Metallica’s second bassist, Cliff Burton, died in Sweden on September 27th, 1986. Burton had played on the band’s first three albums, including what is considered to be one of their best efforts, 1984’s Ride the Lightning. Burton sadly died in a bus crash whilst the band were touring in Sweden, and the remaining members of Metallica have remembered the last show Burton played whilst in Stockholm.
“We’d finished playing all the Odeons in England, which are these old, 3,000-seat movie theatres,” Lars Ulrich remembers. “We got to Scandinavia where they were more like ice-hockey holes – smaller, colder, darker. It was a different vibe. We played the show in Stockholm, and it went incredibly well. It may have been a rare case where we played an additional song that wasn’t on the setlist because the show was so good. That’s not something we did a lot then or now. So there was a good vibe.”
“We did a lot of press, and we did a photo shoot for a Swedish magazine called OK, which was almost like a teenybopper magazine,” Ulrich added. “We were sitting on the bus afterwards, talking about how cool it was, and Cliff and I were hanging out, having a beer. It’s a little fuzzy now, but it was a good day.”
The European tour had already suffered some difficulties. James Hetfield had broken his wrist whilst skateboarding, which meant he could not play the guitar. However, at the Stockholm show, which was to be Burton’s last, Hetfield managed to play the guitar during the set’s final song, ‘Blitzkreig’.
“I remember the five of us, being really stoked James was back and playing and looking like was gonna make a pretty healthy recovery,” Kirk Hammett said of Hetfield’s return. “I distinctly remember that show being good, and the feeling when we got offstage was really great and positive and forward-looking. Like, ‘Great, James is back in, and it won’t be long ’til we’re back to our old selves again.’”
“I remember right when we were about to leave in the bus, the fans started running towards us,” Hammett added. “And Cliff said, ‘Look at them. They look like zombies!’ He was way into zombies. We were all just laughing. Then we started playing cards. And we had a long, long drive. And everyone knows the rest of it.”
After the Stockholm show, Metallica boarded the tour bus to take them to the next venue. The band members complained that the sleeping arrangements on the bus were somewhat uncomfortable, so Hammett and Burton played a card game to see who could sleep on whichever bunk they desired. Burton won the game and slept in one of the bunks Hammett had previously occupied.
At around 7am, the bus skidded off the road and Burton was thrown out of the bus window onto the road, where the bus fell on him, and he tragically died from the impact. The driver claimed there had been some black ice on the road, but Hetfield also accused him of being drunk. However, this claim was not backed up, and no charges were brought against the driver.
Hammett insisted that the best thing to do as a band was for them to keep going in memory of Burton. “We didn’t know what was up, down or sideways, and we decided that the smartest thing we could do was to keep going,” Hammett said. “We laid Cliff to rest a week or two after the accident, and then there wasn’t five minutes after that because if we slowed down, we were afraid we were going to disappear into nothingness.”
Ulrich said he was sentimental and reflective following the tragic passing of their friend. “You pause, you reflect, you think, you appreciate, you’re humbled,” he said. “I move so fast through a lot of the stuff that I never slow down long enough to reflect. And occasionally, when you sit with some of the stuff at 2 o’clock in the morning, you go, ‘Wow.’ When you sit there and listen to the last two songs or look at the pictures from the last show with him, it stops you in your tracks as you deal with it. So with things like that, you pause for a second and think of all the craziness and ups and downs and how much we miss Cliff, but also how fortunate we are to still be out here doing it and that people still care.”
Check out the full audio of the fated Stockholm show below.