Metallica’s prowess as a live experience has rarely been in question throughout their 38 year career, and yet for a while there, it started to look like that’s all they now were. Sure, they’ve never been a band you could ever call predictable; the documentaries were great (2004’s Some Kind Of Monster is either the best rockumentary ever, or a two-hour obituary to a once great band) even if the music was not. Their later collaborations with Lou Reed were funny (probably not their intention) and perplexing (that’s more like it), even if the music was wretched. But a band who had relevance in the here and now? Yeah, that was looking questionable for a while.
You could almost set your watch by it; each summer Metallica would return to the UK, rotating their festival headline slots, filling the void created by the failure of the global rock scene to create new headliners. They’d arrive. They’d grunt and thrust through the classics, most of which were at least three decades old. They’d leave. Then 10th album ‘Hardwired… To Self-Destruct‘ changed that. At the time of release, the double album was the band’s first studio album in almost a decade. It was a collection of songs which reminded you why anyone cared in the first place. Released in late 2016, the tour which brings the band to Twickenham tonight is essentially designed to wring the last breaths of life out of its release. And yet the rejuvenation it’s given the thrash veterans is remarkable.
But first, Ghost, a band whose ascension – turbocharged by the release of excellent fourth album ‘Prequelle‘ last year – shows little sign of slowing down. It must be said that the band’s most recent costume overhaul continues to cast frontman Cardinal Copia, tonight dressed in red suit, as more akin to a used car salesman – think Only Fools & Horses’ Boycie making the most out of his Topman loyalty card – and not the demonic Pope of old. There’s no point pretending it doesn’t take something away from the experience of seeing the band perform.
And yet the songs are now just as good as the aesthetic. They open with ‘Rats’, easily the catchiest song ever written about the bubonic plague. They segue into ‘Absolution’, the south west London light bouncing off the stained-glass window the Cardinal and his Ghouls perform in front of. Ghost continue to be the most interesting and exciting thing about the melodic end of the rock scale.
That last statement is no diss to the headliners; nobody will ever do more to break heavy metal to a global audience than Metallica. It’s the brilliance of the bands output right out of the gates – the songs from the early days of thrash that sound as thrilling tonight as you imagine they did in the mid-80s – that has created the expectation that’s dogged over half their career.
‘Master Of Puppets’. ‘Creeping Death’. ‘Seek And Destroy’. All sound pure fire (which is, as there should be at a Metallica concert, being propelled from all orifices of the stage tonight). There are versions of ‘One’ and ‘The Unforgiven – songs from the era in which Metallica became the biggest rock band on the planet – that provoke chills. And yet it’s the newer songs that show the storied career of metal’s flagship band is far from over.
“We’re so fucked,” snarls frontman James Hetfield on ‘Hardwired’, a genuine heavy metal superhero (superpower: badassery), “shit outta luck”. There might have been a time when you’d hear this statement and nodded sagely. But not anymore. What’s next could be something remarkable…
Metallica’s setlist was:
The Memory Remains
Ride the Lightning
Harvester of Sorrow
Here Comes Revenge
Moth Into Flame
Sad but True
No Leaf Clover
Master of Puppets
For Whom the Bell Tolls
Seek & Destroy
Lords of Summer
Nothing Else Matters