Taylor Swift bassist Amos Heller might know his way through a stadium pop set but don’t let that full you; his metal chops are untouchable, and he has just shot a totally ripping playthrough of Metallica classic Blackened in tribute to former Metallica bass player Jason Newsted.
Everyone knows the story of how Newsted, newly hired as Metallica’s bass player after the tragic death of Cliff Burton, never quite got the respect he deserved, with his bass guitar parts on his full-length ‘Tallica debut, …And Justice For All, famously turned all the way down. There was the ‘And Justice For Jason’ mix of the album that restored the bass tracks, pumping them up to where many – band excepted – thought they should have been. Now we have Heller’s take on it.
Not that Heller is going all in and cribbing Newsted’s playing style. Newsted favoured a pick. Heller takes this on fingerstyle. But he nails the nigh-on Arctic bleakness of the track – one of the standouts in the Metallica catalogue – and the feel changes in what is a radically structured work of thrash metal.
Heller used his Yamaha BB P 34 for the cover, putting the modern P-style through a Darkglass Electronics MicroTubes Infinity with a 12:1 compression ratio to keep those bass notes pumping tight. The Yamaha has custom wiring and a set of Seymour Duncan Quarter Pound P-Bass pickups.
- Jason Newsted calls And Justice For All the best garage duo album ever: "There was never any big bass on Metallica's albums until the Black Album"
Newsted might never get justice in the real sense. You can’t go back. Though he did have a good run in Metallica before his exit in 2001. He had the life-changing success of The Black Album and all that followed. And even if you can’t hear his bass on Justice, you can feel his presence.
It’s ironic to think that they did turn the bass down on it given that it sounded quite high on 1987’s The $5.98 E.P. – Garage Days Re-Revisited, most notably on the hyper ker-plunk cover of Budgie’s Crash Course In Brain Surgery.
Either way, Newsted had a writing credit on Blackened and Heller has given him his dues. Heller says thrash bands like Metallica changed his life.
“I don’t think I would be a musician if it wasn’t for thrash metal,” he wrote, “and I don't think I would love thrash if I hadn’t listened to it every day of my freshman year riding to school in my brother’s car with ...And Justice For All blazing out of the speakers.”
Heller has recently opened up on his approach for learning repertoire, telling the SBL podcast that he can learn two songs a day at full steam. His tip for when you get a gig, either session playing or with a new band, is to learn it from top to bottom as it is on the record. All that details counts.
“Faking on bass is the worst thing in the world,” he says. “Something I would always recommend is learning a song, especially an artist's song – covers can be their own thing – but if you get a demo that has a bass part on it, learn it ice cold. Get it exact as much as you can. Every fill. Try to solve the puzzle of, are they shifting here or here – is this third fret on the A or eighth on the E? Try to get that as much as you can.”
You can keep up with Amos Heller at his YouTube channel.