May 27, 2024 | Byron Fast

Maddening Facts About Metallica, Thrash Icons


Metallica, the only band that has played on all seven continents, has a long history filled with tragedy, overindulgence, and making a lot of people really, really angry.


1. They’ve Had Their Fair Share

Power house rockers Metallica have had more than their fair share of controversy. Original members Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield have created a heartless revolving door of supporting players. In addition to the usual rock star behavior, there were onstage pyrotechnic mishaps and a bus accident that belongs in a Final Destination film. 

So, let’s roll out the facts and see how these rockers with an edge became what many call the biggest metal band of all time.

Cover of Metallica 72 Seasons CD and other cds of the american heavy metal groupesthermm, Shutterstock

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2. It Started With An Ad

A teenaged Lars Ulrich had come to California from Denmark to play tennis—but he had another love. This was playing the drums.

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Because playing drums solo was kind of boring, he put an ad in an LA newspaper “looking for other metal musicians to jam with”. Ulrich had no idea how his simple ad would go on to shape his entire life.

image of Lars UlrichGage Skidmore, Flickr

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3. He Had A Plan

Ulrich was happy with the number of replies his ad got, but there was one that stood out.

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This was from James Hetfield, who was free as a bird because his band Leather Charm had just broken up. Ulrich was keen to work with Hetfield—and then sent his new friend for a loop.

You see, Ulrich already had a job lined up for their as yet non-existent band.

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Vocalist James Hetfield performed on stageMaj.l, Shutterstock

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4. They Needed A Hit

Before even meeting Hetfield, Ulrich had gone to Brian Slagel of Metal Blade Records and asked for a huge favor. He wanted to add one song to Metal Massacre, which was a compilation album the magazine had in the works. For some reason, Slagel said yes, and Ulrich gave Hetfield the good news.

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They’d just met, and now they had to come up with a hit song.

image of  Brian SlagelChelsea Lauren, Shutterstock

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5. They Needed One More

Ulrich and Hetfield desperately needed at least one more member to make a real band. Through another ad, they met Dave Mustaine. While Mustaine was warming up for his audition, Ulrich and Hetfield were eyeing his equipment.

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It looked really expensive and based on this alone, Mustaine got the job—no audition necessary. A rather mystified Mustaine signed on to be a part of Metallica.

Now they just needed a song that would make them famous.

image of Dave MustaineLisa Lake, Getty Images

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6. They Were Excited

Ulrich and Hetfield came up with the song that had “hit” written all over it—literally. They called their song “Hit the Lights” and submitted it to Metal Massacre. But the label still had to accept it—and they also needed more than a good song. They also needed a name for their budding band.

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image of James HetfieldIcon and Image, Getty images

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7. He Was Sneaky

Ulrich’s friend, Ron Quintana, was trying to come up with a name for his fanzine. He came up with two choices: MetalMania and Metallica. Stuck between the two, Quintana turned to Ulrich for help. That’s when Ulrich pulled a sneaky move. He secretly wanted to use Metallica for his band, so he pushed Quintana to use MetalMania for the zine.

Quintana bought it, and Ulrich walked away with a name for his band.

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Metallica was a great name, but it would cause them problems from the get go.

Vinyl Record Cases Of Famous Music BandsRadu Bercan, Shutterstock

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8. There Was A Typo

When the members of Metallica finally had a copy of Metal Massacre in their hot little hands, they noticed something disheartening. The guys who put together the album together made a typo and put them down as “Mettallica”. Luckily, the next printing of the cover got it right, and it also got something else for the members of Metallica.

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image of the metallica logoJim Bennett, Getty Images

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9. They Hired Him Quickly

“Hit the Lights” was a hit, and got Metallica their first live gig at Radio City in Anaheim, California. To round out the band, they had to quickly hire a bass player. They landed on a man named Ron McGovney—but he shouldn’t have gotten too comfortable. 

You see, Hetfield and Ulrich were about to make a startling discovery.

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image of Metallica ConcertMike Cameron, Getty Images

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10. They Heard Something Unique

One night, Hetfield and Ulrich went out on the Sunset Strip and landed at the infamous Whiskey a Go Go. A band called Trauma was playing that night—and they left quite an impression. Well, not so much the band Trauma, so much as the wild sound coming out of the bass guitar.

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The bassist was Cliff Burton, and he was using something called a wah-wah pedal to make this unusual sound. Ulrich and Hetfield wanted that sound for Metallica, and they didn’t care what they had to do to get it.

