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May 8, 2019

Metallica: The Tragedy Overseas

James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett, and Cliff Burton, also known as Metallica, is a well-known band who rips the roofs off of arenas, and brings lots of people together with their heavy metal, and fast-paced music. Today, Metallica’s name is being mentioned with some of the most legendary bands such as Kiss, AC/DC, Guns N’ Roses, and The Rolling Stones. Many talk about how successful they are, and how their music brought them to the top of the charts. However, it is on rare occasions that the grind and fights that Metallica had to push through, are talked about. Struggles, blood, sweat, and tears were put into the efforts that it took for Metallica to make a name for themselves. Metallica started to make their music, which forced their way into the music industry because of their popularity and their unique sound that nobody else had created before.1

It all started in 1983, when Metallica decided that their love and passion for music should be shared a lot more around the world. Metallica started to make their music, and realized that a true, and successful band would come about if they just followed their dreams of Rock-n-Roll. After the album Kill Em’ All was released, Metallica released their second album Ride the Lightning in July of 1984. The release had some good success that followed, and was a hit that gained Metallica more fans and more fame. Other bands such as Megadeth, Slayer, and Diamond Head all made music that was all similar and rarely diverse.2 This was great motivation for the band because they had realized they were doing the unthinkable, and beating odds that nobody would had suspected them to do. Metallica wanted to continue going down the road of being the best they can be, and wanted to show the world what they had to offer. Metallica continued to work on their music through the year, and decided that it was time to bring another hit to the table.

Cliff Burton playing bass guitar | Yerko Diaz | Courtesy of Flickr

Metallica released their third album Master of Puppets on March 3, 1986, and gained really huge success. The album went gold, and the band had just gained another huge milestone.3 The success that Metallica thrived for was starting to pick up quite a bit, and the music awards they received weren’t much of a surprise to people. The heavy approach was the unique sound that came with different notes being put together that hadn’t been done before. The peak of Metallica’s music was at an all-time high, and the heavy approach that they came with, gave the fans something new.4  Songs started to get radio play a lot more, and the popularity of their music went on to being spread among millions of people.

“Master of Puppets” album by Metallica | 1986 | vinylmeister | Courtesy of Flickr

The album was so popular, that the band decided that the music should be brought to the crowd live. Metallica took their music on the road, and went on tours around the world to promote their album. The most recent concerts at the time took place in Birmingham and London, England; Lund, Sweden; Lillestrom, Norway; and would return back to Sweden once again.5 While the band was on the tour bus, they were all getting rest, and preparing for their next concert. The promotion was going well, and the band was set to have another in Copenhagen, Denmark, on September 27, 1986, at the “Saga.” While on the bus, the band unfortunately faced tragedy.

While on the way to their next concert, the band was unfortunately involved in a rollover accident, that resulted in the bus flipping off of the road. According to band member James Hetfield, Metallica was in Sweden on the way to Denmark, and drummer Lars Ulrich stated there were suddenly “loud noises.” Everybody was worried and alarmed about what was going on. Lead guitarist Kirk Hammett was caught off guard when he realized that there was unusual movement coming from under the bus. Hammett then stated, “It wasn’t an earthquake, it was the back wheels of the bus jumping.” He also stated that the first thought he had was that the bus was “going off a cliff.”6 The bus was at a still, and turned over on the side of the road. Eventually, everybody started to find their way out of the bus. Everyone was shouting, crying, and looking around at the aftermath, trying to get everybody accounted for. Hammett then nervously noticed that he was hearing everybody’s voice except for Burton’s. As Hammett started to briefly search the area, he came across a chilling sight. He looked over at the direction of the bus, and saw that Burton’s feet were seen sticking out from under it.7 It was a wistful and hard to believe sight, but it was clear that he had been crushed after being ejected. The emotions were mixed and running wild as Metallica had to deal with an unfortunate loss at an unexpected time.

Tombstone of Cliff Burton | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The loss of Burton caused future concerts on the tour to be canceled, and made Metallica second guess whether they wanted to continue as a band. However, the death of Burton also had some more dramatic effects over time. It led to Metallica taking a more passive approach with their music, rather than the fast-paced and heavy sound. Fans were upset that the style changed, and it was even said that the band had become a “sell-out.” The fan base dropped, and it was as if not many people were interested in Metallica anymore.8 Metallica then acknowledged that Burton would be the last person to want them to stop moving forward. The band regrouped, and after canceling all concerts from September 27 through October 26, Metallica acquired its newest member of the band, bass player Jason Newsted. Returning to the United States, Metallica continued the tour and started to slowly work their way back up. Through the next few years, Metallica made another album with Newsted in 1988 titled And Justice For All. The album was a huge hit and Metallica was finally back on top where they belonged.9

Jason Newsted singing and playing bass guitar | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons|



  1. Salem Press Encyclopedia, 2018, s.v. “Metallica (music group),” by Angela Harmon.
  2. Glenn Pillsbury, Damage Incorporated: Metallica and the production of Musical Identity (New York: Routledge, 2006), 4.
  3. Salem Press Encyclopedia, 2018, s.v. “Metallica (music group),” by Angela Harmon.
  4. Glenn Pillsbury, Damage Incorporated: Metallica and the production of Musical Identity (New York: Routledge, 2006), 10.
  5. “,”Metallica, (website)
  6. “Cliff Burton Death Documentary HD,” YouTube video, 5:00, posted by “ciberneticometallico,” September 27, 2012,
  7. “Cliff Burton Death Documentary HD,” YouTube video, 5:00, posted by “ciberneticometallico,” September 27, 2012,
  8. Salem Press Encyclopedia, 2018, s.v. “Metallica (music group),” by Angela Harmon.
  9. Salem Press Encyclopedia, 2018, s.v. “Metallica (music group),” by Angela Harmon.

Tags from the story

heavy metal


Rock Music

Recent Comments

Eliezer Leal

Loss is never easy, and the grieving process only worsens the situation because experiencing loss for the first time is unbelievable. You never expect it to happen to you although you acknowledge that loss is a hardship of life, at least that was how I felt when I lost someone, I could not believe it, it felt unreal. Metallica may have replaced their bass player but they could never replace “Cliff”, loosing someone is difficult enough, but you grow and learn to deal with the loss, but you can never replace a person you truly cared for.



8:27 am

Analisa Cervantes

Truthfully, I do not really listen to Metallica but this article is very moving in my opinion. The band’s perseverance in the wake of losing their bandmate is inspiring. Loss is never easy and moving forward sometimes is hard. But getting back up and finding some acceptance to continue the band is very amazing. Perhaps I may start listening to their work.



8:27 am

Azucena Cuevas

I really enjoyed this article, because I personally enjoy some of their more slow paced and soothing songs. I had no idea that the loss of Burton was the reason behind their slower songs. Metallica has such a unique way to play their music and it wasn’t a shocker to read how quickly they grew. However, it is tragic that such a loss happened and the fans shouldn’t have been disappointed in the change. It is common for such tragedy to cause a shift in the band.



8:27 am

Sabrina Doyon

What a success story. Life really does throw lemons at us when we finally feel we are at the top. Or in this case, a flipped bus. It is so sad how he passed. The way the band was able to continue on in his memory is inspiring. I love Metallica and I remember my father telling me this story when I was younger. It is a sad story with an uplifting ending. Thank you so much for this moving article.



8:27 am

Jake Mares

This article brings a whole new perspective to a genre of music that many people shoot down for lacking emotion. Their swift change in style and downgrade (according to the fans) after the tragedy can be seen as a true emotional shift as heard through their music. I cannot wait to go back and find differences in the music from before and after the tragedy.



8:27 am

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