Metallica – Genting Arena, Birmingham 30th October 2017
Despite the outcry over the high-ticket prices, the usual backlash to anything new the band release and the general antipathy towards them from large sections of the metal elite, the world’s biggest metal band continue to pack arenas across the world. Why? Because live, no other act on the planet can touch them. Sure, they don’t possess the raw energy those hungry pups had in the early days of the 1980s, and they are a damn sight more polished, but they still kick hard and heavy when they want. With a massive back catalogue, the band could afford to mix it up and they managed to change their set list every night.
Opening act Kvelertak (6) were on a hiding to nothing. With an arena full of hardcore fans interested only in the main act the Norwegians had no option but to open it up from the start. Although they went for it, their brand of punk-infused hard rock washed over many Metallica fans now gathered in their thousands. Not even the owl head of vocalist and all-round madman Erlend Hjelvik or the three-pronged guitar attack could really rouse more than the politest applause. Wrong time, wrong choice for a band whose high energy performance is more suited to small sweaty clubs.
So, eight years since they last graced the UK arenas, it was show time. The strains of AC/DC pumped out of the crystal-clear sound system and anticipation reached fever pitch. Ennio Morricone’s The Ecstasy Of Gold rang out, complete with scenes from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly in the multiple cube shaped monitors which would elevate up and down throughout the evening. And then it was time, Metallica (9) hit the stage in the round and crashed into Hardwired and Atlas, Rise! from last year’s solid Hardwired … To Self-Destruct, the first salvo of seven tracks. Live these songs are metal monsters, the huge chug which is instantly recognisable sending the masses reaching for their phones to capture some tinny reminder whilst the old school rose in their seats, or attempted to start a bit of movement amongst the crush on the floor. As the evening progressed, there were many reminders just why Metallica are undoubtedly the world’s biggest metal outfit.
Aside from the astonishingly slick stage show, with stunning lighting, use of video clips and imagery throughout their set, Metallica are also huge in sound and heavy in substance. Rip-roaring beasts crawl from every album but none more impressive than Seek & Destroy, moved from former set closer to third up, the massive and never boring For Whom The Bell Tolls and the fiery, oh so fast first encore Spit Out The Bone.
I don’t care what the haters say, Metallica are also fabulous musicians. They do the simple stuff fantastically well, with Kirk Hammett and James Hetfield’s ripping guitar work competing for the finish line with Lars Ulrich’s ever pacey drumming whilst Rob Trujillo’s bass rumbled the very depths of hell at times, the thunder felt in the seats. Highlights were many but the return to the set list of The Shortest Straw after a four-year absence, a ball-breaking (and appropriately local cover) Am I Evil? and the most frantic Fuel I’ve ever heard. Break neck speed indeed.
As usual, some of Hetfield’s ramblings between songs were a little corny, and at times crass, whilst the four-member drum solo on Now That We’re Dead fell a little flat. The power outage which cut One in half was not well received by the band, the fury in their eyes clear whilst they waited below the stage although they didn’t let it show, ripping it to bits when they returned to the stage. The duel between Hammett and Trujillo which turned into War Pigs didn’t quite work but the tribute to Cliff Burton as Trujillo banged out Anaesthesia (Pulling Teeth) was dynamite and spot on.
Making sure they completed the full set the band cruised over the line with a haunting Nothing Else Matters before the arena delivered its final vocal effort as Enter Sandman riffed out into the venue, the Frayed Ends Of Sanity outro spotted. Yes, the tickets were pricey. But it was oh so worth it. A fabulous evening not even spoilt by the numerous road works and closures on the lengthy journey back home. Now, if only we could get them into the Principality Stadium next year.