A musician stands in front of the Whisky a Go Go clubAlex Millauer, Shutterstock

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11. They Wanted To Switch

Ulrich and Hetfield were sure they wanted to hire Burton to be the bass player for Though their timing was poor, they really hadn’t been that happy with McGovney, and this seemed like a good opportunity to get rid of him and add Burton to Metallica.

That’s when they encountered problem number two.

image of Cliff BurtonIcon and Image, Getty Images

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12. They Had To Move

Getting rid of McGovney was easy, but convincing Burton to sign on was going to be more difficult.

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At first Burton gave them a flat out “no,” but then he came back later with a counter offer. He would join Metallica if the whole band moved operations to El Cerrito, which is near San Francisco. It sounds like a big ask, but Metallica agreed—and the band had a new bass player.

They were all set…but they needed someone to bankroll their first album.

image of Panorama Night View of San Francisco BayBondRocketImages, Shutterstock

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13. No One Would Pay

Metallica was now ready to record its first album, but they couldn’t find a label that would pay for it. A concert promoter named Jonathan “Johnny Z” Zazula tried to get the band deals with labels in NYC, but none showed any interest. Johnny Z was so sure the band would be a hit that he borrowed the money and signed Metallica to his own label.

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Metallica was finally ready to record—and then, in what would be come a destructive pattern, their personalities started to flare up.

Image of Jon ZazulaTheo Wargo, Getty Images

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14. He Went Crazy

The members of Metallica had nothing against a little partying, but Dave Mustaine seemed to like it a little too much—and it was affecting his behavior. One day, Mustaine’s dog scratched the paint of another member’s car. When Hetfield kicked the dog, an inebriated Mustaine got angry and rightfully went after Hetfield.

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Metallica had a choice—record with Mustaine, who they claimed was unstable, or fire him just before going to the recording studio.

image of Dave Mustaine playing guitarbahadir aydin, Shutterstock

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15. They Threw Him On The Bus

Metallica was in Rochester, New York ready to record their first album when they decided they no longer wanted to work with Mustaine. They fired him in the most unceremonious way.

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 To get rid of him, they packed up his stuff and then woke him up in the morning and presented him with a one-way bus ticket to Los Angeles.

Sadly, this wasn’t the only heartless thing Metallica did to Mustaine.

Los Angeles METRO BusWalter Cicchetti, Shutterstock

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16. They Knew Before

Ten days before giving Mustaine the rather unceremonious boot, Metallica had already lined up Kirk Hammett from the band Exodus to replace him.

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This means that for ten days they could have talked to Mustaine about leaving the band, but instead decided they needed to surprise him with a bus ticket.

Hammett was now facing a tall order. He had to step into the shoes of the incredibly talented Mustaine.

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image of Kirk Hammettpicture alliance, Getty images

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17. He Borrowed

Hammett was keen to step in for Mustaine, but he didn’t want to disappoint fans by sounding totally different to him. Well, Hammett came up with a solution, but it was more than a little sneaky. He borrowed the opening four bars of Mustaines’s solos and then rewrote the rest. Hammett had found the perfect way to blend in with Metallica.

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Soon it was time to hit the road—but when they did, tragedy struck.

Kirk Hammett on the stageIsmael Quintanilla, Shutterstock

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18. They Argued About Bunks

Metallica was on a European tour and was soon arguing about the sleeping arrangements on the tour bus. As some bunks were more comfortable than others, the band members decided to draw cards to see who got to choose their bunk first.

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When Burton pulled the ace of spades he took Hammett’s usual bunk, and Hammett went to the front of the bus.

Little did Burton know, that ace of spades sealed his fate. 

American heavy metal group MetallicaFin Costello, Getty images

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19. It Skidded And Flipped

Just after dawn, the Metallica tour bus skidded, flipped over several times, and landed on the grass on the side of the road.

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Hetfield only had minor injuries and got out of the bus—only to be greeted by a horrifying sight. The bus was literally lying on top of Burton. While this seems like the worst possible scenario, it actually got even more disturbing.

Bus crashed into a wallconejota, Shutterstock

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20. It Got Him Twice

Burton was literally lying under the bus when a rescue crew arrived with a crane to save him. With everyone watching, the crane operator lifted the bus off of Burton—and then dropped it back on top of him. It was beyond tragic—and it would haunt them for years afterward.

image of Broken busMaximillian cabinet, Shutterstock

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21. They Were In Mourning

Metallica had a dilemma.

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They were certainly mourning the loss of Burton, but they also wanted to continue as a band. They reluctantly started auditioning and one of the hopefuls, Jason Newsted, had an edge. He told the band that he already knew all the songs for their upcoming tour. This delighted Metallica—but also confused them. How did he know the lineup for their tour?

