Metallica: The Tragedy Overseas

Hetfield, Ulrich, Hammett, and Burton posing for picture | vinylmeister | Courtesy of Flickr
Hetfield, Ulrich, Hammett, and Burton posing for picture | vinylmeister | Courtesy of Flickr

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.

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This Post Has 41 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Cassandra Sanchez

    I’m not too familiar with Metallica but I have heard of them before and I didn’t know that there was a tragic accident that happened and changed everything for the band. I am kind of surprised at the fact that after this event when the band changed their style to cope with Burton’s death, that the fans didn’t understand that things were going to be different without one member and weren’t supportive of their new sounds. Throughout all of their struggles I am glad that they tried not to pay attention to what negative things were being said about them and focused on how they could honor Burton.

  2. Avatar
    Amanda Quiroz

    I have never listened to Metallica before reading this article. After reading, I might consider listening to a song or two. It was sad to read about the background that Metallica had come from. I can not imagine what it’s like to lose a band member and still be able to find the strength to carry on without them there.

  3. Avatar
    Vanessa Quetzeri

    I have heard of the band Metallica, but haven’t heard their music. I had no idea about the bus accident, less the fact that a band member was killed. It must’ve been difficult to continue the band without Burton; they made changes to their style and even got backlash about it. However, they eventually did find their way back to the top and are seen as legendary to this day.

  4. Avatar
    Nicholas Robitille

    The name Metallica always comes up alongside other greats like AC/DC and Aerosmith. I hadn’t known that the band had faced such tragedy as losing a member in an accident. That they managed to recover and make one of their greatest albums ever in the wake of such tragedy truly shows them as one of the greats. Metallica shall forever be known as a great and powerful band.

  5. Avatar
    Leopoldo Martinez-Milland

    Though I have grown up listening to classic rock music my whole life, I have still managed to have a surface-leveled knowledge of Metallica (ie: mainstream songs such as “Enter Sandman” and “One”), but have always had a deep appreciation of their contributions to the rock industry. Isaiah Torres bringing up the death of Cliff Burton was a shocking one that I didn’t know of and I couldn’t even imagine what his good friends within the band would even make of the situation. Burton’s death leading to a small slump for the band is understandable and they would eventually manage to get out of that slump to become of the greatest rock bands of the 80s.

  6. Avatar
    James Disrud

    I have always been a fan of Rock music, ever since my dad would put it on the radio at a young age. I remember my dad telling me about the tragedy with Metallica but I never knew anything about the group. This article did a good job at giving a backstory of the band that I didn’t know , it also did a good job of showing how that tragic event effected the band.

  7. Avatar
    Nicole Ortiz

    I had listened to some of Metallica’s music before since my older brother liked to listen to them but I was never aware about this tragedy that occurred. It’s always hard to lose someone, especially if it’s someone that was so important to you. For Metallica, the loss of Clifford was not only heartbreaking but also impacted the band and its success as well. But the good thing is that despite this tragedy, the group was able to regain their success

  8. Avatar
    Addie Piatz

    I aways grew up listening to rock music in the car so naturally I know who Metallica is. I did not however know anything about a tragedy until reading this. It honestly breaks my heart to hear that something so awful happened to a group who I imagined got so close to each-other. I am glad to hear they found someone to continue the music with. I don’t think we’d be the same without their music.

  9. Avatar
    Charli Delmonico

    This was such an interesting article. I didn’t know anything about Metallica before reading this, and I’m really glad that I do now. I can’t believe that such a tragic event happened so unexpectedly. It must have been awful for the band to witness their friend die so suddenly and brutally. I’m very happy that Metallica was able to find another band member and continue to make the music that everyone loved, especially since Burton would have wanted that for them.

  10. Avatar
    Jacob Silva

    I’ve always been a fan of Rock music so naturally Metallica was one of those bands that I would listen to sometimes, I’ve always heard that the band was involved in a type of tragedy but I never knew the full details behind it. Hearing that they had lost a band member in a horrible accident is saddening to hear and then learning of their struggle coping with his death weighs in more sadness.

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