Cliff Burton was older and more experienced a musician, than the rest of the band. I think he had the most input and contribution to the early sound of Metallica. Cliff 'em All was unnecessary, but they were young and had to have guilty feelings - it may have been more than just the record company decision to make/release it. Regardless, up until the Black album, there were few weak points in their released music, the Black album showed a new direction, wildly different production focus (the deep basses, etc), After that, like you said, all downhill. The fan antagonism with Napster was the final nail. Everything after that was just embarrassment. Still, after I heard Ride The Lightning, I just wanted to play metal. Learned guitar because of it, and now play Classical music... Long time, many musical experiences since those days, but I still enjoy a proper shredding and am grateful for the early inspiration. Would buy James a beer any day of the week for that. Lars? Great drummer, but no beer from me.