Pictures : Olga Kuzmenko
Words: Alan Daly
Before starting this piece, I feel it only fair to confess that I’m a massive fan of Metallica. Since buying the Black Album in 1991 and quickly working my way through their back catalogue, I became a member of the “Metallica Family” via their official fan club, and in my eyes, they can do very little wrong. Of course, there have been a few low points in their career, musically and otherwise, but their long awaited tenth studio album Hardwired… to Self Destruct is not one of them. And as for tonight’s return to Copenhagen on the first date of this European leg of the WorldWired tour; I’m not sure that my vocabulary includes enough superlatives to describe it.
The show is a make-up for the canceled performance on February 5th, the second of their four-date residency launching the brand new Royal Arena. Hetfield and Hammett struggled with ill health on the first night, and doctors’ advice was to postpone the next. Needless to say, we were gutted at the time, but it provided the perfect excuse to revisit Denmark where we could reunite with our Metallica family members in warmer weather, and everyone got a free “Papa Het was a Horseman” Pushead t-shirt by way of apology.
Unsurprisingly, Danish support act Aphyxion were equally willing to return for their career-changing opportunity to open for the mighty Metallica. The youthful black-clad five-piece take to the stage at 8 pm sharp, looking remarkably relaxed and professional, undaunted by the magnitude of what is unfolding around them, and proceed to play their hearts out. Described as “the new saviours of melodic death metal” in the press, but closer to what I would simply call modern metal or metalcore, their sound seems to be largely accepted by the ten thousand or so die-hard fanatics that have already congregated, many of whom had queued since early morning. And this in itself is as good as any judgment they could be given, considering that winning the approval of Metallica fans can be notoriously difficult where support bands are concerned. It’s an entertaining and appropriately heavy performance, deserving of any new fans they make tonight, but let’s face it, their contribution is not what is going to be the hot topic after the show.
As the anticipated 9 pm start time for the four horsemen comes and goes, there is understandably some worried faces in the crowd, but surely Metallica would not stand us up twice? Finally, at 9:20, the familiar pre-intro track (and my personal favourite metal/rock song to feature a bagpipe solo) ‘It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘N’ Roll)’ blares through the speakers suspended over the centrally positioned diamond shaped stage. Aside from the speakers, there is little of interest on or around the stage, other than Lars’s shiny kit and several innocuous-looking cubic lighting rigs high above the stage. Everyone knows by now, that the AC/DC number heralds the imminent arrival of the Lords of Summer, and as the spine-tingling ‘Ecstasy of Gold’ kicks in, some of the afore-mentioned cubes spring to life as screens displaying imagery from ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’. The recorded opening to the title track of ‘Hardwired… to Self-Destruct’ follows as James, Lars, Kirk, and Rob take to the stage and the live music explodes into being. All of the suspended cubes now bear their animated contorted faces depicted on the new album artwork, the light show begins and the crowd is ecstatic. Maintaining the momentum of a freight train, and mimicking the new record, ‘Atlas Rise!’ is next, and it’s fair to say that the boys sound incredible. Papa Het is NOT a horseman tonight.
Fully expecting ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ as the third track, we are totally caught off-guard by the inclusion of ‘Seek and Destroy’ so early in the set. But the beach balls don’t drop, Het doesn’t ask us if we had a good night, but Rob still pulls off his signature dizzying spiral. It’s a refreshing change and a hint that things are going to be a bit different than usual. Suddenly, the cubic screens now begin to lower and rise, almost reaching a head height at their lowest point, turning what initially seemed unremarkable into something suddenly fascinating. The surprises continue with ‘Through the Never’ and ‘The Day That Never Comes’ before two more new tracks start with ‘Now That We’re Dead’ including the four-member drum jam. It’s an interesting idea, but not something that I really love, and don’t expect to see featured in their tours beyond this album cycle.
Rumours had abounded that tonight’s exclusive would be the world premiere of ‘Spit Out The Bone’, something that proud Metallifans would be proud to witness, but instead, the boys give us ‘Dream No More’ which was played once before in Mexico earlier this year. Perhaps a little let-down for some, but all the new material is being relished by the majority. After ‘Bellz’ and ‘Halo on Fire’, James and Lars take a break as Kirk and Rob get together for a jam instead of individual solos. They tease a cover of Chic’s ‘Le Freak’ before a significant chunk of ‘I Disappear’ and then ‘Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth)’. This was far more entertaining to me than yet another Hammett solo, and I hope this is something they continue doing, preferably mixing up the jams occasionally.
Unexpected treats keep on coming with ‘Breadfan’, modest (but still impressive) indoor pyro during ‘Fuel’, and one of the highlights of the night, ‘Moth into Flame’ performed as dozens of brightly glowing drones buzz around the band and stage in formation. It’s really impressive to see Metallica embracing new technologies and trying something fresh, and the idea worked so appropriately with that track that one can’t help wonder if they had this idea in mind since its writing.
Some of the more predictable, but arguably necessary, tracks wrap up the main set (‘Sad But True’, ‘One’ and ‘Master of Puppets’) before the pre-encore break. More pyro accompanies ‘Fight Fire With Fire’, before the arguably unnecessary one-two finale of ‘Nothing Else Matters’ and ‘Enter Sandman’. Of course, these tracks are iconic classics and two that probably introduced Metallica to millions of fans worldwide, but thousands of hardcore fans present tonight would probably have rathered that ‘Spit Out The Bone’ debut or ‘Frayed Ends of Sanity’. But this is a small (and possibly controversial) gripe about what was the gig of the decade for me. Say what you will about Metallica, they are still “The Big Four” of Heavy Music. Don’t miss this indoor arena tour.