METALLICA's search to replace bassist Jason Newsted officially got underway last week, the group have announced via their web site (www.metallica.com).The band, who split with Newsted in January 2001 following disagreements over Jason's then-side project ECHOBRAIN, had previously maintained that they would wait until they had finished the recordings for their new album before they started looking for Newsted's replacement. However, as drummer Lars Ulrich explained in the latest video update posted in the "Jump In The Studio" section of the group's web site, the Bay Area-based band's original plan had to be abandoned in order to avoid the possibility of a lengthy lag between the album's completion and the kick-off date of the group's subsequent world tour. "We ain't gonna do a lot of touring without a proper bass player, and we kind of realized that if we were going to not start the bass player thing until the record was done, we might end up in a situation like we usually do where there's three weeks between the end of a record and the beginning of a tour, and then we might end up in a really stupid, pressure situation, trying to get some guy and we don't have a lot of time," Ulrich said. "And that's why we started [auditioning bassists]." Unlike the last time the band held bassist auditions (in 1986, following Cliff Burton's tragic death), METALLICA have opted to try out candidates by invitation only — with all of the hopefuls being well-known musicians who have the necessary skills and experience to get the job done. "We are excited jamming with people, getting a vibe with them," guitarist/vocalist James Hetfield explained. "The vibe is [the] most important [thing]. We know the people we've got on our list can play. And it's very important that our personalities vibe, and that this person is going to be around for a long time. We don't want just someone coming in and then being gone – we don't like the revolving door syndrome." "We don't want rent-a-bass-player, we don't want mercenaries, we want someone that we can be proud to say to [the fans] and the rest of the universe that this guy is in METALLICA, he's a brother, and he's part of the team," Ulrich added. "And also somebody who can give us some strength." "Someone who can add a dimension – not just someone who can hang out," Hetfield clarified. METALLICA, who have thus far jammed with one candidate, will have another hopeful coming in on Thursday (Dec. 5), and will try out several more applicants over the course of the next couple of months. However, out of respect for the musicians seeking to fill the slot, they will not be revealing any of the candidates' identities. "It's not right and it's not fair for any of us to disclose who any of those bass players are, because that puts undue pressure on them, somehow, in some way," guitarist Kirk Hammett explained. "And also, we don't wanna give more fuel to the rumor mill, because I'm sure that anyone we name will be seen as a reflection on us and what we are doing at this moment." Hetfield, Ulrich and Hammett have thus far completed seven tracks with producer Bob Rock for inclusion on the band's as-yet-untitled new CD, tentatively due in late spring/early summer through Elektra Records. Rock has played the basslines for the current album, but the band have said he will not join them on the road.