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Metallica - "To Live Is To Die: The Life and Death of Metallica's Cliff Burton" (Book)

Metallica - "To Live Is To Die: The Life and Death of Metallica's Cliff Burton" Book cover image

Reviewed by on July 23, 2009

"If there is one theme throughout this book it is Cliff Burton’s motivation and how he used this to live his life to the fullest and push Metallica to be the very best."

Cliff Burton, the original bass player for Metallica, is the subject for Joel McIver’s biography, “To Live Is To Die.” After an intro by Kirk Hammett, this book takes quotes and recollections from the people in Burton’s life. The book tells the story of Cliff Burton starting with his childhood; then through his days with Metallica, before his untimely death.

Cliff Burton and his death are now often a side note, especially with those who began listening once the band broke into the MTV market. The book did a good job detailing Cliff's days before he joined Metallica, with his musical training, the pre-mature death of his older brother, and the support from his family. The book also touches on his bands prior to Metallica, Easy Street and Trauma. McIver details all of the tracks that Cliff played, with particular detail to the bass lines from their first album “Kill 'Em All” through “Master of Puppets.”

Prior to the release of their first album, “Kill ‘Em All,” Metallica was a state of flux, not sure of whom they wanted to become. It was the inspiration and motivation of Burton that would keep the band focused on writing and creating new material, instead of staying drunk and playing mostly covers. It was the first album where Burton would establish his fierce bass line and unique techniques in songs “Hit The Lights,” “The Four Horsemen,” and “Anesthesia.” With Burton’s influence through song writing and having the band open up to classical music (as well as listening to The Misfits), Metallica moved forward and created their follow-up album “Ride The Lightning.” On this album Burton gives two of his greatest performances on the tracks “For Whom The Bell Tolls” and “Creeping Death.” The band (and Burton’s) true masterpiece would come next. “Master of Puppets” is still today regarded as one of the greatest heavy/thrash albums of all time. McIver details the writing process (both lyrics and musically) and again the influence Burton played in the band releasing one of the epic albums of their genre.

On September 27, 1986 the band was out promoting their “Master of Puppets” album with a world tour. It was a Saturday morning, the band asleep in their tour bus when the bus skidded off the road and flipped onto its side. Cliff Burton died from the crash. The author covers the range of speculation (black ice vs. flat tire vs. driver error), but we are left with few answers.

At times there isn’t a lot of substance to what is being read, being that Cliff didn't do many interviews, leading to a lack of material to pull from. The one exception to this is the memories and thoughts on Burton from Cliff's girlfriend at the time of his death, Corinne Lynn. The book ends with Corinne reminiscing on Cliff's life, shedding more insight on Cliff Burton the person, reminding us what a truly talented individual he was and why he is missed today.

If there is one theme throughout this book it is Cliff Burton’s motivation and how he used this to live his life to the fullest and push Metallica to be the very best. Pulling from his childhood and then unleashing on the world in the eighties, Burton was a force stopped too early.

Highs: Recount from Corinne Lynn, Cliff’s girlfriend.

Lows: Lack of overall material, author relies on detailing bass tracks (only interesting to bass players).

Bottom line: Must read for any serious Metallica fan as well as both aspiring and established rock bass players.

Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls
3.5 out of 5 skulls


Key
Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)