So the long awaited has come to pass, the metal legends themselves make their presence known again in Melbourne, Australia. Last time they invaded our shores was in 2004 for the Big Day Out. This reporter was there, and they put on quite a show. However, this time around Metallica were on their own turf headlining their own arena show, and touring on their strongest release in years, Death Magnetic. So could the thrash legends pull it off? After 14 sold out shows and counting on our shores in three months, the answer was a resounding yes on this Saturday night.
This reporter pushed his way past many sweaty metalheads, donning a Rust In Piece shirt for the occasion, and surprisingly not receiving any abuse from any rabid Kirk Hammett fanatics looking to take a swing at a stray Megadeth fan. The vibe was subdued with an undercurrent of excitement, security was lax, perhaps after having played host to so many Metallica shows recently they realised the crowd of metalheads was not about to swarm and destroy the entire arena. I scaled the steps to the main entrance, saying a silent prayer to Zeus as I scanned my ludicrously expensive eBay purchased ticket in the turnstile. I was half surprised to see confirmation that the ticket was legit, and I was then waved through the gate to enter the crush of black shirted and bearded humanity.
Lamb of God were beginning their set as I walked in. Frontman Randy Blythe stormed about the stage with the confidence of a man used to standing in front of thousands of people, while the band powered through their set of chugging technical metalcore. Chris Adler made the challenging drum arrangements look like child’s play, his arms flailing about as he effortlessly nailed each fill. Interestingly, he frequently changed his lead hand from left to right (note for non-musicians: this is a very difficult thing to do). The band were a well oiled machine and everybody in the house knew what to say when it came time to bellow out the signature refrain to Now You’ve Got Something to Die For. While Lamb of God’s set was tight and well received, there was no question that they were just warming the stage up for the Kings of Thrash to invade later in the evening.
In between sets I took a break to check out the merch and get a well deserved beverage. There was also the added advantage of escaping the drunken rambling that surrounded me on all sides. There were spruikers in tiny stands dotted around the edge of the arena, selling ‘programs’ for $30. They huffed and puffed all night extolling the virtues of these clearly reasonably priced programs, yet not once did I see any punter even look at them, let alone shell out $30 for their sole product. Likewise the healthfood section was abandoned, clearly the throng of metalheads was more in a mood for buying hot-dogs with moist bread and shirts with bloodied skulls on them.
I rushed back into the arena as I heard Metallica’s instantly recognisable intro theme, The Ecstasy of Gold, play to a darkened arena. The men in black walked on stage, standing in silence as the crowd cheered. As World Magnetic Tour custom required, Metallica opened their set with two songs from Death Magnetic, That Was Just Your Life and Cyanide. Harkening back to their older style, these new songs were long and epic, full of harmonised leads and tempo shifts. The newer material came to life seeing the band cavort about the four corners of the stage. The next song was the rarely played classic, Ride The Lightning, in which Kirk exhibited his still dexterous lead playing, absolutely nailing the ludicrously excessive three-minute solo.
Metallica change their setlist every night, and as James explained, coming to the end of a two year world tour they were going to treat the crowd to a few unusual numbers this evening. After powering through several heavier cuts from The Black Album, the band changed pace mid-set with the epic No Leaf Clover, cut from the orchestral live album, S&M, and the song lost none of its power when played sans orchestra. Next up they played The Outlaw Torn, the chugging masterpiece from Load. The song allowed James to showcase his deep, sonorous clean voice, and for the band to shift gears with the ambient and delay-heavy bridge, after which Kirk tore the roof off with his screaming wah-wah solo. James and Kirk weren’t the only ones who were in fine form on the night; Rob held down the low end with his thundering bass playing, crab-walking about the stage with his characteristic smile plastered on his face. Lars showed off with his outlandish stage antics and extroverted drumming, slamming every down-beat with precise cymbal chokes and battering the the kit and cymbals all night. Clearly, despite the internet naysayers, there is a reason why he held down the drum throne in the biggest band in heavy metal for 30 years and counting, and he more than proved his place tonight.
The Four Horsemen of Thrash held the audience in their sway all evening, with everyone singing along, air-guitaring and generally having a good time. However, rather than a violent frenzy, there was a certain relaxed feel to the evening, perhaps with the band playing several Melbourne shows earlier in 2010, most of the die-hards had already seen them play.
Late in the set the boys brought down the house by playing the classics One and Master of Puppets, followed by the rarely played Dyer’s Eve. This challenging song was never played on the Damaged Justice tour in the 80s, and Metallica have only started it playing it live in recent years. Lars kept the frantic tempo up but unfortunately dropped the lightning fast double-bass from the verse. Kirk wasn’t missing any of his parts though, as he ferociously attacked the shredding lead at the conclusion of song.
The band closed their set with two tracks of their 1983 debut, Kill ‘Em All, playing Phantom Lord and Seek and Destroy. They turned on the house lights and threw out beach balls for the occasion, with every punter singing along to the closer Seek and Destroy. The Kings of Thrash certainly held up their reputation, and it was evidently a special night for Lars, who grabbed a “I Love Lars” banner from the audience and posed beaming for several photographs as his band mates threw out handfuls of tour plectrums.