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image of Jason Newsted performing with his bandZamrznuti tonovi, Shutterstock

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22. He Was Sneaky

Jason Newsted had cleverly—and mysteriously—gotten a hold of the band’s set list and learned it. Metallica was still mourning the loss of Burton, so the easy answer was to just hire Newsted and be done with it. Burton’s mother even met Newsted and gave him a big hug and told him that he “was the one”. She may have thought Newsted was the one—but some others did not.

Jason Newstead and James Hetfield of metallicaMike Cameron, Getty Images

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23. He Took The Blame

Newsted’s first album with Metallica, …And Justice for All, did not quite please critics. In fact, it was Newsted’s bass playing that they didn’t like. Critics called the tone “thin” and the bass guitar “undermixed”. Of course, the newly hired Newsted received most of the blame for this, but that may not have been quite right.

You see, the man who mixed the album said it was all Ulrich’s fault. Even with all this controversy, …And Justice for All hit the number six spot on the Billboard 200 and gave Metallica a very important first.

image of Bassist Jason NewstedMichael Ochs Archives, Getty Images

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24. They Were A Shoe-In

In 1989, the Grammy Awards added a Best Hard Rock/Heavy Metal recording category to its list of awards, and Metallica received a nomination.

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The word on the street was that Metallica was a shoe-in. Jethro Tull, who also received a nomination, didn’t even show up because they knew they didn’t have a chance.

At the ceremony, Metallica performed a song right before the announcement of the winner and waited backstage to collect their award.

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Well, things didn’t go quite as planned.

Metallica at the Poplar Creek Music TheaterPaul Natkin, Getty Images

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25. It Wasn’t Them

The presenter for the award was Alice Cooper, and he opened the envelope that everyone expected to read Metallica. To Cooper’s surprise, the winner was Jethro Tull. The audience reaction was brutal. They were strangely silent and then you could actually hear laughter.

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You see, Jethro Tull was anything but a heavy metal band, and there was probably the best metal band in America, standing backstage with egg on their faces.

Metallica licked their wounds, and then went on to create their most controversial album yet.

image of Jethro TullHeinrich Klaffs, Flickr

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26. They Didn’t Get Along

Metallica was getting more and more popular, and it was time for an album that would match this.

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They hired Motley Crue producer Bob Rock and got down to work. Sadly, tempers soon flared between Rock and Metallica. It got so stressful that Ulrich, Hammett, and Newsted all divorced their wives during the recording process.

In spite of all the problems, Metallica released Metallica in August 1991. They just hoped that all the bad karma around the album wouldn’t taint its chance of success.

image of metalica band with Bob Rock producerJeffrey Mayer, Getty Images

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27. It Was Huge

Metallica supporters had very little idea about the troubles the band had with this album, and they came out in droves to buy it.

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Its sales were just shy of an astonishing 600,000 in the initial week. Withiin two weeks, the album went platinum and had four full weeks at the top of the Billboard 200. In short, Metallica was a huge hit.

It was time to tour—which brought back tragic memories for the band. Sadly, they were about to create some new ones as well.

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image of metallica concertPaul Natkin, Getty Images

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28. He Got Burned

The tours after the release of Metallica were epic but not without their tragedy. On August 8, 1992, Metallica joined Guns N’ Roses on stage at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. Tragically, Hetfield walked right into the path of a pyrotechnic effect and got second and third-degree burns on the left side of his body.

What Guns N’ Roses did next caused a major crisis at the stadium.

image of guitarist hetfield from MetallicaBen Houdijk, Shutterstock

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29. They Were Enraged

Metallica had had to cut their set short because of Hetfield’s injuries. The logical thing was for Gun N’ Roses to do a longer set to please the fans. Well, that didn’t happen. Guns N’ Roses actually did a shorter set, with singer Axl Rose claiming he had a “voice issue”. Enraged fans weren’t buying it, and they rioted the stadium.

This wasn’t the only time that an injured Hetfield caused problems for Metallica.

image of Guns N 'Roses on a stageA.PAES, Shutterstock

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30. He Was Accident-Prone

It took only seven days for Hetfield to recover from his injuries, and he was back on stage.

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He couldn’t play the guitar but he could provide his vocals. But this wasn’t Hetfield’s only injury. He also broke his arm while skateboarding. His management company grew tired of Hetfield’s injuries and added a clause to his contract.

He wasn't allowed to ride a skateboard while the band was touring.

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Metallica survived the tour and then headed to their favorite place: a court of law.

James Hetfield plays on stageIcon and Image, Getty images

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31. They Lawyered Up

When the touring was over, Metallica realized that their contract with Elektra Records gave them only a measly 14% of the royalties from their music. They decided to launch a lawsuit asking for release from their contract.

