Metal in Soviet Russia: Monsters of Rock 1991

The poster advertisement for the event. || Courtesy of the Wikipedia Commons

What if I told you that one of the largest crowds to ever attend a concert—1.5 million people—happened in Russia?1 What if I told you that it was just before the fall of the Soviet Union? What if I told you that it was a heavy metal festival? Yes, this all happened in the fall of 1991, the very same year that the Iron Curtain fell. This is the story of the Monsters of Rock Moscow show.

The whole Monsters of Rock idea started in Castle Donington, England in 1980, gaining a monumental following in the following years, adding more popular bands in the rock and metal scene to the lineup. Although it was originally going to be a one-time event, over the next decade, the show was held again, and it only increased in popularity. It put on shows across Europe, cementing its place in music history.2

The Soviet Union Flag | Courtesy of the Wikipedia Commons

At the same time that Monsters of Rock was happening in Europe, the Soviet Union was in turmoil. During the 1980’s, Soviet Premier Lenoid Brezhnev died and by 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev had come to power. The Berlin Wall came down in 1989. Throughout the decade of the 1980s, western music was making its way into the USSR.

September 1991 was a big month in Russia. There was an August Coup, which was a failed military takeover of the Soviet Union.3 So, tensions were still high when the Russian government contacted the organizers of the show to see if they would be interested in having a show in Russia. Word of the show spread to many outlets, who wanted to see if they could televise the event, with Time Warner ending up getting the rights to record the show.

Shot of some fans at the show | Courtesy of Time Warner

When it came to selecting the bands to perform, it was difficult to choose which bands would go. Because of Soviet isolation, the festival organizers did not know which bands would be popular in Russia. So, some of the most popular metal bands were chosen, bands such as AC/DC, Metallica, and Pantera, which became the main headliners for the show.4 The date for the event was set for September 28, in Tushino Airfield, a former site of Soviet military exercises.

On the day of the event, a flood of people came into the airfield early in the day, with events starting off at 2 p.m. with Pantera preforming first. The recordings of Pantera’s set can be seen online, capturing the loud and energetic atmosphere that the band was able to generate on their audience. The set that is remembered the most out of this event is Metallica’s. It was here that the estimated 1.5 million people showed up, causing chaos for the Soviet guards who were at the event.5 Video footage shows helicopters flying close to the crowd, trying to settle down the rowdy fans. In a video of the set, one can see the ocean of people moving around and singing along, even though the majority of the crowd only knew English through the music. You can feel the raw emotions of the crowd and see how one simple music event was able to draw in over 1.5 million, all through the power of music.

Crowd shot of the show | Courtesy of Time Warner

In December of 1991, a few months after the show had happened, the official dissolution of the Soviet Union took place.6 Many of the many restrictions on western media and music were gone and more events like the Monsters of Rock show were able to take place in the country. The legacy of the show is still known today. What was once thought of as a risk turned out to be one of the largest attended shows in history. It is truly beautiful how music was able to do this in a country where many restrictions on media did not allow this.


  1. Nathan Smith, “No Fences: Garth Brooks & the Fuzzy Math of 10 Mega-Concerts,” Houston Press, May 23, 2016, .
  2. Matt Wilkinson, “Plaque in Honour of Monsters Of Rock Co-founder Presented at Download.” NME, June 14, 2010, .
  3. Jamie Glazov, “The Collapse of the Soviet Union: 25 Years Later,” Frontpage Magazine, December 26, 2016, .
  4. Nathan Smith, “No Fences: Garth Brooks & the Fuzzy Math of 10 Mega-Concerts.” Houston Press, May 23, 2016, .
  5. Brian Bumbery, “Metallica’s “Black Album” Sets New Sales Record,” Globe Newswire News Room, May 29, 2014, .
  6. Jamie Glazov, “The Collapse of the Soviet Union: 25 Years Later,” Frontpage Magazine, December 26, 2016, .

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53 Responses

  1. I am SO surprised that the USSR even allowed these bands to play within their borders. As far as the bands go, I think this was definitely one of Metallica’s best shows by far (along with the 1989 live performance in Seattle) as well as Pantera’s.

