“London, do you want HEAVY?!” James Hetfield screams to tonight’s packed-to-rafters Twickenham Stadium. And the response? Well, yes. We want it heavy Papa Het, bring it! The last time Metallica played London, in October 2017, The O2 hosted the band’s in-the-round arena setup: a stage in the middle of the floor, LED cube screens suspended above, pyro all around, and (during Moth Into Flame) even a swarm of drones. 22,211 people – a venue record – turned up to see the spectacle across two nights.
This time, on the “European Summer Vacation” leg of their seemingly never-ending WorldWired tour, they’ve gone even bigger. Playing on a stage featuring a square walkway enclosing a select group of fans, the band are dwarfed by five gargantuan screens. They feature close-ups of Hetfield roaring into his vintage-styled Shure Super 55 mic, Kirk Hammett’s impressive collection of customised guitars, or Lars Ulrich sticking out his tongue, plus on-brand visuals like silhouetted headstones, an inmate on death row, and the Master Of Puppets cover art brought to life. