The opening night of any new arena is bound to be a special occasion and the inaugural show will always go down in history. Copenhagen’s Royal Arena marked their arrival on the world stage with a huge statement of intent by booking the biggest metal band in the world, Metallica. Of course, the fact that Metallica’s drummer and co-founder just happens to be Copenhagen’s very own Lars Ulrich added an extra dimension to the show, guaranteeing that the night would be something to be remembered for years to come.

When Metallica announced that they would being playing these two dates at the Royal Arena, adding that these shows would be their only European dates until the end of 2017, tickets sold out within a matter of minutes, even the enhanced experience ones, and this immediately became one of the most eagerly anticipated shows of 2017. Such was the demand that a further two dates were added, with these also selling out in no time. I was lucky enough to get tickets for the opening show and could not wait.

I arrived a day before the show giving me chance to sight see around Copenhagen, visit a few of the microbrewery bars and locate Metallica’s “pop up shop”, which had loads of new merch available, exclusive to the “pop up shop”. Some might deride this as outrageous commercialism (and it probably is), but no-one forced me to go to the store and it was nice to have the opportunity to browse the merch properly, try things on and generally have a good look around.

During my time in Copenhagen, it was apparent that the gig had generated huge excitement in the city, and seemingly everyone knew that the shows were happening, even those that didn’t look as though they were metalheads. Just about everyone I spoke to (Airport security, shop assistants, bar staff, hotel receptionists) all asked about the show and chatted to me about it – I guess the T-shirt was a give away! One barman even turned off whatever generic jazz was playing in the bar, and put on the ‘Black Album’ while I sampled the local brews. He went on to explain that for the people of Copenhagen, Metallica (and specifically Lars) returning to the city was like the return of “a lost son” and was the source of much pride. As if that wasn’t enough, the new arena was causing a lot of excitement with several different people telling me how good the sound was going to be.

On the day of the gig I arrived nice and early to soak up the atmosphere. The arena was typically Scandinavian in appearance, and the atmosphere was great as die hard Metallica fans rubbed shoulders with newer members of the Metallica family, around the stage which, as we’ve come to expect, was in the centre of the floor, while a few industry types loitered at the back in their suits. As the arena filled there was a palpable air of anticipation and excitement as showtime approached.

Before Metallica took to the stage, the honour of being the very first band to play at the arena fell to Hatesphere. The Danish thrash/death mob assaulted the stage with aplomb as they rampaged around trying to cover all four sides. They looked initially a little overcome by the occasion but soon settled into their stride. Sadly their appeal seemed to be limited to the gathered throng at the front who they proceeded to batter with their sonic assault. This was a shame as they clearly have a lot of potential and I was impressed by what I heard. This was perhaps not the right setting for them and I hope I get the opportunity to see them again in a more fitting club venue.

Having refuelled with some more “Royal Beer”, I took up position for the main event of the evening. It took longer for Metallica to appear than expected, but eventually the familiar intro of Thin Lizzy’s ‘The Boys are back in Town’, followed by Ennio Morricone’s familiar ‘The Ecstasy of Gold’. The band took to the stage to the ‘Hardwired’ intro tape before opening with a combo of new tracks (‘Hardwired’ and ‘Atlas, Rise!’) to a rapturous reception from the capacity crowd who sang along with every word.

Crowd favourite ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’ upped the ante further prompting the first karaoke opportunity of the evening. The atmosphere reached fever pitch during ‘Fuel’ before the pace slowed for ‘The Unforgiven’. It was great to hear this track live again, but unfortunately it became clear that all was not well within the Metallica camp, and specifically talisman James Hetfield did not look well appearing clammy and lethargic, and far from his usual enigmatic self. Furthermore, during this track it became apparent that his voice wasn’t up to his usual standards and he seemed to be struggling. To confirm this, at the end of the song, he apologised that his voice was “not in top shape” and explained that some of the people on the stage were “really sick”. ‘Now That We’re Dead’ followed during which things seemed to deteriorate further and although the whole band, and James in particular, were giving it their best, it was clearly a challenge.

At the end of the track, James approached Lars’ drum riser and call him down on the stage where they had a brief conversation before James addressed the crowd once again saying “I feel really bad, I feel terrible. We don’t sound good man…..and I hate that”. He went on to say, “I don’t want to let you guys down, I feel really bad, I want to stop. It’s not fair to you guys, you paid a lot of good money to come and see your favourite band and we don’t sound good…..Would you rather hear us sound better another time? I want to stop, what do you say?”. Inevitably the crowd roared “No!” in unison giving their wholehearted support to the ailing frontman.

Seemingly rejuvenated by the show of support, the energy levels on stage rose as ‘Moth into Flame’ led into a pulverising version of ‘Harvester of Sorrow’ which was introduced as “something old”. Further newbie ‘Confusion’ kept the momentum going, with James’ vocals taking on an unintentional death metal growl at times due to his throat issues!

From here on in, Metallica became an unstoppable juggernaut, seeming to gather momentum and put in one of the most passionate, powerful performances I have seen in the 20 times I have seen them. I’m not sure whether it was the remaining choice of songs, or a feeling of energy and support from the crowd or a feeling of “backs to the wall” (or maybe the volume of beer I had consumed?!), but the band seemed to be rejuvenated as they tore through ‘One’, culminating in a truly battering climax, leading into ‘Master of Puppets’ and the second big karaoke of the evening. ‘Fade to Black’ highlighted James’ vocal problems but was sung with such passion and emotion that the gruffness added to the impact of the song, before the main set was brought to a close with ‘Seek & Destroy’.

After a brief intermission, the intro to ‘Battery’ resonated around the arena, before the band appeared back on stage like men on a mission, with the stage exploding into its own light show. The band battered (pun intended) their way through the thrash classic with Rob’s bass lines pummelling and laying the foundation for Kirk’s trademark solos. James looked re-energised, spitting out the chorus with venom while Lars ran proceedings from his drum kit centre stage looking like a circus ring leader!

The aggression of ‘Battery’ gave way to ‘Nothing Else Matters’, which was a clever juxtaposition and worked well. The Neon light display on the stage gave way to green lasers setting the right ambience for the track as Lars passed Kirk a drumstick to use instead of a plectrum during the intro. Predictably this failed and Kirk quickly resorted to more traditional techniques! The track saw the band and crowd morph into one with the band taking on a large proportion of the vocal responsibility.

Things were brought to an inevitable close with ‘Enter Sandman’ which saw the whole place erupt bringing the opening night at the new Royal Arena to a close before the band said their thanks and goodbyes.Of course, this wasn’t the best Metallica have ever sounded, but for me it was one of the best times I have seen them, due to the raw passion and energy the band displayed and a feeling of the band and crowd being at one, in the face of adversity.

This was undoubtedly a memorable opening night for the arena (which by the way had great sound compared to other similar sized venues), and I hope that it will be remembered in a positive light despite the obvious issues. Sadly the second of the four nights had to be cancelled, with the band promising to rearrange the date in September, but as I type this I understand the third and fourth nights are going ahead.
Fingers crossed for a full UK tour later this year…….See you down the front.

(Review and Photos Andy Pountney)