Everybody has to start somewhere, even the greats. For Metallica bassist Cliff Burton, it was in a bunch of bands around the Bay Area in Northern California, among them EZ Street, Agents Of Misfortune and Vicious Hatred, frequently alongside school friend and future Faith No More guitarist Jim Martin.
In 1981, the pair’s group Agents Of Misfortune played a Battle Of The Bands contest at the Hayward Area Recreation Department in Hayward, California. Our buddies over at Guitar World have uncovered footage of their short set – which is notable for featuring an early version of the opening bass riff to future Metallica classic For Whom The Bell Tolls.
The 12-minute clip starts with a interview with the band. “Listening to you guys, I’d say you have a real heavy, heavy metal sound,” says the interviewer perceptively, before Burton, Martin and drummer Dave Donato reel off their influences (“Rush, Pink Floyd, Velvet Underground… maybe a little Black Sabbath’). then reveal their ambition to “show people what’s on the other side of the fence.”
But it’s the live footage that’s the gold. While Agents Of Misfortune’s jarring. psychedelic-edged noise is a world away from either Metallica or FNM, Cliff – who would have been just 18 or 19 at the time – is instantly recognisable both visually (bell-bottomed jeans, flailing hair) and sonically (he was using the bass as a lead instrument even then).
But the kicker comes at 11:27 in the video below. That‘s when Cliff drops the riff that would eventually reappear as the intro to Metallica’s For Whom The Bell Tolls, from 1984’s Ride The Lightning album. That’s right - the seeds of one of the greatest metal songs of the 80s were sown three years earlier in a long-forgotten hall in a Bay Area suburb.
We all know what happened next: Cliff would eventually split for another band Trauma, and then sign up for Metallica in 1982, replacing original bassist Ron McGovney before losing his life in a bus crash in September 1986, while Jim Martin would find his way into Faith No More and forge his own successful career. It was all a long way from that Battle Of The Bands.