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Elektra Records counter sued and things looked dire. That’s when Warner Music Group stepped in, offered Metallica a better deal, and they all settled out of court.

Metallica was finally getting the money they thought they deserved. However, five years later, a new technology was going to take that money away from them.

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The Burbank offices of Elektra RecordsDaniel J. Macy, Shutterstock

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32. They Had To Play Detective

In 2000, Metallica had written and recorded a song for the film Mission Impossible II. The song was “I Disappear” and before the release date, the guys heard it on the radio. They were stunned. The song couldn’t be on the radio. They hadn’t released it to the public yet. A little detective work led them to the startling revelation.

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image from Mission ImpossibleParamount , Mission: Impossible (2023)

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33. They Were Sharing

Metallica was in for a huge surprise. They discovered a service called Napster where users could share music they’d legally purchased. Not only was “I Disappear” available on Napster, Metallica’s entire catalog of songs was also there for anyone to download. Metallica was furious, and they decided to deal with this the only way they knew how—with lawyers, of course.

Napster app on Samsung S7dennizn, Shutterstock

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34. They Brought A List

Ulrich in particular was angry about Napster, so he did something to get back at them. He and his legal partners put together a list of 335,000 names. These were all people who were using the site to listen to Metallica’s music. Ulrich took the list and presented it to the people at Napster.

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The battle was on.

Napster web page under magnifying glassdennizn, Shutterstock

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35. They Wanted It Gone

Next, Ulrich appeared before Federal Judge Marilyn Hall Patel and presented her with a statement about Napster’s “immoral” sharing. Patel, impressed by Ulrich’s plight, was ready to shut Napster down. Before she could do it, Napster filed for bankruptcy. In the fight between Metallica and Napster, Metallica had clearly won.

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Except this fight was far from over.

a wooden legal gavel on an office deskSOMKID THONGDEE, Shutterstock

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36. He Added Humor

To add a little humor to the controversy, Ulrich appeared in a skit at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2000. In the skit, Ulrich confronts a college student who’s listening to a Metallica song without paying for it. The student, played by funny man Marlon Wayans, says that he was “sharing” the music. Ulrich then defines this kind of sharing as "borrowing things that were not yours without asking".

Ulrich was making his point about fans sharing music, but the night was not over yet.

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image of a Concert of MetallicaBen Houdijk, Shutterstock

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37. They Booed

Later in the same evening, Napster creator Shawn Fanning was up to present an award. He wore a Metallica T-shirt that read: "I borrowed this shirt from a friend. Maybe, if I like it, I'll buy one of my own". Clearly, this was a battle between Metallica and not just Fanning, but the very idea of peer-to-peer sharing.

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In the end, it was the audience that determined the winner.

They booed Ulrich when he took the stage. As it turned out, Metallica’s problems with the internet were just beginning.

image of the napster app creatorJoi, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

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38. They Gave A Sneak Preview

In 2008, Metallica was releasing a new album and they invited a select group of journalists in for a sneak preview.

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Since Metallica didn’t ask the journalists to wait for the release of the album, some of them decided to write about it before the public got their hands on it. When the reviews came out online, an outraged Metallica demanded they take them down.

As it turned out, there were more problems with this album coming their way.

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Metallica performing livefornStudio, Shutterstock

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39. They Had Demands

When Metallica eventually released this same 2008 album, fans were not….well…fans. In fact, 16,000 Metallica supporters signed a petition. They were so disappointed with the sound quality that they wanted Metallica to remix it. The band refused to bend to public opinion, and Ulrich added fuel to the fire.

He blamed the internet for giving complainers a voice.

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On top of that, there was evidence that Metallica’s sound quality was low, In fact, some even thought it was painful.

Lars Ulrich of Metallica performs in concertDebby Wong, Shutterstock

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40. They Were A Punishment

When the US government wanted to punish prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, they came up with all kinds of ways to make their lives miserable. One method involved Metallica.

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The guards there apparently blared “Enter Sandman” over the speakers over and over again. It must have worked, as they did the same thing at the border between Syria and Iraq.

In spite of the pain the Metallic’s music caused, there was still a shortage of tickets.

image of Metallica CDPeter Gudella, Shutterstock

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41. They Sold For Double

For the 2017 tour, Metallica tickets were in short supply.

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In fact, resellers were doubling the price in a bid to make some easy cash. The scandal escalated when it came to light that someone associated with Metallica was actually scalping tickets online. This was tour manager and merchandise coordinator Tony DiCioccio. Metallica said they had no idea what DiCioccio was up to.

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Funny, that’s the same excuse they give for this next scandal.

