This week, Metallica’s WorldWired tour arrived in the UK for the band’s first major British shows since headlining 2015’s Reading & Leeds festivals – and it was every bit as epic as you’d expect. In Glasgow last night the thrash-metal titans came armed with a career-spanning setlist and an eye-popping stage production – here’s why you should beg, steal or borrow your way into the remaining shows while you still can…
The production is perfect
Metallica emerge at Glasgow’s SSE Hydro like grizzled prizefighters, via a long gauntlet that cuts through the crowd towards a specially-constructed stage in the middle of the room surrounded by baying fans on all sides, and disappear back down it two hours and twenty minutes later, having administered the final coup de grâce of ‘Enter Sandman’. The WorldWired tour features all the technological bells and whistles you’d expect from a Metallica show, but the 360° stage is arguably its best special effect: the sound quality may be dirgey at times, but the performance itself has a kind of pugilistic intimacy, as though you’re watching them play in Lars Ulrich’s garage – or, more accurately, his helipad.
The new material (mostly) kicks ass
The eight-year gap between ‘Death Magnetic’ and last year’s ‘Hardwired… to Self-Destruct’ was the longest of Metallica’s career, and perhaps indicative of their ocean liner-esque turning circle: as anyone who’s seen ‘Some Kind of Monster’ will know, this band are prone to crippling over-analysis. Thankfully, ‘Hardwired…’ itself proved to be worth the wait, and old-skool cuts like ‘Atlas, Rise!’ and ‘Spit Out The Bone’ slot seamlessly into the setlist – although if we’re splitting hairs, James Hetfield’s sales pitch could use a little work. “I love the new album,” Papa Het earnestly informs the crowd at one point. “I was blown away by it, man. I mean, I knew it was good, but you guys knew it was… gooder.”
Best of all is ‘Moth into Flame’, a song about the dark side of fame that Hetfield dedicates to Amy Winehouse, and during which dozens of LED drones take flight and swirl in sync above the stage, only to be snuffed out as they drift too close to the gaudy neon lights above. It’s a brilliantly-executed bit of whizz-bangery that complements the song beautifully, though unfortunately the same can’t be said for the four-man drum circle they form on ‘Now That We’re Dead’…
The good vibes are infectious
It’s almost nine years since Metallica last played Glasgow, and even James Hetfield can’t believe how much has changed. “It’s a real joy for me, not only to see females at a Metallica show, but up at the front,” he beams, before welcoming tonight’s first-timers into what he calls the ‘Metallica family’, and singling out a head-banging 10 year-old on his father’s shoulders for special praise. For all the gruesome imagery that’s projected onto the video cubes above the stage, there’s an unmistakably warm and familial feel to tonight’s show – even when Hetfield and Ulrich leave Kirk Hammett and Rob Trujillo to entertain the crowd with an impromptu jam of ‘Hair of the Dog’ by Scottish proto-metallers Nazareth, it feels less like a cynical time-killing exercise and more like a good-natured doff of the cap.
They’re still a force to be reckoned with
For 30-odd years, Metallica have been the Beatles of thrash – so far ahead of the competition that it hardly matters if they lose a step or two (and there have been times over the last couple of decades when they’ve seemed to lose several). In recent years, however, they’ve managed to shake off any lingering signs of atrophy, and recaptured something of the essence of their old selves. In the flesh, they remain a fearsome live proposition: ‘Sad But True’ and ‘Master of Puppets’ are played with punishing volume and intensity, while their cover of Blitzkrieg’s ‘Blitzkrieg’ – the B-side to 1984’s ‘Creeping Death’ and later included on ‘Garage Inc.’ – is a particularly welcome surprise. Metallica may not be able to rebottle the lightning of their youth, but on tonight’s showing, they can certainly continue to ride it for a long while yet.