On March 16, 1992, Metallica rolled into Orlando, FL and played a sold-out show at the 18,000-capacity Orlando Arena in the midst of a two-year tour that helped establish the group as the biggest heavy metal band on the world. On this night, though, they’d slam headlong into central Florida’s crazed metal community, which was notorious for extreme tastes and behavior to match. By the time it was over, Metallica would foot a bill for $41,000 in damages, an amount that equates to $87,000 today.


Metallica was formed in 1981 in Los Angeles by drummer Lars Ulrich and guitarist/vocalist James Hetfield, who recruited guitarist Dave Mustaine and bassist Ron McGovney to complete the initial lineup. From day one, they were a loud and proud heavy metal band, influenced equally by the volume and attitude of British rockers Motörhead and the lengthier song structures of British metal band Diamond Head. The band spent 1982 gigging locally and writing their first album, a strong batch of riff-heavy metal songs played with punk rock’s speed and intensity. L.A.’s live music scene would have little use for Metallica at first, but the band would find its crowd in San Francisco, where an unusually intense thrash metal scene had developed. Things took a significant turn when Hetfield and Ulrich spotted bassist extraordinaire Cliff Burton playing in the San Francisco-based metal band Trauma, and the pair quickly approached him about replacing McGovney. Burton nixed a potential move to Los Angeles but agreed to join the band if they would move to the Bay Area, and Hetfield and Ulrich wanted him badly enough that they did.

Hetfield, Ulrich, and Mustaine relocated to El Cerrito in the East Bay in early 1983 and played their first shows with Burton at The Stone in San Francisco in March, right around the time New Jersey-based indie label Megaforce Records scraped up money for the band to record an album. Metallica traveled to New York to record, but before the sessions started Hetfield and Ulrich dismissed Mustaine from the band under highly acrimonious circumstances and replaced him with Exodus guitarist Kirk Hammett, who remains the band’s lead guitarist to this day. (A stricken and furious Mustaine was dumped at the bus station with a Greyhound ticket home to Los Angeles, but he’d respond by forming Megadeth, who’ve sold 40 million records worldwide and become one of thrash metal’s “Big 4” along with Metallica, Slayer, and Anthrax.) Metallica released its debut LP Kill ‘Em All in July 1983, and it’s a low-budget classic containing 51 minutes of guitar-based savagery and raw vocals.

Related: Metallica Bought Its Own Vinyl Pressing Plant To Meet “Massive” Demand

When the band started writing songs for its second album, Burton’s involvement and influence (along with his chemistry with Hammett) would result in two albums that changed the course of heavy metal. Metallica released Ride the Lightning in July 1984, and it was a quantum leap for the band and a cornerstone for the genre. Now Metallica was upstaging headline acts everywhere they played, and within months of the release, Megaforce upstreamed the band’s recording contract to major label Elektra Records for re-release. It would go on to sell more than 6 million copies in the U.S. alone. They’d follow it in March 1986 with Master of Puppets, a second genre cornerstone and definitive musical statement that also sold 6 million copies in the U.S. before becoming the first heavy metal album selected for preservation in the Library of CongressNational Recording Registry.

Then, tragedy struck. Metallica’s tour bus crashed in Sweden in the early hours of September 27th, 1986, and Burton was killed at the age of 24. The devastated and traumatized band felt they could best honor Burton by getting back to work as quickly as possible, and they chose Jason Newsted from Arizona-based Flotsam & Jetsam as Burton’s successor. The band played its first show with Newsted on November 8, 1986, just 42 days later. They broke him in further by recording a raw EP of covers, Garage Days Revisited in August 1987 before releasing a fourth album, …And Justice For All in September 1988. It was a long, complex, and completely uncompromising album whose nine tracks ran for a total of 65 minutes, and at least part of the band’s intent was to silence mainstream music critics who “didn’t think the band could actually play.” Meanwhile, fans lapped it all up as the band graduated to arena headliner status, with the Damaged Justice tour cramming 218 shows into 13 nonstop months and the album going on to sell over 9 million copies in the U.S.


When Metallica reconvened in 1990 to start writing the band’s fifth album, they’d grown tired of playing one long, complicated eight-minute song after another and decided to focus on shorter and (comparatively) slower material. Producer and perfectionist Bob Rock was enlisted to help, and a year of stressful work would yield the self-titled, so-called “Black Album” in August 1991. It lifted the band into the stratosphere, with the singles “Enter Sandman” and “Nothing Else Matters” making Metallica a household name and bringing mainstream success at a level that was previously unthinkable for a band of their ilk.

