March 3, 1986. Metallica are releasing their third album, “Master of Puppets”, an album that was to be the foundation for what would follow 2.5 years later, with the release of “…And Justice for All» and the tour that followed. It laid the foundations for their entry into the “big salons”, something that especially in 1986, at the age of 23, they did not even imagine that it could be done.
Recorded at Sweet Silence studios in Copenhagen, under the supervision of producer Flemming Rasmussen once again, it climbed to number 29 on the Billboard 200. The cover artwork was “created” by Metallica, along with Peter Mensch and designed by Don Brautigam. This artwork, along with the album’s lyrics received almost rave reviews from the world and the press, especially for the anti-war element that was all around the album. “Master of Puppets” is considered by many, including myself, to be the best metal album ever released and it is no coincidence that it is the only metal album selected by the Library of Congress to be kept in the National Registry as culturally, historically and aesthetically important.
“Master of Puppets” is the first album that Dave Mustaine (Megadeth) did not exist as a composer. Although he once said that he participated in the composition of “Leper Messiah”, the band denied it, saying that it is not valid, but in some parts, there are riffs based on his ideas. When the time came to choose the studio for the recording and since they were not satisfied with the sound in a studios in America, they decided to record in Copenhagen, as we said above, at Sweet Silence studios. Lars was trying to book Geddy Lee (Rush) to produce the new album, which never happened, as they never managed to find a common timeline. For this album, Lars took drum lessons and Kirk took lessons with Joe Satriani to learn how to record more accurately and methodically. Eventually, they ended up with Flemming Rasmussen, who also produced “Ride the Lightning” two years ago, and according to his statements, the songs were incredibly rehearsed and the demos they gave him were almost completed in structures, so they had to make little or no corrections/changes for the final recording. All the tracks, except “Orion” and “The Thing That Should Not Be”, were completed before their trip to Copenhagen. Eventually, the album was never completed by Rasmussen, and the final mix was made by Michael Wagener, who had worked with names such as Skid Row, Mötley Crüe, WASP, Dokken, Overkill, Accept and many more bands, all major and well known. It should be mentioned here that the band at that time already had the reputation of being alcoholics – there was already the nickname “Alcoholica” – and so they decided to stay sober throughout the recording. Kirk said that while there was a mindset that they were just recording another album, they did not imagine that it would have such an impact in the music scene. He also mentioned that the band was at its peak at the time and they were learning how to work properly together. On the subject of the equipment used for the album, it is worth mentioning 2 specific instruments. James, even though he was a huge Gibson fan at the time, played the entire album with a Jackson King V, and Lars used a rare Ludwig Black Beauty snare drum, which he bought from Def Leppard’s Rick Allen.
This year, 1986, would obviously be the most important moment of their career so far, but without them knowing it, from the first day of its release, time had already begun to counting backwards, for what would only be seen, thought and lived in their worst nightmares. It was September 26, when Metallica played as part of the “Damage Inc.” tour, in Sweden, specifically in Stockholm, in the Solnahallen venue, with a capacity of 2000 people. As a trivia piece of information, just four months ago, on May 26 and 27, 1986, Europe filmed the video for their superhit “The Final Countdown”, in the same venue. The show was once again crowned with huge success, as were all their appearances on this tour and to put it bluntly, from the very first moment they came on stage as a band, in 1982, there was not even one show that wouldn’t be a success. Metallica, said goodbye to the world, and went backstage. There are some photos with the band outside their tour bus, talking to fans and there is a specific one, with Cliff sitting to catch his breath. This was to be his last photo. The band, together with the crew (some were on Metallica’s bus and there was a second one that followed with the rest of the crew), started their trip to reach Copenhagen, where they would play their next concert. This appearance was very important, as it is the birthplace of Lars, so as you can understand, he was very excited. The countdown would come to an end in the early hours of September 27… During the trip, Cliff and Kirk played cards to see who would get the top bunker, as both of them wanted it. Cliff pulled the ace of spades and of course he was the winner. It’s unbelievable how ironic this would just a few moments later. Kirk, as he recalls in an interview in VH1’s Behind the Music, told Cliff, “fine, get my bunk, I’ll sleep up front, it’s probably better anyway“. Shortly before 7 p.m., the bus began to go left and right like crazy, waking everyone who was obviously asleep at the time. Within minutes, the bus went off the road and fell to its side. Cliff, who was sleeping in the upper bunker, fell out of the window and the bus fell hard on him. They said the driver lost control because he hit some black ice. When the “noise” subsided a bit and they stayed in the rubble for several hours, they got out of the bus with the help of rescuers and started checking each other for injuries. Everything looked relatively good, with a few broken fingers, bruises and a blackened eye. Kirk though, as he said years later, in the midst of voices and panic, could hear everyone talking, but he couldn’t hear Cliff’s voice. When they realized it, they noticed his legs protruding from under the bus. That’s where the first shock hit them. James walked a long distance wearing only his underwear and