 24 during the Master of Puppets European tour when he was thrown out of the band’s tour bus as the bus fell on top of him, killing him instantly. There is no telling what Cliff could have accomplished had he lived until the present time. He may have still been with Metallica though that statement is an assumption at best.
  2. His mastery of the bass guitar on the song called Anesthesia.

Motivation to Be a Great Bassist But Never Really Living Long Enough

Here is another reason why Cliff Burton’s death is one of the biggest losses in the heavy metal genre but most likely has not ever been talked about: Burton’s mother Jan said it very simply in an interview on a Metallica fan site when she said: “He said to a couple of people, I’m gonna be the best bassist for my brother,” (Ham, 2018). Cliff was a GREAT bassist but he never lived long enough to be able to showcase his talents to the fullest extent. 24 years of life goes by in the blink of an eye and his death remains one of the biggest losses in heavy metal to this day. Cliff’s older brother Scott died of a brain aneurysm in 1975 when he was just 16. Scott’s death motivated Cliff who was said to have started practicing for hours at a time and that’s how you really master a musical instrument.

Cliff Burton's Bass Guitar Work On Songs Such as Orion or The Call of Ktulu

His performances on songs such as Orion and The Call of Ktulu will always live on in my mind as two of his best musical performances ever. The eerie sounding start to this instrumental plus the progressive acoustic part sets the tone as the heaviness builds and the sound of the bass can be heard and Cliff does the rest. Ham mentions that “Nothing that happened after that, from the megaton success of “The Black Album” to the cringeworthy behavior on display in the documentary Some Kind of Monster would have occurred were it not for Burton’s death. Again: for good and for ill,” (Ham, 2018). Is this really the case? Metallica may have still continued to produce and write thrash metal that they did in the 1980’s had Cliff Burton lived but as was said before, this can be nothing more than speculation.

Hard to listen to Metallica's Early Albums Because of Remembering the Great Talent of Cliff Burton

Cliff Burton’s death sometimes makes it hard even for me to tune into albums such as Kill Em All, Ride the Lightning & Master of Puppets. Life is so precious and the fact that it was taken away from Cliff so soon makes me appreciate life so much more. I will agree though that it is extremely hard to replace a legend such as Cliff Burton. Filling in for Cliff would have been a daunting task for Jason Newsted or Robert Trujillo.


Ham, R. (2018, September 27). 32 Years After His Death, The Legend of Metallica’s Cliff Burton Lives On. Retrieved January 27, 2019, from Consequence of Sound:

"The Call of Ktulu"

© 2019 Ara Vahanian


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