Metallica also raised its game with the tour’s live production. Instead of sticking with standard end-stage configuration used in arenas, Metallica’s production crew designed a large diamond-shaped stage with 360 degrees of outward-facing microphones and two drum sets on lengthy sets of tracks that could be raised and lowered as needed. In the middle of it all, catwalks spanned a central enclosure, the Snake Pit, which would be filled nightly with up to 200 lucky fans (mostly radio contest winners) who got to watch the entire show from onstage. It was aesthetically pleasing and a highly practical structure for interacting with crowds, and naturally it was all black.

Metallica was firing on all cylinders when they arrived in Orlando on March 16, 1992 for the 101st gig of a world tour cycle that ultimately racked up 348 shows over 23 months. Even though it was Monday, fans arrived early to fill the parking lots and rage like it was Saturday, with the plainclothes alcoholic beverage control police having plenty of work on their hands. On top of that, thousands of folks in the crowd were from central Florida’s notorious “death metal” scene, which started in the mid-’80s via the bands Death from Orlando and Nasty Savage from Tampa and would go on to include Deicide, Morbid Angel, Obituary, and Cannibal Corpse. Within this genre, no music was too fast or too heavy, no lyrics were too extreme, and at shows no mosh pit was too crazy or too violent. Yes, shock value was a major ingredient and that was a big part of the fun for the participants, but the craziness at shows was real, and while a significant number of these fans might not have dug The Black Album as much, they’d still turn up because Metallica was still the same head-shredding live band and they’d definitely still be playing songs from those first three albums.


At around 7:30 p.m,. the house lights dropped and a confident, focused pre-show production began. Video screens above the lighting rig lit up with a live feed from backstage, where the band greeted the crowd while clowning around and preparing to play. In lieu of an opening act the band introduced a 20-minute retrospective video that got the veterans revved up while also getting the thousands of new fans up to speed on the band’s history. When the video ended, the house lights stayed down as the band’s dramatic walk-on music started: “The Ecstasy of Gold”, the climax of Ennio Morricone’s score to the film The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

Hetfield played the opening notes of “Enter Sandman” as the lighting trusses rose dramatically to reveal the band and stage, and as the trusses reached their full height, the main riff of the song crashed through the PA. They’d follow their breakthrough song with “Creeping Death”, the centerpiece of Ride the Lightning and one of heavy metal’s most beloved compositions. Even within the Metallica canon, it had always been held back as a set-closer or encore until now. It was a formidable and effective opening, and the band rounded out the half-hour introductory portion of the show with the mid-paced stomper “Harvester of Sorrow” and the slow buildup of “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)”.

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Now that Metallica had heated the crowd up, the band would divide the remainder of the three-hour show into two 75-minute segments. The first centered on the new Black Album, with the band also demonstrating some of the showmanship tricks picked up from endless tour-bus viewings of Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains the Same and AC/DC’s Let There Be Rock. The band aired five of the album’s 12 songs during this segment but kept the vibe informal and interactive through guy-next-to-you-style stage patter, jamming on segments of well-known classic rock and metal songs, bass and guitar solos from Newsted and Hammett, and a 10-minute medley containing four songs from the complex …And Justice For All album. Most humorously, Hetfield staged his nightly interruption of Ulrich’s drum solo by coming out and playing on the second kit that was onstage, with an insolent Ulrich milking the scene for all it was worth before the pair pounded out a short, crowd-pleasing duet. Despite all this, the band worked hard to ensure everyone that they were still the same guys who were playing clubs and bowling alleys seven years earlier. They’d tie a bow on the segment with the ballad “Nothing Else Matters”, with Hetfield delivering his vocals while seated on one of the staircases to the catwalks over the Snake Pit.


Now it was time to play the old stuff, and play it Metallica did. The remaining 75 minutes of the show included three encores, with eight of the segment’s ten songs coming from the Burton era. It kicked off with “For Whom The Bell Tolls” and “Fade To Black” from Ride The Lightning before the main set closed with a full-throttle version of “Whiplash”, the first song from Kill ‘Em All to make an appearance that night. The first encore maintained the momentum with the title track of Master Of Puppets, which the band cut in half in order to jump right to an extended version of Kill ‘Em All’s “Seek and Destroy”, and when Hetfield made his way down to the pit area in front of the stage to hold out a mic for audience members to sing into, many fans on the floor surged towards the stage to try and get in on the action.

The second encore began with “One”, the band’s disquieting eight-minute war anthem from …Justice, featuring the use of strobe lights and deafening concussion blasts that for the most part are no longer used in live music performances today. From there, the band went to the other end of its musical spectrum for a quick blast through a cover of The Misfits’ punk classic “Last Caress”, which brought the crowd back up to frenzy levels during the 75 seconds it lasted.