    What I love about the Metal scene more than any other music genre is that it is extremely close knit. Nobody cares what country you come from, what politician you voted for, or what your religion is; we’re just there to bang our heads and have a good time.

    Metallica’s 1983 album is what got me into playing guitar and sparked my interest in heavy metal. I love those guys; and its so amazing that they’re still touring and going strong almost forty years later.

  2. Can someone give me actual factcheck on the 1.5million ppl being there? Im finding that it’s”unofficial” and ppl telling me was nowhere that”BIG” gotta say tho, that was an”Ocean” of”Bangers”🤘

    1. There is no ”official” count because it is simply impossible to count them all. Even by today’s standards, in really big festivals you can only give a rough estimate. The only way to count is to assume there is something like 200 people in a 30’x30′ square and map the ground by helicopter (or drones now).

  3. I was born in the wrong era. a concert with over 1.5 million people will never happen again, and I missed it for god sake. This generation only listen to the biggest garbage and think its wonderfull. It really pisses me off! Rock and metal are slowly dying because of this generation. Not even rock en metal, every good song will never be seen as a masterpiece because of this generation. Of course, there are people who can’t agree more with me. Those people should be really proud of there selfs. But people who think the autotune rap (world) is the best music industry, can go take a walk and rethink life. I am very aware everyone has there taste of music and everyone has there opinion. Thats why i say i was born in the wrong era, if this garbage music was made 20 years ago it would not even hit billboard cause its so bad. Enough about the autotune rap music. Lets talk about the concert now, Its crazy how many people can come enjoy music while there country is falling apart. But as many wise said, music brings people together even in times where everything goes to shit.

  4. 1.5 Million people, 1.5 MILLION PEOPLE! This is such an insane turnout especially in such a restricted country at the time. It is beautiful to see just how music can pull people from all over the world together in harmony, truly an amazing sight. It would be crazy to be in Metallica and perform in such a crazy atmosphere with people who do not even speak your language. Such a cool story in the midst of the turmoil of the Soviet Union, so nice!

  5. I can’t even imagine Oyster bake this year and that around 100,000 people will be one campus. I DEFINITELY can’t imagine a concert 15 times the size as that. Music truly is one of mankind’s greatest gifts to itself. Shows like this and LIVE AID are shows that have completely changed the industry and the standard for global performances, It’s definitely a goal of mine to go to something of this scale.

  6. Hi. My son is looking for a vintage tshirt from this concert, which was amazing! If anyone can help me find one, I would greatly appreciate it! This concert was such an amazing idea. These bands are legend!

  7. People always say that music unites everyone. It amazed me that music can bring 1.5 million people together at the concert, especially when the country was under that much political tension. It was beautiful how music could find their way to do this in such a country where many limitations on media did not support this kind of event.

    1. Nothing even came close to Pantera at this show. In every conceivable way their level was higher, in all aspects of viable energy transfer. Aggression, technicality, skill, confidence, heaviness, style. You name it, it was covered, comfortably. Those guys accessed the fans in ways others couldn’t, the most stylish heaviness of all time. This gig was dominated entirely and absolutely.

  8. Music is one of the biggest ways in people get together as one in today’s world and connect on a different level. Having a crowd of 1.5 is truly insane and it shows how big music is. I don’t listen to heavy metal but I know people have different music taste and sometimes its best when everyone comes together as one.

  9. I like to see concerts on Youtube, for example, I have seen some Metallica concerts in Youtube. I think that in those videos you can see how good is the band. However, It is the first time that I heard about this 1.5 million people metal band perform. I can’t imagine how crazy the concert was. I think that It was an incredible idea. I will see the entire performance one day. Great article!

  10. It is truly amazing to see how music can bring people together. Although many people have their differences there is one thing that can defiantly bring people together, this being music. These three music titans, Metallica, AC/DC, and Pantera, are all well known throughout the world. Bringing a group of more than 1.5 million people is insane, but it just goes to show what effect music has on people.

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