Scott Ian, Anthrax’s rhythm guitar player and the only constant member since the band’s foundation, looked back on the early 1980s and getting the chance to hear Metallica play for the first time. In a Q&A session at this year’s Steel City Con, the legendary thrash metal musician remembered this early version of Metallica which featured Dave Mustaine on lead guitar and Cliff Burton on the bass.
When asked whether he remembers any stories about Cliff Burton, Ian then recalled meeting Metallica for the first time and getting the chance to hear them play. He offered (transcribed by Killer Guitar Rigs):
“Yeah, I was talking to someone the other day… It wasn’t an interview, I can’t remember who I was talking to, but they had asked me something, and somehow it ended up related to when I first met those dudes — Metallica — and they were rehearsing in the same building with us in Queens.”
Although Scott didn’t specify, we can assume that this was either in late 1982 or the first half of 1983. They obviously still didn’t get down to recording their first debut record, since it was Kirk Hammett who replaced Mustaine, and they were already playing with Cliff who replaced Ron McGovney in late 1982.
Recalling this historic occasion, Scott continued, explaining what Metallica did to properly rehearse:
“They had a room upstairs, and I remember the second night they had gotten there. They set up in their rehearsal room, and they set up differently than any band I had ever seen in a rehearsal room.”
“Like the way we set up or any other band I saw, you’d set up a backline, like you were playing a show, so if you were on the stage, it would all be on the wall — here’s the kit and the amps, and everything is facing you guys.”
“But in their rehearsal room, they set up with everything in a circle facing in, and they stood inside the circle playing. I was like, ‘Wow, that’s weird. I’ve never seen anything like that.'”
“And I’m sitting in the room in this little circle — me and Dan Lilker [ex-Anthrax bassist], we’re sitting there, and I think Charlie [Benante, Anthrax drummer] might have been there that night — and they start jamming.”
Although based in the West Coast, for whatever reason, Metallica was practicing in Queens, New York, which was Anthrax’s turf, so to speak. But they both were impressed nonetheless. Since this was around the time when Dave Mustaine was still in the band, Ian recalled what it was like:
“This is when Mustaine was still in the band, and they started playing the songs that were going to be on ‘Kill ‘Em All’. The energy was just insane, I had never heard songs like that and a band that tight.”
Of course, apart from Mustaine, Cliff Burton was also there. And remembering how the whole thing went, Ian pointed out how incredibly impressive Cliff’s performance was:
“And there’s Cliff [Burton] banging his head like he’s playing for 10,000 people in an arena, and it’s just them and three of us sitting on the floor drinking beer. And he was going for it like it was the last show he was ever going to play or something.”
Going more into how impressive Cliff was, Ian added:
“I was like, ‘God, this guy is a fucking maniac. It’s just a rehearsal, dude’, but he couldn’t help himself, it’s just who he was. He felt it that strong and that deep, and the music moved him that way that it didn’t matter. If he’s playing his bass, that’s what was going to happen. And I just thought it was one of the coolest things I had ever seen.”
Of course, not that long after this occasion, Metallica would part ways with Dave Mustaine and hire Kirk Hammett who was then playing with Exodus. Their debut record “Kill ‘Em All” would come out in July 1983 and they’d embark on their journey on becoming the biggest metal band in history.
Unfortunately, Metallica suffered a tragedy in 1986 when their tour bus crashed in Sweden, resulting in Cliff Burton’s death. He was only 24 years old at the time.
With three incredibly successful albums behind Metallica at that point, including “Master of Puppets,” Cliff Burton’s legacy is still as relevant as ever. In an interview from earlier this year, Metallica’s Kirk Hammett recalled Cliff’s contributions to the band and how crucial they were. He offered:
“Cliff’s contribution to ‘Master of Puppets’ was very melodic and very musical. His contribution wasn’t so much the big heavy riffs. It was all melody bass, and it was a lot of really, really cool stuff. When Cliff went it was the end of an era, and we all knew it. We knew it.”
“A lot of the music from that time now sounds samey and similar. But there’s really nothing on ‘Master of Puppets’ that dates it to any particular period — sound-wise, production-wise, recording-wise. ‘Master of Puppets’ is my favorite of all the albums we’ve ever done.”