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Metallica: The First Four Albums – “Orion”

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Four years ago, I posted a mixtape of covers of “Orion”. Since then, I’ve come across a handful more; people will keep churning them out until the end of time. Not only is “Orion” manageable to play, it’s also an instrumental. Thus, it’s easy for people to find ways into it. (My “Orion” is a long, bittersweet story of high school love.) If you cover “Battery”, unless you reimagine it with a different feel and instrumentation, you’ll stand in the shadow of the original. “Orion” casts a long shadow, too, but you can rub shoulders with it.

That’s no small deal. Rubbing shoulders with “Orion” is really rubbing shoulders with Cliff Burton. In this interview, Burton biographer Joel McIver said, “To me, Cliff is responsible for bringing outside influences to thrash metal for the first time, leading to the rise of prog-metal and a higher status for bass players”. Bringing in outside influences means bringing in outside people. You don’t see the full gamut of musicians, from flamenco to orchestral to 8-bit to trance, tackling other Metallica songs so avidly. “Orion” isn’t just metal – it’s very universal music.

I haven’t talked about Cliff Burton much, mostly because he died so young, without the “opportunity” to catch our attention with extra-musical distractions. We know he was Metallica’s musical brains and metal conscience; we know he was an amazing bassist, a cool cat, and a good kid. (In his last interview, he revealed that he was still living with his parents.) But we don’t know much more (those of us who haven’t read McIver’s book, anyway). Burton’s legacy is a pure one. I still listen to his bass solos in “Orion” (at 1:42 and 6:35) with utter wonder. They’re Lemmy’s distorted Rickenbacker with higher education.

And that waltz of a bass line! It comes to me often and helps ground me. In a roiling sea of an album, it’s an island of calm. With its length and complexity, “Orion” offers many angles of appeal, but I think that center section is what draws people to the song. That’s where Burton’s fingers speak most eloquently evermore.

— Cosmo Lee

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“Leper Messiah”
“Disposable Heroes”
“Welcome Home (Sanitarium)”
“The Thing That Should Not Be”
“Master of Puppets”
“The Call of Ktulu”
“Creeping Death”
“Trapped Under Ice”
“Fade to Black”
“For Whom the Bell Tolls”
“Ride the Lightning”
“Fight Fire With Fire”
“Metal Militia”
“Seek & Destroy”
“No Remorse”
“Phantom Lord”
“(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth”
“Jump in the Fire”
“The Four Horsemen”
“Hit the Lights”

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