Ave Noctum is primarily for underground extreme music, and I wasn’t even sure whether our esteemed editor would want a review of Metallica but with his arm high up his back he agreed….Those of you that have got this far without an allergic reaction read on, and that should be most of you because if we are honest about it, anyone who is into extreme metal will almost certainly have had a dalliance with Metallica at some point and as a live force they remain as relevant today as ever.
My first rendezvous with the tour juggernaut on this leg of the Worldwired tour was at the magnificent Slane Castle in Ireland. The day began bathed in glorious sunshine with the stage and castle standing next to each other creating a stunning backdrop. The main touring trio consisted of Metalllica, Ghost and Bokassa but before they took to the stage, local band Fangclub opened the day with their grungy alternative rock, winning over the small but appreciative crowd with the likes of ‘Hesitations’ and ‘Bad Words’. Bokassa were up next, bringing the rain with them from Norway as a downpour soaked the crowd. Belfast’s Stiff Little Fingers injected some energy with their punk rock including a new track called ’16 Shots’ which was a little more melancholic than most of their material but was apt for the subject matter covered. Ghost followed before Metallica hit the stage captivating every single one of the 75000 who had gathered. Although there was clearly a staple of songs that were fixed into the setlist, there were several that seemed to be on rotation and this bode well for the rest of my dates with them.
Manchester and the Etihad Stadium followed shortly after. Bokassa once more got the ball rolling before Ghost took over the baton and while the crowd were politely appreciative they were relatively subdued at this stage. The energy stepped up a level for Metallica but before long the heavens opened completely saturating band and crowd alike. The set staples remained but compared to Ireland ‘Disposable Heroes’ replaced ‘Ride the Lightning’, ‘The God that Failed’ replaced ‘Whiskey in the Jar’, ‘Here Comes Revenge’ replaced ‘Now That We’re Dead’, ‘Welcome Home (Sanitarium)’ replaced ‘Halo on Fire’, ‘St Anger’ replaced ‘Frantic’ and ‘Lords of Summer’ replaced ‘Spit Out the Bone’ opening the encore. The crowd lapped it up singing along passionately and loudly until the inevitable ‘Enter Sandman’ brought things to a close leaving the band to say their thanks and goodbye, and the crowd to head out into the Manchester night to warm up and dry off!
Two nights later I made my way to London to see Metallica play on the hallowed turf of Twickenham stadium, but prior to going to the stadium I headed to ‘House of Vans’ in central London where Metallica had opened a pop up shop and were holding their ‘Hardwired… and Early Dayz’ exhibition. Of course, Metallica have a history with ‘House of Vans’, not least having played there in 2016 as part of the launch for ‘Hardwired…To Self-Destruct’ and this gig was screened during the day. Having browsed the exhibition with a beer, chilled out in the cinema watching the 2016 gig and spent too much money at the pop up shop I headed to Twickenham for the main event.
I am fortunate to know Twickenham Stadium very well and it felt surreal heading there to see a metal show but it effectively combined two of my great passions and so I was grinning from ear to ear as I made my way through the gates. More merch was purchased before taking up my spot for Trondheim’s three piece Bokassa. I had been impressed on the first two dates so was looking forward to seeing them again. Opening with ‘Impending Doom’ they split their set from the debut ‘Divide & Conquer’ and the brand new ‘Crimson Riders’ album. Their groovy stoner rock had a punky edge to it giving them a distinctive sound and I think it is fair to say that they have won themselves a lot of new friends on this tour. I believe they are returning to the UK later in the year, and it will be interesting to see them in a more intimate setting.
Ghost followed shortly after delivering their sermon of satanic rock with the band dressed in black with silver masks, while Cardinal Copia was resplendent in red, set against a back drop of a stained glass window stage prop. ‘Absolution’, ‘Rituals’ and ‘From the Pinnacle to the Pit’ came early on and for me this was the highlight as they seemed to lose momentum after this. Nonetheless they were an impressive support band and got the crowd warmed up ready for the main event.
