Metal in Soviet Russia: Monsters of Rock 1991

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

Tags from the story

Share this post

Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email

This Post Has 52 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Ryan Estes

    I never knew about this. I’m surprised the Soviet Union let these metal bands perform, given the restrictions on western music in the country. Another thing I found amazing was that 1.5 million people showed up for Metallica’s performance. That’s basically all the people in San Antonio! I think that is incredible, and it’s hard to imagine how they even had a large enough venue for all those people. I’m sure it stunk to be in the back of the crowd!

  2. Avatar
    Cameron Lopez

    This is a nice article to read about. Its crazy to see how such a small event can become part of history, the article showed a historical background that connected to the reader intrigued. I love the impact music has on people especially a person like me. I live and breath music. There isn’t a day that I do not listen to music. Music is something that can change your life, so it was not surprising that this made history. For example when Queen performed for an AIDS charity in 1982 that raised more than 127 Million dollars. He had such an impact for many people around the world with his music. He changed history as well.

  3. Avatar
    Rosario Moreno

    I just can’t get over how crazy this must have been. AC/DC, Metallica, and Pantera ALL were in RUSSIA, performing, putting on a legendary show. Wow. I love that you created this article. Also, that was cool that most only knew English through music, and that right after that was when music was taken away due to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The pictures and the video just put me in awe, good job!

  4. Avatar
    Fatima Navarro

    Short article but to the point. Music is international and a form of unity no matter the language, no matter the place you’re in the world. This concert seems to be a good “closure” to the U.S.S.R. due to its falling after. I would have liked to have a more concrete conclusion to the article. The end of the article felt as if left “hanging” because after the last sentence there was a video and that was it.

  5. Avatar
    Isaiah Torres

    I really enjoyed this article becuase im a huge rock and roll fan; Metallica is my favorite band. Hearing the history was really interesting because I knew that they had this concert in the past, but never understood how it came about. I’m actually going to share this article with my cousin because he likes Metallica and we talk about this concert a lot. Music as a whole, can have a huge impact on a nation bringing eveybodu together as a whole, and to have a fun time. This changed my perspective on what it was like here because when somebody told me “Soviet Union” I would usually think “war” or “dangerous.”

  6. Avatar
    Sarah Uhlig

    I find it absolutely how many people were at that concert and how cool it must have been for the performing bands to have the largest audience ever recorded. Especially in the downfall of the Soviet Union, the ability for music to spread to places of limitations is a beautiful moment for the societies of those people. I can’t imagine how good it felt to not be so limited to what you can listen to or be free to do.

  7. Avatar
    Antonio Coffee

    When one thinks of the Soviet Union, one would not usually think of people having a blast at a heavy metal concert, but this article helps to show that this did in fact happen. This is really interesting to me as it goes to show that music is truly a universal language and that even though we might be from all over the world that music can be a big influence. This is not lessened by the fact that the Soviet Union collapsed shortly after this event.

  8. Avatar
    Gabriel Dossey

    I am a huge fan of metal. I am a metal head and honestly am upset that I didnt know that this happened before now. I have seen pictures of this concert online in memes yet, i had no clue where it happened. it is interesting to know that this happened only after the dissolutioning of the soviet union. good work

  9. Avatar
    Arieana Martinez

    It is amazing the impact that concerts and music in general can have on a nation. Music does not have borders or discrimination, but can truly unite people and bring them together, regardless of the horrible conditions surrounding them. This event clearly helped immensely with the fall of the fall of the Berlin Wall and Soviet Union. The fact that music played even the smallest role in this, is very inspiring and amazing to me. Great read!

  10. Avatar
    Samantha Luckey

    This is a fun and interesting article regarding a wonderful event. This short and brief article was able to illustrate the how certain moments can become historical bookmarks. This author was able to establish a historical background that engaged the reader to continue reading on, shocking the reader into showing how a oppressed country could allow something like music to breach their borders.

Leave a Reply

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