Category Archives: lightning bolt

Cliff ‘Em All

Photo of Cliff BURTON and METALLICA

The good  thing about mp3 blogs in the post-mp3 blogging world of social networking is that we’re righteously relieved of having to comment on every fart and gurgle in the microcosmos. In the old days, blogs ran rings around the traditional media outlets, who struggled to adapt to this new mediascape, where the briefest sea changes in scene culture would be disseminated, deconstructed, and dismissed months ahead of acknowledgement in even the coolest end of the music press – but these days it’s futile to try and out-run the ‘have you heard?’-hungry Twittermachine, This Is My Jam, and Tumblr. Instead, we can kick back, have a long, good think, and actually blog whatever the hell we like without worrying about being ahead of the hunting pack.

So, I’m sorry, but this blog is not about David Bowie.

It’s great that he isn’t dead and all, and that new song certainly isn’t terrible, it’s just hard for me to get excited about that nice old dude when thanks to the perpetual  NOW generated by web 3.0 where we’ve lost all sense of history, it basically means that as well as Bowie being not dead – and indeed, never will be dead – it means that fucken CLIFF BURTON is still alive. He’s there, I can see him, inside my computer. He’s in our heads.

Over New Year I finally managed to track down Cliff ‘Em All, the 1987 collection of scrappy home videos Metallica released in tribute to their recently-slain bassist. It was out of print when I was a Metallica fan the first time around, but can be viewed by anybody now on YouTube.

I was obsessed with Cliff Burton as a youngster. Even by the period of the (very) guilty pleasure that is the Metallica album (or “the black album”) when I first became aware of thrash’s reigning royalty, Burton had acquired a semi-mythical status.

He played bass on Metallica’s classic first three LPs – Kill ‘Em All, Ride The Lightning, and Master of Puppets – records they would never again come close to equalling, but more than that, Cliff seemed to represent a spirit of the young group that fans mourned as Lars and James got older, richer, and, well, cuntier.

cliff-burton-in-kerrang (1)

Burton was not a typical thrasher. He was a mellow San Franciscan stoner, who stood out against the nuclear war-obsessed BC Rich shredders in his bell-bottom flares, thunking away on a huge Rickenbacker bass (a Rickenbacker! Totally not pointy!) with his fingers (his fingers! Like a jazzer!!). In a genre which is almost solely about guitars, where bass is entombed at sub-audible levels in the mix (check …And Justice For All for proof), Cliff was weird, burbling funk underneath the straight vectors and sheet metal of Hetfield and Hammett/Mustaine’s riffing. Yes! God, it was FUNKY. It really was.

He died in 1986 when the band’s tour bus hit a patch of black ice, skidding on its side. Cliff was sleeping next to the window and was thrown underneath the bus and crushed. Eerily, moments earlier he’d swapped his bunk with Ulrich’s.

After Cliff’s death, there was little evidence in Metallica of the gang of fun-loving drunks that are blearily raging their way through Cliff ‘Em All almost like they didn’t actually realise yet that  they were already one of the greatest groups in the world. Instead they came back with a new bass player, a management-styled black-clad image, a shrewd business sense, and a slightly dead look in the eyes.

Burton was hired by Ulrich and Hetfield after they saw the guitarist in the San Franciscan metal band Trauma do a shredding, psychedelic mid-set solo slot that blew their minds. And then they realised the guitar only had four strings… and was a bass. That always semi-improvised bass solo later became known as Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth) and is the most ass-kicking moment on Kill ‘Em All, a record consisting of exactly 3075 ass-kicking moments.

Here he is, with a teenage Dane clattering away enthusiastically on drums behind him:

Cliff Burton – Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth)

When I first heard Lightning Bolt I was simultaneously overjoyed that somebody had basically made Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth) into a band, and also a little disappointed. If Cliff Burton were still alive, what awesome musics would he be making in a world where Lightning Bolts exist?

Here’s the main track from Lightning Bolt’s 1999 cassette debut:

Lightning Bolt – Zone

Whether Lightning Bolt had intended to sound like Burton + Ulrich x 1000, who knows. Certainly avant-rock’s other great duo of this time had been taking notes, though. On Sunn O)))’s 2002 album Flight of The Behemoth was this monster:

Sunn O))) – FWTBT (I Dream of Lars Ulrich Being Thrown Through the Bus Window Instead of My Mystikal Master Kliff Burton)

Not many clocked initially that this was in fact a diplodocus-paced cover of Metallica’s For Whom The Bell Tolls – a song featuring a prominent Burton bass groove. At some points in Sunn’s recording, you can almost hear the ghost of Anesthesia lashing around inside those slow, world-turning guitars, trying to break out, through, back.

At Cliff’s funeral, the beautiful bass harmony section of Orion – the Master of Puppets instrumental – was played. It’s still a mesmerising piece of music.

Metallica – Orion

Yeah, I know. David Bowie isn’t dead and Cliff Burton is, and it isn’t even an anniversary or anything.

I just had to tell someone.

