As the first proper cold spell of this year descended on Birmingham, Metallica brought the fire and fury that certainly got the crowd warmed up. It’s been eight long years since the last time the veterans of metal brought their show to the UK (apart from the odd festival appearance) and an even longer 31 years since their very first visit. Even the bus journey from the car park to the Genting Arena was full of stories of the first time people had seen them.
Support band Kvelertak was a new band to me and they sounded massive on the Gentings sound rig, but I just didn’t get it. They had an impressive blend of heavy grooves and punk influences in abundance (and an owl!) but the vocals unfortunately didn’t hold my interest too much.
As AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Want to Rock and Roll)” blasted out over the speakers, the crowd were in fine voice as they waited for Metallica’s imminent arrival. The lights went down, Ennio Morricone’s “The Ecstasy of Gold” kicked in and the crowd went mental as the band entered from the side of the arena and made their way to the stage “in the round”.
It’s almost hard to imagine that any discerning rock fan has never witnessed a Metallica show, but shockingly, I am one of those few. The stage set up itself left me in awe as dozens of LED cubes hung from the ceiling creating a truly incredible visual spectacle. Eight microphones strategically placed around the stage meant that each member could play at every angle, whilst Lars Ulrich’s drum riser regularly rotated giving the crowd a face to face view.
With their new album Hardwired…to Self-Destruct, they quickly hit their stride with title track and opener “Hardwired”, swiftly followed by second track “Atlas Rise”. It’s hard to believe that we were only a few minutes in to an epic set and already they were the tightest, most energetic band I have ever seen.
Thankfully there was something in the set for everyone as Hetfield announced that there would be lots of new stuff, but plenty of old too as they battered their way through “Seek and Destroy” from Kill Em All much to the delight of the sold-out crowd. Rather than riding the coat tails of their earlier releases, Metallica seem to have rediscovered themselves with their latest album and don’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon. The crowd knew every word and sang them right back at the stage as if it was to be their last ever gig and I was quite happily swept along in the energy of it all.
During “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)”, the screens turned into prisons as images of people trying to break out of them were played, before “Now That We’re Dead” had the crowd jumping with their fists high in the air. The band then performed a ‘Stomp-esque’ style drumming section on four cubes that had descended onto the stage, with Lars making his way from behind his kit to join the others.
The onslaught continued with my personal favourite “For Whom The Bell Tolls” and “Halo on Fire” before we were treated to a duet from Kirk Hammet and Rob Trujillo that featured Sabbath’s “War Pigs” before a cover of Diamond Head’s “Am I Evil?” The heat was most definitely cranked up a notch with “Fuel” complete with shooting flames from each side of the stage. A touching tribute to Amy Winehouse introduced “Moth to A Flame”, a song about the effect of fame on modern society that was inspired by the singer herself, which also saw computer controlled drones flit around the stage like glowing moths.
It was “Sad But True” that we were fast approaching the end of the night, but not before “One” literally killed the power for a while, before the band kicked straight back in at the exact point the power died. After exiting the stage at the end of a phenomenal rendition of “Master of Puppets”, the fans weren’t left disappointed as the epic 3 song encore of “Spit out the Bone”, “Nothing Else Matters” and, of course, “Enter Sandman” was the climax to an incredible night.
Thirty six years, and they still put on an exquisite show and the round provided an oddly intimate feeling in such a huge venue. I’m so glad I was part of an event that will undoubtedly be talked about for years to come.
All photos by Amplified Gig Photography