Metallica bassist Jason Newsted has left the band after 14 years.

Metallica bassist Jason Newsted has left the band after 14 years.

"Due to private and personal reasons, and the physical damage that I have done to myself over the years while playing the music that I love, I must step away from the band," Newsted said in a statement. "This is the most difficult decision of my life, made in the best interest of my family, myself, and the continued growth of Metallica. I extend my love, thanks, and best wishes to my brothers: James, Lars, and Kirk and the rest of the Metallica family, friends, and fans whom have made these years so unforgettable."

Newsted replaced the late Cliff Burton in Metallica in 1986, and appears on six of the band's albums. Prior to joining the band, he was a founding member of Phoenix-based speed metal outfit Flotsam & Jetsam. A replacement has not been named.

"Playing with someone who has such unbridled passion for music will forever be a huge inspiration," vocalist/guitarist James Hetfield said. "On stage every night, he was a driving force to us all, fans and band alike. His connection will never be broken."

"We part ways with Jason with more love, more mutual respect, and more understanding of each other than at any other point in the past," drummer Lars Ulrich said. "James, Kirk and I look forward to embracing the next chapter of Metallica with both a huge amount of appreciation for the last 14 years with Jason and the excitement of rising to the challenges that lay ahead to make Metallica shine brighter than ever."

Guitarist Kirk Hammett added, "Jason is our brother. He will be missed."

In other news, Metallica will release the fourth edition of its "Fan Can," a fan-club only paint can filled with band memorabilia. The latest edition, to be offered to members in sometime in February for $40, will include an exclusive video of the band's 1997 parking lot show in Philadelphia with behind-the-scenes footage, a live CD, an "...And Justice For All" crew T-shirt, and a Metallica Club dog tag.

Metallica intends to begin work on a new studio album in the spring, with release pegged for late this year or early 2002. The band's last studio album, 1998's covers collection "Garage, Inc." (Elektra), debuted at No. 2 on The Billboard 200.

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