May 19, 2017 by Matthew Coakley
Who’s the biggest metal band in the world?
It’s a pretty straightforward question, succinct and to-the-point. You could make a bunch of different cases for plenty of bands, specifically in different genres or time periods, but I think if you ask anyone off the street, most people will reach the same conclusion: Metallica.
I was lucky enough to see Metallica May 12 at Lincoln Financial Field, currently on tour in support of their 2016 album, “Hardwired … to Self-Destruct.” But how exactly did they get to where they are today? How did they become the biggest metal band in the world?
Metallica’s humble beginning was in the early ’80s, originally just a few dudes jamming in a garage. With their debut album “Kill ’Em All” in 1983, they received instant acclaim for their uniquely heavy and energetic performances. Some might even consider them pioneers of the thrash metal genre.
Since then, they’ve put out a lot of killer albums, sometimes even shifting sounds. In the early ’90s, they got some mainstream attention for their album “The Black Album” (especially the radio-friendly single “Enter Sandman”). This solidified them not just as an incredible niche band for the metal community, but as a face for heavy metal music who brought the genre to the public eye.
Ten albums and 36 years after their formation, Metallica are still on top. The fact that a metal band from the ’80s is playing stadiums like the Linc in 2017 is nothing short of amazing. After seeing their performance May 12, there was no doubt in my mind as to why they still sell so many seats.
It can be tough to watch rock bands get old. Some fade with time and lose their edge with their youth. However, Metallica refuses to fall under this category. Sure, they’re pretty old, but they still know how to rock and put on an energetic show.
Lars Ulrich pounded away like a maniac behind the kit, hardly ever missing a beat (he may not be the best technical drummer but to his credit, he never lets up). Meanwhile, Kirk Hammett shredded through solo after solo, opposite Rob Trujillo who was busy wrangling his bass into submission while moving around the stage feverishly. Frontman James Hetfield effortlessly sang and played guitar on each song, which is no easy task, especially for a genre like thrash metal.
It was clear that on “Hardwired,” Metallica’s mission was to return to their roots. Many of the songs are fast, punchy and heavy, striving to go back to their raw sound on “Kill ’Em All.” “Hardwired” wasn’t an amazing album (it wasn’t even very good at all, to be honest), but at least the songs were energetic and made for a fun live set.
They played a handful of new songs, sprinkled throughout their career-spanning setlist. They played a few killer tracks off “Kill ’Em All,” including “Motorbreath,” “Seek & Destroy” and “Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth)” (the last as a touching tribute to late bassist Cliff Burton, who originally played on the track). Other than that, they didn’t really dig too deep into their discography. They mostly played their most popular songs, such as “Master of Puppets,” “One,” “Nothing Else Matters” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”
The best moment of the night was probably when they played “Creeping Death,” off their 1984 album, “Ride the Lightning.” Since the song was released, it’s been a live staple for the band, and for good reason. Aside from being a straight-up killer track, the crowd always participates in a “die!” chant during the bridge (sounds corny, but it’s awesome, believe you me).
As a former die-hard Metallica fan, I was itching for a lot more deep cuts, but it was still cool to see what they did with the new songs (however I can’t help but think if they cut down on just a few of the ridiculously drawn-out endings, they could’ve had some time to slip a “Blackened” or a “Cyanide” in there). At one point during a new song, they brought out huge bass drums and each member pounded away, like one big drum line. It was bizarre, but pretty entertaining to see.
And it wouldn’t be a Metallica concert without some of Hetfield’s corny but lovable motivational speeches in between songs. “We don’t care what you’ve done with your life. We don’t care what you’re wearing, or what religion you believe in. We are here together as the Metallica family,” Hetfield stated towards the beginning of the show.
My only complaint about the show was in regard to the mix. There was so much noise coming from the speakers, it was almost impossible to hear what Hetfield was singing or what notes Hammett was playing in his solos. Nevertheless, it was an extremely fun show to watch. There were huge display screens and pyrotechnics (not setting any band members aflame this time) accentuating their performances. I’m sure many fans were disappointed at the lack of Avenged Sevenfold, who were supposed to open; they dropped out at the last minute because Synyster Gates’ child was born earlier than expected.
If you ever find yourself in a situation where you can see Metallica, do it. Who knows how long they’ll be around, but for now, they still rock.