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What Would Have Happened If Metallica Bassist Cliff Burton Did Not Die?

Ara is a journalism graduate from California State University, Northridge, who is always looking to explore his writing opportunities.

Clifford Lee "Cliff" Burton


The Circumstances Surrounding Cliff Burton's Death Has Led to A lot of Speculation

One of the most interesting and yet profound questions that some people wonder and keep on asking to this day is what would have happened had Metallica’s bassist Cliff Burton not died so young? What if that bus accident in Sweden never even happened? Would Metallica still have made the famous 1991 black album? Would they have made Load and Re-Load? I have also been pondering this question at least since October 2020 so this is one of those what-if questions that really deserves perspective and analysis.

The First More Than Likely Scenario Would Have Been the Death of Guitarist Kirk Hammett

First of all, let us go all the way back to 1986 to shed light on what would have happened if Cliff Burton didn’t die. The night before his death on September 26, 1986, Cliff Burton and Kirk Hammett were involved in a dispute over sleeping arrangements on the band’s tour bus. Cliff Burton and Kirk Hammett were playing a card game which Cliff Burton ended up winning, He ended up telling Kirk the following: “I want your bunk.” Kirk was reported as saying that he was fine with it and that he would sleep up front because it was probably better anyway. In a date that will live in infamy among Metallica and their fans, the next morning on September 27th the band’s tour bus skidded off the road and Cliff Burton was thrown out of the bus as the bus fell on top of him, killing him instantly. I bring up this part for analysis because it is important to note that based on the events of that night, if Kirk Hammett had won the card game, he would have been the one to have slept in that bunk and then likely he would have been the one that would have died instead of Cliff Burton. In a Behind the Music documentary filmed in 1998, Kirk said that to this day he thinks that it could have been him that could have died and that point is logical. Kirk would have been the member that more than likely would have died as the bus accident in Sweden occurred. Either way, the result would have been very unfortunate.

Jason Newsted Would Not Have Joined Metallica and the Bass Guitar on "...And Justice for All" Would Be Heard

So, having said all of this, here is what would have likely occurred had Cliff Burton lived to see September 28, 1986. Before we go any further here, this is just the best guess and speculation for what might have happened had Cliff Burton survived to experience life past 1986. The first major event that would not have happened is that Jason Newsted would not have joined Metallica at this point in time or at all. Jason Newsted would have likely stayed with the band Flotsam and Jetsam and developed his career with them. Metallica’s 4th studio album …And Justice for All would have been recorded but with a better bass guitar sound in it. The album would have had more melodic parts in it instead of mostly just straight thrash riffs with a solo or two in each song.

A Lengthy Metallica Podcast About Cliff Burton

The Alternate Set of Events If Cliff Burton Didn't Die

Now, in regards to the Black Album in 1991, here is where things get a little tricky. On the one hand, I think that who is to say that this album even gets recorded if Cliff Burton survives? On the other hand, this album was very much a transitional album that fit in well with the times and was approved by record labels. Cliff Burton may have put up some resistance to the direction that Metallica was going in during the 1990s. There is a big possibility that the gap between albums for Metallica would have been shorter if Cliff Burton was still alive. 2003’s St. Anger album definitely would not have happened if Cliff Burton was still alive at that point. The reasons are because St. Anger happened partially because Jason Newsted left the band and James Hetfield was experiencing problems with alcohol addiction. As to whether albums such as Death Magnetic and Hardwired…to Self-Destruct would have been written if Cliff Burton had survived, that is anyone’s guess. There is also a possibility that Cliff Burton would have departed from Metallica in the 1990s to pursue a solo career if he really was unhappy with the direction that Metallica took during the 1990s.

Why Cliff Burton Would Have Made Metallica Even Better

Nonetheless, there is little doubt that had Cliff Burton not died in Sweden back in 1986, he would have made Metallica’s songs much better because of his overall influence, skill, and creativity. He would have been able to eventually retire being one of the greatest bassists of all time. Those of you that are fans of Metallica’s music and Cliff Burton what do you think would have happened had Cliff Burton not died?

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Cliff Burton's Life After 1986

Further Perspective About Cliff Burton

As we dive even further into one of the most intriguing questions asked by rock and heavy metal fans, Metallica guitarist and front man James Hetfield elaborated on what Cliff might have thought about the band’s dramatic change in looks and sound that were a part of the Load, Re-Load, and St. Anger albums. Hetfield in 2016 basically said that he thinks that Cliff would have put up some resistance to this change of direction. Such a sentiment by Hetfield is practical and logical given the fact that Cliff was so into the fast, heavy, and melodic material. Cliff Burton had he lived past 1986 and into this present day, would have become a sort of musical icon or iron man that would have definitely established himself among the heavy metal elite in terms of bass players and the discussion that we would be having is how great of a bassist is Cliff Burton instead of how much greater he could have been.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2021 Ara Vahanian

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