This is how we roll

Where a nefarious fever unleashes upon your humble scribe a wicked storm of memories powerful like vampire sirens, they bite, but their bite is sweet, they sing, and their song is wistful.

And what is the story that they utter?

One of sweaty bedrooms where some kids fight for the fate of the universe against overwhelming forces, armed with but a handful of dice, paper and pencil, from dawn til dusk. Yes, role-playing games, the last refuge of the imaginative and shy teenager who, rejected by a world where success and acceptance are monopolised by those who are big and mighty and good at kicking the ball, where action and consequence seem to be utterly and confusingly disconnected, suddenly finds a portal for becoming whatever he wants and making a difference through sword, sorcery or lethal blaster.

This is the definitive moment when disbelief is suspended, look at a form covered in numbers, that’s you, look at a reticle in the floor where a bunch of citadel figures lay scattered, behind and between plastecine blobs that simulate furniture and landscape, that’s the world, look at that chubby and spotted fellow staring at you from behind his cardboard screen, that’s God, sometimes cruel, sometimes benevolent. All of which will eventually become useful skills.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, stay in the past which is what matters today, because somehow, off the mixture of these odd trinkets something amazing emerges, battles are fought and friendships forged, stories unfold, new universes explored. Astonishing shit, I tell you, but also requiring all that time that starts becoming scarce as one grows up. I haven’t played RPGs for ages, and I miss it. I used to be a dungeon master, and a guardian, I used to craft and rule over worlds, now I have to live in but one, and one which can be quite boring while we are at that. So I feel thankful whenever I stumble upon music which is epic and fierce and demented, progressive and mindblowing, music which simmers with that old time magick that my friends and I used to get wasted on before we even tried alcohol or psychedelics. This is it and this is what we are about. Now roll those dice.


The new Lightning Bolt album does what it says in the box: imagine all the best things in life according to the private diaries of a Greek deity- slaughter of foes and kin alike, throwing rays around like there was no tomorrow, reconfiguring clouds into horrible grimaces with which to inspire fearful prophecies amongst the oracles, the shattering of temples’ pillars with but a handclap, gobbling wine and fighting hand to hand with tigers and lions. Fixing up Aries’ spears down at the ironsmiths while listening to Slayer and Hawkwind, chaos unleashed and unspeakable orgies.
That’s the life kids, and that’s what Earthly Delights sounds like: 360 degrees onslaught in infinite intersecting planes of pure vicious ravishing sound, a bit like one of those killer spheres in phantasmagoria if only they were covered on Peyote slime. Impaled again, such capers.

Lightning Bolt-Funny Farm


It’s a shame I didn’t know much krautrock in those role-playing days, because I could hardly think of more suitable music to skate across the avenues of mind-bending fantasy, science fiction speculation and maddening crawling chaos which used to be my bread and butter then.

Krautrock is the sound of an adventurous spirit expanding like a 3D fractal virus across virgin taigas begging, in their silence, to be populated by the products of a hallucinated imagination. Against the eternal return of pop music, with its choruses and bridges, Krautrock represents the hero’s journey, forever forwards towards the big eye in the sky whose iris marks the end of this world and a precipice into the beyond, a falling which is floating.

In HyBoLT, his latest 12’, Von Spar gives us krautrock and then some, metronomic trip in a silver chariot pulled by a mechanic Pegasus of slender grace, over awe-inspiring dreamscapes, idyllic villages and vast garrisons, menacing crystal castles configured in impossible angles from whose minarets loom devious sorcerers made of brimstone and shadow. It really sounds like the soundtrack for some 70s animation film produced by brainfried hippies, or a video game which we just about have the technology, but not the attitude to deliver.

Von Spar- HyBoLT


How many times must have I described how it feels to slide under the massive arches of an exotic citadel, the wonder of a bazaar where a thousand wares lie displayed for demanding adventurers to inspect, words from a thousand dialects fence in bargaining followed by the tinkling of a thousand currencies stamped on the same gold they all chase, white-robed penitents march under the angry gaze of sneaky pickpockets very aware of suspicious guards in iron breastplates at the feet of marble towers at whose top lounge damsels covered in silk who long with misty eyes for the opportunity to slide under those arches alone, bereft of vassals, bodyguards and assorted minions, free and outside into the plains.

I could have done a better job if I had read Samuel R. Delany, Fritz Leiber or Italo Calvino, or if I had put into the stereo the rather astonishing ‘Zetland’ by Prince Rama Of Ayodhya. Particularly Gold Dawn, which sounds like an intoxicating melange of Magma, Gang Gang Dance, Fremen country music and Neveryon gospel.  It is prog as fuck, and in the best possible way, unhinged, whirling beautiful music which soars like layers of fabric covering the bodies of the Gods as they dance beyond the blue veil of the sky, shedding them one after another, each of them becoming a different season.

Prince Rama Of Ayodhya- Golden Dawn


Go to IGETRVNG and buy the first FRWWYS. Or even better, subscribe to the whole series. Check out the video of Excepter remixed by Carter Tutti. w00T!