It has been eight long years since US metal behemoth Metallica last graced the UK with a full arena tour. Whilst metal’s biggest band have not exactly been absent from our shores during that time, headlining the likes of Download festival, Reading & Leeds, and even Glastonbury in the intervening years, the March announcement that the band’s global Worldwired tour would soon be thrashing its way into arenas across the UK was met with a frenzied reaction. Following the critical and commercial success of 2016’s Hardwired…to Self-Destruct album, which topped the charts in 57 countries, tickets for the UK dates sold out rapidly, as fans grew feverous with the anticipation of seeing the 30-year veterans lay waste to some of the nation’s biggest venues. I attended the Manchester Arena gig, for a night that lived up to the hype and then some.
After touring their native US this summer with modern metal megastars Avenged Sevenfold in tow, Metallica opted to give their opening slot for the UK leg to a relatively underground band; Norway’s Kvelertak. Despite playing a more abrasive, less accessible form of metal than Metallica are known for, the Norwegian sextet did an admirable job of warming up the crowd with their highly unique ‘black n roll’ sound, combining the vocal style of Scandinavian extreme metal with the catchy, upbeat riffage of 70s glam rock.
While Kvelertak no doubt gained some new fans tonight, there’s no denying that the so-called “Metallica Family” is here tonight for one band only. As the lights dim and Ennio Morricone’s The Ecstasy of Gold begins to play across the PA, a sense of anticipation hangs heavy in the air. When Metallica finally take the stage, kicking off proceedings with a blistering Hardwired, the crowd erupt in pure elation and remain in that state for the rest of the night.
Over the next two hours, band and fans alike remain at peak energy levels as Metallica deliver a crowd-pleasing set. The mix of new material with essential classics is perfectly balanced, and the band even throw in an unexpected deep cut of Of Wolf and Man, along with a frenetic cover of Queen’s Stone Cold Crazy. The band’s latest LP was thankfully well-represented, with six tracks getting a spot on the stacked setlist, including the colossal Halo on Fire. As for the old favourites, stirring renditions of the ever-popular ballads One and Nothing Else Matters necessitate audience-wide sing-alongs, while the full-throttle Seek and Destroy and closing track Enter Sandman, each amongst the band’s most popular songs, are as predictably awesome as fans have come to expect.
While the music is naturally the biggest attraction tonight, special mention should also go to the gig’s incredible visuals. Towers of flame erupt from the stage during Creeping Death;Moth Into Flame sees floating ‘firefly’ lights encircle the stage, while a plethora of moving cubic monitors suspended from the ceiling provide accompanying visuals for each song. All of this combined brilliantly with Metallica’s powerful performance to create a genuinely spectacular sensory experience.
After an absence of eight years from this venue, Metallica added credence to the old adage that good things come to those who wait. They delivered an electrifying performance and proved why they are still one of the world’s biggest bands. It was an unforgettable gig that no-doubt left all fans hoping it doesn’t take so long for them to come around again.