Pyro Tech Reveals What Really Led to James Hetfield Burn Accident at 1992 Metallica Concert, Recalls Lars Insulting Him Before the Show

Even though it’s been three decades after the incident, James Hetfield getting second- and third-degree burns on the left side of his body is still one of the much-discussed moments in Metallica’s history. In fact, it went down as one of the band’s most important moments, especially with the riot that took place after the incident.

It was August 8, 1992 and Metallica was on the stage. While performing “Fade to Black,” a pyro cue comes up and there’s unexpected weird guitar noise. James is taken off the stage and there’s this long pause while Guns N’ Roses were preparing to perform. Then Guns N’ Roses cut the show short, citing poor stage monitor setup and Axl’s voice issues as problems. And that’s when the whole infamous riot happened.

Metallica & Guns N' Roses - Montreal Riot TV News Report (1992)

In a recent chat on the Appetite for Distortion podcast, pyro technician Pete Cappadocia and Guns N’ Roses longtime manager Doug Goldstein discussed the incident. When Goldstein suggested that it was Lars’ fault for messing with pyro cues before the show, Pete stepped in to reveal what actually happened. He offered (transcript by Killer Guitar Rigs):

“I’m working for Metallica, and I’m working for Guns N’ Roses. I’m currently on tour with Metallica and we start talking about the GN’R-Metallica package that tour going out. So now, I’m going to shoot both bands. Lars catches wind do this and says, ‘Well, I don’t want you shooting Guns N’ Roses, I only want you shooting us.'”

“So I gotta call Opie, the production manager at the time. And I say ‘Lars wants to me to pick a band. And he goes, ‘Let me call Axl.’ He calls him a little while later and says, ‘How much do you want?’ And I said, ‘Well, they’re gonna give me this.’ So he goes, ‘Alright, we’ll give you that.’ And I said, ‘Okay.'”

“So now I gotta call Lars and I tell him ‘Your little plan backfired and now I’m not shooting you.’ So Lars had Tony De Chacho, called Opie, confirm how much they were paying me. Then Lars calls me back to basically curse me out and calls me a traitor and whatever. And I don’t care.”

Discussing it further, he adds:

“So Metallica is playing and I’m sitting on a road case, because Guns N’ Roses is gonna go next. And I’m playing my GameBoy. I’m playing a game and I’m playing the game and all of a sudden, I hear this horrific guitar noise. And everyone’s like, James is hurt!’ So we all run to the stage.”

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“By the time I got there, the medical team was bringing him off [the stage]. What happened was, the guy that was shooting it, who was their guy, used to shoot it in Europe for them… They had moved the monitors, they had moved a piece of pyro. And James walked to his spot.”

James Hetfield Pyrotechnic Accident 1992 Montreal 720p

“So he’s playing guitar. So he’s got his arm like this [standing up and playing], right? And so the pyro thing is right here [left of James]. So here’s the pyro and his arm was right here. And he walked to his cue to the spot as normal. They shot the pyro but then he did like a half a step. And he actually passed his arm so the pyro was coming up as he past arm through it. So it was like such a freak accident to happen. James stopped. So the pyro guy hit the cue, then James did that little half a step extra and put his arm right over it. And then the riot ensued.”

Photo: Gage Skidmore (James Hetfield by Gage Skidmore), Gage Skidmore (Lars Ulrich by Gage Skidmore)