StMU Research Scholars

Featuring Scholarly Research, Writing, and Media at St. Mary's University
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.

Recent Comments


  • Peter Alva

    I grew up listening to Metallica and have grown to appreciate their music a bit more. Cliff burton was a big part of their music and was the creator of some of their most impressive works losing someone like him was big being that he was the main visionary for the band. You talk about Cliff and Jason with respect Great Article!

  • Elliot Avigael

    I would not be playing the guitar today if it weren’t for Metallica’s 1983 album Kill ‘Em All. I loved Newsted both as a bassist and back up vocalist, but nobody can match up to Cliff’s writing and bass playing. Burton was the Jimi Hendrix of bass. Cliff played a significant role in writing Kill ‘Em All, Ride The Lightning, and Master Of Puppets; by far three of the greatest thrash metal albums of all time.

    Even though Cliff wrote it before he died, I always think of “Fade To Black” as Cliff’s theme.

  • Justine Ruiz

    My mother is a very big fan of Metallica, so I grew up listening to their music. I was very intrigued with their type of music because as I child, I had never heard anything like that before. I was used to classical music. I enjoyed reading this article because I got to learn about their background and why their style of music shifted. It was very saddening to read about a member dying due to their bus rolling over because of an earthquake.

  • Pedro Lugo Borges

    As a heavy metal fan i must alway appreciate the kings of metal “metallica” …. but through reading this article i learned the tragic death of one of the forming members which until this point i had no idea happened but through my memory of my many night of listening to metallica as it help me get through many hard work night i do noice the shift between master of puppets and … and justice for all. i just never realized that it was because oof the crushing lose (pun not intended) of Cliff burton. that being said the fact that they could of disbanded and would be known only for there three 1980 albums instead of bieng one of the few metal band that still tour today., and being so popular that there is still a mandatory metallica hour on most metal and heavy rock radio station today.

  • Haley Aleman

    I’ve always listened to I guess what my parents like to call “heavy devil music” and much to my mother’s dismay I feel as though I grew up on master of puppets. However, as I got older I moved on to newer bands. As I got older I guess my interest in the band itself lessened, but in reading this I figured out that I too am one of those people that now consider Metallica to be a “sell-out” band. Don’t get me wrong I’m glad that they kept making music and that they never gave up on themselves but the music honestly just isn’t the same, and this article gives great insight as to why this is and how the band developed after burton’s death.

  • Yuliana Vasquez

    I have started to see Metallica show up more often, on shirts or people listening to them but I have never took a small opportunity to listen to them. While reading this I started playing it on spotify and I can now see why people liked or still do during time, they have really good fast beat music. Also while reading this, it made me sad because of how they ended , it was so unexpected.

  • Mia Hernandez

    I grew up on bands like Soundgarden, Motley Crue and Metallica so it is safe to say that I am rather familiar with the band and their music. What I was unaware of was the rollover accident that led to Burtons demise. It was sad to read about how it affected the band and how the fans reacted to their music after the accident. It was good that they continued to do what they loved and not let the negativity affect them or their music.

  • Luis Jaen

    I have never really been interested in Metallica, or rock music for that matter, but this story has shown me just how big of a band they were. The tragedy that occured in Sweden showed just how hard this band worked and what kind of perseverance they had to have in order to be better. It shows as well the true impact of Cliff Burton, the band pushed through due to the sole fact that Burton would do the same. After reading the article about the “Monsters of Rock” and their concert in Moscow, it is such a blessing for this band to pursue and cement themselves into the legendary spot they are in.

  • Estefanie Santiago Roman

    I am more of a classic rock fan but I have listened to some of Metallica’s songs and they are awesome. Before reading this article I actually didn’t know much of them as a band and was completely unaware about the accident the had. It is truly sad to hear about artist who pass away and it must of been a huge impact for them as a group, but it is amazing to think that they continued with their passion for music with the memory of Burton pushing them forward.

  • Anthony Coronado

    I am a huge rock fan and being exposed to many rock groups through a diversity of sounds. The metal was an influence gained through the combination of the sounds in unison. I loved the general reaction of how metal isn’t as what it is described in scripted tv as scratching and clanging of objects, which is very unreal to the sounds of Metallica created. I have never heard of this incident before as well to a very influential band, unlike the known tragedy of well-known stars in bands.

Leave a Reply to Anthony Coronado (Cancel Reply)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.