Why Metallica Bullied Their Bass Player Jason Newsted

Why Metallica Bullied Their Bass Player Jason Newsted | I Love Classic Rock Videos

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The rumors have echoed for decades: Jason Newsted, Metallica’s former bassist, wasn’t exactly treated with respect by his bandmates.

These whispers reached a deafening roar when Newsted left the legendary thrash metal group in 2001. Even Metallica themselves, frontman James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich, have acknowledged their less-than-stellar treatment of Newsted.

However, Metallica fans have always held a special place in their hearts for the bassist. This love for Newsted has seen a resurgence in recent years, even sparking discussions about the alleged bullying.

Below is a short clip from a podcast episode where popular TV personality Steve-O, along with fellow Metallica fan and Slipknot frontman Corey Taylor, dove into the reasons behind this dark chapter in Metallica’s history.

Cliff Burton’s Legacy and Jason Newsted’s Arrival in Metallica

Corey Taylor and Steve-O dug into the tragic story of Cliff Burton’s death on Metallica’s tour Ozzy Osbourne. A bus accident in Scandinavia claimed Burton’s life, while other band members escaped serious injuries.

The conversation highlighted the eeriness surrounding the accident, with details like Cliff drawing the “winning” straw for bunk selection and ultimately switching with guitarist Kirk Hammett. This tragic event left a massive void in Metallica and created a powerful legacy for Burton, even with a memorial site dedicated to him.

Following the discussion of Burton’s passing, the conversation shifts to Jason Newsted. Taylor explained how Newsted, a die-hard Metallica fan and bassist for Flotsam and Jetsam, landed the coveted spot in the legendary band.

“And he’s a massive Metallica fan,” Taylor added, adding that the legendary Les Claypool from Primus also tried auditioning for the vacant spot.

Newsted’s Muted Work in His Debut Studio Album

With #8 leading Metallica History 101, the discussion shifted to the curious case of …And Justice for All, Metallica’s album with a noticeably absent bass presence. He described their previous project as a raw, punk-influenced recording, which seemingly set the stage for a different direction with …And Justice for All.

However, the final product left many feeling a void where the bass usually thrived. Fan-made versions with boosted bass, even jokingly titled “And Justice for Jason,” were even uploaded to highlight this blatant omission.

Taylor noted, “I mean, it’s such a two-track mix that you’re listening to it going, ‘What the fuck is going on here?’.” This led the rocker to explore the theory that the album may have been a subconscious reaction to Cliff’s death.

He connected this theory to the alleged bullying Newsted reportedly endured within the band. Taylor suggested this treatment stemmed from the band’s young age and inability to properly deal with grief after Cliff’s passing. “They didn’t know how to process grief. Nobody helped them process it. So what they did was they took it out on the new guy,” he surmised.

Taking Responsibility And Admitting Their Mistakes

The conversation shifted toward a more positive light. Steve-O and Taylor acknowledged that Hetfield and Ulrich have recently taken responsibility for their mistreatment of Jason Newsted.

Corey emphasized the significance of such actions. He highlights the rarity of people openly admitting their mistakes, which is a point many wish weren’t true. Ideally, owning up to one’s actions, both good and bad, would be the norm. Owning responsibility, Corey argues, could lead to a greater sense of human connection and understanding.

“If more people would own everything they do, not just the good shit, but the bad, man, you would just, I think there would be more of an embracing of humanity as a whole,” the Slipknot frontman explained.

Steve O backed this up with a real-world example. He praised Bill Clinton’s post-presidential acknowledgment of his failure to intervene in the Rwandan genocide. This act, Steve-O argued, carried significant meaning as it demonstrated taking responsibility on a global stage.

The Complex Relationship Between Jason And His Former Bandmates

During the podcast, co-host Scott Randolph’s question cut to the core: why target the new bassist, Jason Newsted? Taylor offers a complex answer rooted in unresolved grief.

He suggested that Metallica, still grappling with Cliff Burton’s death, lacked healthy coping mechanisms. This emotional turmoil, coupled with Jason’s enthusiastic fan status, created a volatile mix. Steve-O threw in Mötley Crüe as an analogy, highlighting the clash between Corabi’s excitement and the  Crüe’s need for a hardened collaborator.

“One of the reasons why Robert [Trujillo] works is because Robert was Robert for years, you know? He’s a fan, but he also knows how to hold his own. Whereas Jason came in and was just, you know, like, you fucking grew up listening to Metallica, you know?” Taylor explained.

Jason’s hero worship, according to Corey, fueled negativity within the band already burdened by grief and potentially fueled by alcohol. He suggested this negativity found an outlet in Jason, who, with his optimistic outlook, became an easy target for their emotional turmoil. This, Corey argued, is a tragically human reaction to a complex emotional situation.

The Dry Mixing Behind …And Justice for All

Despite critical acclaim for its depth and complexity, ...And Justice for All raised eyebrows for its curiously dry mix and near-silent bass guitar. The blame for this unconventional sound fell on the shoulders of the mixing engineers, Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero.

The band’s original producer, Flemming Rasmussen, envisioned a sound similar to previous Metallica albums. However, Rasmussen wasn’t present during mixing, and it’s believed Thompson and Barbiero used only close microphones, neglecting the room mics that contribute to a more ambient sound. This resulted in the “clicking” and thin drum sound that critics noted.

Adding to the sonic oddity was the near-inaudible bass. According to Rasmussen and others, this was a deliberate choice made by Hetfield and Ulrich. While the reasoning remains unclear, Hetfield later offered an explanation.

He claimed Newsted’s basslines often mirrored his rhythm guitar, causing indistinguishable instrument sounds. Additionally, the low frequencies of the bass clashed with his own “scooped” guitar tone.

Moving On From Metallica

Despite leaving his dream band, Jason Newsted has never looked back. In a 2009 interview, he clearly stated there were no regrets. He saw it as the best decision for everyone involved, and he’s never entertained the idea of returning.

While the documentary Metallica: Some Kind of Monster hinted at a possible reunion, it hasn’t materialized beyond his guest appearance during the 30th-anniversary shows. Interestingly, reports suggest he maintains cordial relationships with Ulrich, Trujillo, and Hammett.

The recent explanation for the buried bass on ...And Justice for All offered by Hetfield and Ulrich is an unexpected one. They claim their decision wasn’t meant to diminish Newsted, but rather a consequence of hearing damage from years of touring. They described essentially turning up everything else until the bass faded into the background.

Notably, they decided against altering the mix for the 2018 remaster, emphasizing their belief that these recordings are time capsules representing a specific point in their history, flaws and all. 

Watch Hetfield and Ulrich open up about Jason Newsted’s departure below.