“It’s about how grateful we were to have our time with Cliff”: Watch the only time Metallica have ever played emotional instrumental To Live Is To Die live

Metallica performing live in 2011
(Image credit: Tim Mosenfelder/WireImage)

By the time Metallica got around to making …And Justice For All in 1988, hearing a monstrously long instrumental during the back half of their albums had become an expected tradition. Ride The Lightning closed with the sweeping and Lovecraftian The Call Of Ktulu, then the mid-paced Orion proved a fast standout on Master Of Puppets two years later. But, even though everyone anticipated something similar for the third record in a row, To Live Is To Die hit different.

Justice was the Four Horsemen’s first album without their beloved bassist, Cliff Burton. Aged only 24, the red-haired headbanger died during the band’s 1986 European tour, when their bus fell onto its side and he was tragically crushed underneath. Though the band moved on quickly, hiring replacement bassist Jason Newsted mere weeks later, the loss naturally shattered them, to the point that they used To Live Is To Die as a 10-minute tribute.

Singer/guitarist James Hetfield has called Justice’s penultimate song an “homage to Cliff without going over the top”: “It’s about realising how grateful we were to have that time with him.” The music is built off of a collection of basslines that Burton recorded before his passing, while the spoken-word section was also written by the bassist, adapted from a Paul Gerhardt poem. This unsurprisingly makes the piece an emotional playthrough for the band, meaning they didn’t give it a full public live performance until more than two decades later.

To Live Is To Die’s debut took place during what was already a special occasion. It was December 7, 2011: the second night of a four-night residency at the Fillmore in San Francisco, California, where the band were marking their 30th anniversary. It was a series of shows strewn with guests, from Ozzy Osbourne to King Diamond and even Dave Mustaine.

Reportedly, it was Metallica’s current bassist, Robert Trujillo, who pushed his cohorts to finally unearth To Live Is To Die during the celebrations. That they relented means the mere 1,300-strong crowd at the Fillmore got a bittersweet spectacle. Hetfield, co-guitarist Kirk Hammett and drummer Lars Ulrich clearly feel that emotion during the debut, but they still performed spotlessly. That midsection of solemn, dovetailing guitar harmonies feels particularly heartrending.

13 years later, To Live Is To Die hasn’t been played in its entirety again, and we completely respect why. Any comments asking for this suite to re-enter the Metallica setlist will likely fall on deaf ears, but at least a 2018 YouTube upload has immortalised this sole airing for the rest of time.

Matt Mills
Contributing Editor, Metal Hammer

Louder’s resident Gojira obsessive was still at uni when he joined the team in 2017. Since then, Matt’s become a regular in Prog and Metal Hammer, at his happiest when interviewing the most forward-thinking artists heavy music can muster. He’s got bylines in The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Guitar and many others, too. When he’s not writing, you’ll probably find him skydiving, scuba diving or coasteering.