socks, to find the spot with the black ice and confirm what the driver said, but found nothing. When he returned, he saw the driver trying to pull off a blanket under Cliff’s body. As he said, “I wanted to end him right then and there, I pushed him, shouting at him to leave Cliff alone“. Shortly afterwards, after the police and with a crane tried to pick up the bus, the crane broke and fell on Cliff for the second time. Even now, there is the thought, especially from the band, that Cliff may have died the second time he was hit by the bus. There has also always been the thought that the driver was under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs or may have fallen asleep on the wheel, but after his arrest, he was released as he was found clean. When Lennart Wennberg, a local independent photographer, went to the scene of the accident the next morning, he said that it was impossible that there had been ice on the road, which James confirmed when he walked to find it. The temperature was about 2 degrees, which in fact does not create ice. This was also confirmed by the police. It was also reported that the skid marks were typical marks left by vehicles when the driver has fallen asleep on the wheel. The driver himself testified under oath, that he was fully rested during their trip and was released as mentioned above, as no charges were filed. Sometimes I wonder where this driver is and what his thoughts are after so many years. It is noteworthy that to this day, no one knows his name, as it is certain that if his name was public, his life would be in danger by fans of the band. The band returned to San Francisco and after mourning the loss of their friend – Kirk recalls, “alcohol was our only way out… James, being totally drunk, went out at 4 in the morning and shouted CLIFF WHERE ARE YOU? … I remember that I could not hold back my tears when I heard him“– they decided to continue. They hired Jason Newsted, then Flotsam And Jetsam’s bassist, and continued the tour, thinking Cliff would want that. Many say they should be just stop and others say they did well and continued. I also believe they did well. I think Cliff would be very angry at them if they broke up the band then. But that’s a big subject to discuss, maybe for some other time. Cliff’s body was cremated and his ashes were scattered at Maxwell Ranch. At the scene of the accident, an honorary plaque was placed, with his photo and the last verse from the 4-verse poem that was also included in “To Live Is to Die”, in the band’s next album. At ceremony, “Orion” was played, which, if nothing else, has become Cliff’s trademark. When we listen to this song, we all think about Cliff.
Jason’s first appearance with Metallica took place on November 8, 1986, in the town of Reseda in the United States, at the Reseda Country Club, with a capacity of 1,000 people. The tour began on March 27, 1986, just a few days after the album’s release, and ended on February 13, 1987. Between these dates, they played as a support band for Ozzy and some had Armored Saint as their support band. It should also be noted that from July 27 to September 25, James was only a singer on stage, when on July 26, he broke his arm skateboarding, thus canceling that day’s appearance. The guitar slot was covered by John Marshall, guitar technician and guitarist at Metal Church, who also covered the guitar position, many years later, on the tour for “Metallica” or “Black Album” if you prefer, when James was burned almost alive at a pyro activated at a wrong time. Those who saw them then in 1986 said that they were James’ best performances ever, which makes sense, as he had to focus only on one thing, instead of having voices and guitars together. Pretty ironic for someone who didn’t want to be a singer huh? In addition to this cancellation date and some other dates here and there that we don’t know the cancellation reasons, the tour stopped on September 27 for obvious reasons and continued, as mentioned above, on November 8, with Jason on bass. Also a big ironic in all this is that James, after recovering from his broken arm, played guitar again for the first time, on September 26 and if I remember correctly I had read somewhere that he was very happy that night for playing guitar again.
Somewhere in the middle of the “Master of Puppets” tour, the first songs from their next album began to appear. There has always been a question among fans about whether Cliff had listened to music from “…And Justice for All” and the answer is that obviously he had. First of all, because as soon as the tour was over, recordings and preparations for the new album started almost immediately and second of all in “To Live Is to Die”, we have the last (after death) Cliff’s appearance as a composer, in the acoustic part with the clear guitar, which was originally written by him on bass. He was also the song’s lyricist, with the 4-verse poem, which makes the song almost instrumental. Here, you can listen to the song, made by a fan by adding Cliff’s demo:
I think this song is the best way to end this. We’re talking about an album that, listening to it, pulls thousands of emotions out. We are talking about an album that lyrically, is about addiction and “manipulation” by various factors, alcohol, drugs, institutions, state, army, etc. We are talking about an album that, without them wanting to, sent out so much anger that it was as if they felt what was going to happen and let out all the despair and all the sadness that was inside them, through their music. At the beginning of the text, I wrote that for me it is the best metal record ever released. To put it more into perspective, if the world were to be destroyed and I had to save ONE album, so that in a few hundred years the new entities would be able to learn what metal was, it would be “Master of Puppets”. Simple as that.
“When a man lies, he murders some part of the world
These are the pale deaths which men miscall their lives
All this I cannot bear to witness any longer
Cannot the kingdom of salvation take me home”
R.I.P. Clifford Lee Burton (10/02/1962 – 27/09/1986)