No matter how much people had enjoyed, Bokassa and Ghost, tonight was about Metallica and the stadium filled to capacity (I was told 80000 were in attendance) before Ennio Morricone’s ‘The Ecstasy of Gold’ served as the final call to arms. Kicking off with newer track ‘Hardwired’ got the energy levels up but having ‘The Memory Remains’ as the second track on this leg of the tour was less predictable to those that were seeing them for the first time on this leg. Nonetheless, it completely engaged the crowd with its extended sing along portion before ‘Ride The Lightning’ took us back to the early days with the whole crowd head banging and screaming along as one. It’s incredible that a song which is 35 years old can still sound so contemporary, fresh and relevant rather than nostalgic karaoke but Metallica seem to achieve this with their entire back catalogue.
The first rotation song came next as ‘Harvester of Sorrow’ was aired and although this was a little more plodding it was no less heavy and as its crushing riffs rumbled around the stadium it struck me that the energy level in the crowd was immense. ‘The Unforgiven’ brought about a change of pace and gave another chance for 80000 backing vocalists to do their thing before ‘Here Comes Revenge’ saw a tidal wave of people heading to the toilets! Another newer track followed as ‘Moth into the Flame’ increased the tempo again as the first real pyro of the evening made an appearance on the stage. Although this is a newer track, it was greeted like an old friend and this is clearly going to be a crowd favourite for years to come. The momentum was kept up as another live favourite ‘Sad But True’ shook the stadium’s foundations before ‘No Leaf Clover’ was aired and it was great to finally get the opportunity to hear this live.
It is traditional at this stage in the set for Rob and Kirk to do a local cover and I have heard a few of these ranging from Abba to Black Sabbath during the past couple of years (incidentally Slane got The Dubliners’ ‘The Wild Rover’ while Manchester got The Stone Roses’ ‘I Wanna Be Adored’). It’s fair to say that these are a bit of fun and shouldn’t be taken too seriously, but as the opening bars of Iron Maiden’s ‘Killers’ bounced around the stadium I was a little anxious about what they would do to this classic! They weren’t helped by the fact that half off Kirk’s vocals were inaudible and things seemed mistimed but as a bit of fun it got some smiles around the stadium before Rob took over for his bass solo through ‘ManUNKind’ and ‘Orion’ which saw images of the late, much revered Cliff Burton on the big screen.
‘Frantic’ followed and was divisive, with half the crowd seeming to love it, while others either didn’t know it or weren’t interested in hearing it. Of course, ‘St Anger’ was fairly universally given a kicking when it came out, but there are still some gems on the album especially when played live and to my mind ‘Frantic’ is one of those and I was in the half loving it!
And then the fun really began….. ‘One’, ‘Master of Puppets’, For Whom the Bell Tolls’, ‘Creeping Death’ and ‘Seek & Destroy’ in quick succession completely levelled Twickenham. Each one a bona fide classic in its own right but in combination they were completely devastating. Throw in pyros and visual effects on the big screen backdrops and that has to be one of the most powerful endings to a set that any band can offer.
After a short break, they returned with ‘Lords of Summer’ and then the inevitable set closers ‘Nothing Else Matters’ and ‘Enter Sandman’. I am usually ambivalent about these tracks but on this occasion they were phenomenal and were a fitting, powerful close to an outstanding performance.
Metallica often come under fire and I have already heard negative comments about this gig……True, they aren’t the youngest band in the world, the sound was not perfect and there were many “gems” that weren’t played. In riposte I would say that they still have just about as much energy and commitment as any band out there, and from where I was, the sound was as good as you can expect at a stadium. As for the set list, they could play for several hours and still miss out “gems” such is the strength of their back catalogue but on this leg of the tour I think they had a good balance of new stuff, old stuff and “mid-life” stuff. Yes, I am a fanboy and biased, but trying to remain objective this was still one of the shows of the year and I cannot wait for Gothenburg.
Words and Photos: Andy Pountney
(Photos from Slane Castle, Manchester Etihad Stadium and Twickenham Stadium)