“I didn’t realise how much I missed Cliff until I went into rehab”: When Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson interviewed Metallica’s James Hetfield about Some Kind Of Monster and the death of Cliff Burton

Photos of Bruce Dickinson and James Hetfield
(Image credit: Bruce Dickinson: Gareth Cattermole (Getty) / James Hetfield: Gie Knaeps (Getty))

Back in September 2008, Metallica were promoting their ninth album Death Magnetic and doing all the necessary press that came with it. Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson happened to have a radio show on 6 Music in the UK at the time. So, the planets aligned for a meeting of two heavy metal titans, and the Air-Raid Siren sat down with frontman James Hetfield for a candid interview.

The chat (audio of which can be heard below) instantly got heavy: Bruce’s first question for James was about how the death of Metallica’s second bassist, Cliff Burton, in a 1986 bus crash affected the singer/guitarist.

“You don’t really realise how fortunate you are to be with certain people until they’re gone,” James answered. “That’s how it was with [Cliff]. Him and I worked pretty good together onstage. I didn’t really realise how much I missed him until I went into rehab [in 2001] and was dealing with a lot of the loss in my life: my father, my mother and Cliff, as well. A lot came out.”

Papa Het then admitted to Metallica “hazing” Cliff’s replacement, Jason Newsted, when he joined later in 1986. “When Jason joined the band, it was on the heels of grief. We hadn’t been able to grieve the loss of Cliff: management’s theory was, ‘Go on the road, work it out through the stage, through metal!’”

He added: “[Jason] was a big fan of Metallica and that was one of the big parts of his hazing: we were trying to beat the fan out of him. We were probably being a little hard and took a lot of our grief out on him, as well.”

Bruce also asked James about Metallica’s controversial 2004 film Some Kind Of Monster. The documentary showed with brutal honesty what life inside Metallica was like while making 2003’s St Anger album, during which time Jason left the band and James entered rehab.

“[We were] being maybe a little more honest than need be,” James reflected. “[We went] from ‘The mighty Metallica! Unbroken!’ to, ‘Oh my god, James slammed a door and now he’s weeping in the corner in the foetal position,’ you know? There are certain personalities who cannot accept that.

“That movie was not for Metallica fans,” James continued. “It was a human story, but exposing the weaknesses has made us stronger. We learned a lot about each other through the movie.”

Listen to the full interview below:

Matt Mills

Louder’s resident Cult Of Luna 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.