As the closing chord of “Last Caress” hung in the air, the band counted in their cover of Diamond Head’s “Am I Evil?”, whose two-minute opening segment is actually a clever and effective lift of the introduction of “Mars, God of War” from Gustav Holst’s 1918 orchestral suite The Planets. Released as a B-side to the “Creeping Death” single in 1984, the song remained a favorite amongst older fans, and on this night it would be the proverbial levee-breaker. During the song’s first chords, fans in the lower bowl simultaneously streamed onto the arena floor from every direction while thousands in the upper bowl also bolted down the staircases and escalators to get in on action. The floor soon became a swarming mass of bodies, as entire sections of heavy, linked folding chairs were torn apart and thrown into piles.

Someone turned on all house lights just before the band charged into the first two verses and choruses of “Am I Evil”, and the entire floor looked to be headbanging, surging towards the stage, or careening around one of several mosh pits that had formed. Security had lost control of the crowd, and now that the house lights were up, Metallica knew it too. But instead of stopping to calm things down, the band did the exact opposite by sticking to the set list and counting in “Battery”, their signature thrash metal song from Puppets.

If you were the venue’s owner or management, this was easily the single worst song the band could have played at that moment. But if you were a crazed Florida metalhead on the arena floor, “Battery” was the best choice ever, complete with its chorus of “Smashing through the boundaries, / Lunacy has found me, / Cannot stop the battery.” At this point all security could do was man the barriers separating stage and crowd to prevent all but a few fans from climbing onto the stage, but even after that, the band didn’t let up, and after a couple minutes of swigging beers and soaking up cheers they knocked out a third and final encore with the house lights still up, a cover of Budgie’s “Breadfan” with its slower mid-section taken out to make the song a four-minute, high-speed riff-fest.


After the band bade their final goodbyes and Ulrich hinted at a return (“We’ll see you outdoors this summer!”), the band headed out to drink at a local rock club, The Station, having let the entire crowd know that’s where they’d be. Meanwhile, the band’s road crew began loading out for the band’s next show in Huntsville, AL while the venue’s staff tallied up the damages from the floor invasion, which included hundreds of broken and bent steel chairs that were beyond repair. Metallica was presented with a bill for $41,000, and to their credit, they quickly signed off on a wire transfer of the full amount to square things with the promoter and the venue. The fact that the show had been the highest-grossing concert in the venue’s history would also go a long way towards smoothing over any residual ill will.

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Metallica made good on Ulrich’s promise, returning to Orlando less than six months later at the Citrus Bowl on September 2nd as a co-headliner with Guns N’ Roses on their infamous Stadium Tour, and fortunately both bands’ sets would proceed without incident, though another famous riot took place when the tour stopped in Montreal. Metallica would subsequently play Orlando Arena once more in 1997 before the venue was closed in 2010 and replaced by Amway Arena, and after Newsted departed the band in 2001 and was replaced by Robert Trujillo from Suicidal Tendencies, Metallica would return twice more to Orlando for headline shows at the Citrus Bowl in 2003 and 2017.

As of today, Metallica have sold over 100 million albums worldwide, with The Black Album alone selling over 31 million copies. The band has been nominated for twenty-three Grammy awards and won nine, and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009—and all the while, Metallica’s March 1992 show in Orlando has remained an under-the-radar highlight during the band’s two-year ascension to mega-stardom.

Metallica will release the band’s 11th album, 72 Seasons, on April 14th via Blackend Recordings and begin a world tour on April 27th in Amsterdam. For more information, visit the band’s website.

Metallica – Orlando Arena – Orlando, FL – 3/16/92 [Full Show]

[Video: RadiovanalicA]

Metallica – Orlando Arena – Orlando, FL – 3/16/92 [Full Show]

[Video: METALLICA Channel Argentina]

Setlist: Metallica | Orlando Arena | Orlando, FL | 3/16/92

Set: Enter Sandman, Creeping Death, Harvester of Sorrow, Welcome Home (Sanitarium), Sad But True, Wherever I May Roam, Jason Newsted bass solo, Through The Never, The Unforgiven, Justice Medley (incl. Eye of the Beholder, Frayed Ends of Sanity, …And Justice For All, Blackened), Lars Ulrich drum solo (incl. drum duet with James Hetfield), Kirk Hammett guitar solo, Nothing Else Matters, For Whom The Bell Tolls, Fade To Black, Whiplash

Encore 1: Master Of Puppets (partial), Seek and Destroy (extended)

Encore 2: One, Last Caress (Misfits), Am I Evil? (Diamond Head) (partial), Battery

Encore 3: Breadfan (Budgie)