Anthrax's Scott Ian recalls horror bus crash that killed Metallica's Cliff Burton: "I think about him weekly"

Scott Ian and Cliff Burton
(Image credit: Daniel Boczarski/Redferns, Krasner/Trebitz /Redferns)

Anthrax may be the only band among the Big Four to hail from America's East Coast, but they share a profound bond with their thrash metal brethren, and old friends Metallica in particular.

In a new Metal Hammer interview, Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian discusses meeting Metallica for the first time, as well as his band's experience of the 1986 Damage Inc. tour, during which Metallica bassist Cliff Burton was tragically killed in a tour bus accident.

Reflecting on Anthrax's rising fame in the '80s, Ian recalls the celebratory atmosphere the two bands enjoyed while on tour together, saying,"It was truly unbelievable because it really wasn't that long before that nobody knew who we were, and we were just trying to get anyone to listen to what we were doing".

He continues: "We felt so strongly – and I include Metallica in this – about what we were doing musically at that point and knew the world needed to hear it. We really felt like we had something to say. So when you're standing on stage, and you're looking out at 3000 British people on your first ever tour in England and they're going fucking nuts, they're singing your songs, that are even still new to you…

"Every night, we would all just hang out, and ask how this had happened. It really put both of us on the map in the UK and we got to do it together which made it that much better. Every night was a celebration of what we had been working so hard to accomplish for the three or four years before that.”

Sharing one memory he recalls with particular fondness, Ian continues, "The last night of that tour was Hammersmith Odeon and Music For Nations threw a party for both bands. It was kind of the end of the UK run before we went off to Europe and so we had a big party. It was chaos! I mean, it was nuts.

"I have memories of running around with Cliff through the halls of the hotel late at night. We found the room that has the laundry sheets and I remember pissing down them, doing all kinds of stupid shit as you would when you're 22 and just finished your first ever tour, every show sold out and never had done anything like that in your life. It was pretty fucking fabulous and fantastic, a mind blowing experience."

Referring to the incident which saw Burton tragically killed, the guitarist adds, "Of course, it all went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows less than a week later of course, in Sweden.

"We all went through that together again and certainly in the context of being in a band I think it was the worst thing that had ever happened to any of us, completely inconceivable and unknown.

"Even all these years later, there are parts of me that are still in denial about it, like how it possibly could have happened. Everyone pretty much walks out unscathed but we lost Cliff. It's still so unbelievable. I think about him weekly – I’ve got a giant photo in my house.”

When questioned as to what exactly took place when he discovered the news of Burton's passing, the guitarist says, "We were there when Kirk and James were brought to the hotel in Copenhagen that night, after the accident. We stayed with them all night. I think Lars had gone home to his dad's house, but James and Kirk came to the hotel and had to fly out the next morning.

"I remember Charlie [Benante, drums] and Frankie [Bello, bass] taking James outside to just walk him around the block a few hundred times to try and clear his head, while I stayed up all night talking to Kirk. 

"They flew home and we flew back a few days later, then got another flight straight to San Francisco. I stayed with James in his tiny little apartment in the city for a couple of days and we just spent every day out at Kirk's mom's house. I was with James, Lars and Kirk and a lot of their friends from other bands.

"That's how I met Mike Borden from Faith No More because he was super close with Cliff. We spent like a week, you know, just literally sitting around Kirk's mom's house, drinking beer and telling stories. It was one of the deepest, most powerful experiences humans can go through together.”

Rich Hobson

Staff writer for Metal Hammer, Rich has never met a feature he didn't fancy, which is just as well when it comes to covering everything rock, punk and metal for both print and online, be it legendary events like Rock In Rio or Clash Of The Titans or seeking out exciting new bands like Nine Treasures, Jinjer and Sleep Token.