Tony DiCioccio with metallica bandEric Charbonneau, Shutterstock

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42. They Sued A Little Guy

In 2016, a Canadian Metallica tribute band named Sandman got the shock of their lives. They got a letter from Metallica’s management team that said that their logo was too similar to Metallica’s, and that they would be facing a lawsuit. Sandman likely thought it was obvious that a tribute band would use a similar logo.

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They couldn’t believe that their idols were actually suing them.

As it turned out, they weren’t.

CDs of the american heavy metal group Metallicaesthermm, Shutterstock

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43. He Sold it Cheap

Metallic’s legal team had gone forward with the lawsuit against Sandman without the knowledge of the band members. When Ulrich found out about the letter to Sandman, he said they should throw it in the trash and then generously sold them the license for the logo for $1.

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They also insinuated that the lawyer who sent the letter would no longer be working for Metallica.

But if you do a little research, Metallica’s song “Enter Sandman” has its own murky past.

image of MetallicaBen Houdijk, Sutterstock

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44. It Sounded The Same

Back in the 1990s, Metallica was in hot water for allegedly borrowing not a logo, but a song.

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Excel, a California thrash band, thought that “Enter Sandman” sounded a lot like their song “Tapping Into the Emotional Void”. Excel didn’t pursue the charge and instead decided to focus on the positive things in life. Which seems kinda ironic for a metal band.

Maybe Metallica could borrow this attitude from Excel—instead of tormenting people.

image of Matallica band concertMaj.l, Shutterstock

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45. They Borrowed Their Image

In 2017, style icons Kylie and Kendall Jenner decided to create a fashion explosion by releasing a line of T-shirts that featured their own faces over top of album covers from rock bands.

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If the Jenner sisters had done their homework, they would have known that Metallica was not fond of having anything of theirs used without permission. Hetfield called them out, and the Jenners made an abrupt apology.

Next, a hugely popular Netflix show would also borrow a little something from Metallica.

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image of kylie and kendal jennerTinseltown, Shutterstock

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46. They Were Rediscovered

When the makers of the hit show Stranger Things used the Metallica song “Master of Puppets” in a scene, young people started taking an interest in the band. The guys thought this would be a great way to get a whole new legion of fans, so they even posted a video of them jamming with the Stranger Things actor Joseph Quinn, and then gifted him with a guitar.

Sadly, Metallica was a little out of touch with how social media worked, and how it could quickly turn nasty. 

stranger things tv series image conceptkavi designs, Shutterstock

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47. They Tried To Cancel Them

Stranger Things’ fans were like sponges for all things Metallica—until they started digging, and they didn’t like what they found. These included a past use of racial slurs, and an instance where Metallica members mocked the tragic passing of Kurt Cobain soon after it happened.

Hetfield also made some stunning confessions about his past.

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image of Kurt CobainKMazur, Getty Images

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48. It’s A Secret

While many rock stars have a list of bad behaviors as long as a guitar solo, Metallica has stayed mostly away from the hotel room trashings and groupie deflowerings. That doesn’t mean they’ve been perfect angels, though. In 2015, Hetfield admitted to doing some “horrible stuff—shameful, extremely shameful, dark stuff”. So far, what that “stuff” is, is a mystery.

Maybe what we saw at the 2017 Grammys was a taste of Hetfield’s dark side.

Metallica perform at Rose Bowl StadiumMathew Tucciarone, Shutterstock

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49. He Lost It

The 2017 Grammys went for the odd pairing of Metallica with pop goddess Lady Gaga. Things started off badly, when Laverne Cox introduced the performance and forgot to even mention Metallica.

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Next, Hetfield’s voice wasn’t audible for half of the performance because his microphone didn’t work.

Hetfield was so angry, he kicked his microphone stand and threw his guitar and his pick.

Lady Gaga and MetallicaKevin Winter, Getty images

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50. It Was A Mystery

Years after the accident that took bassist Cliff Burton’s life, Hetfield revealed what really happened that night. He said that, after the accident, the driver had blamed a patch of black ice.

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Hetfield went to look for it—and found nothing.

He said that he was sure that the driver was either inebriated or had fallen asleep at the wheel. But when the authorities investigated, they took the driver’s word and declined to press charges against him.

Cliff Burton graveBbwmbbwm, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

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51. His Friend Believes Dark Forces Were Involved

Burton may have lost his life in a bus accident, but ex-Pentagram member Joe Hasselvander believes something else was at play.

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According to Hasselvander, Burton passed on because he possessed tarot cards covered with human blood that dated back to the Salem Witch Trials.

mystic tarot deck and old tarot cards laying on tableAngelica Corneliussen, Shutterstock

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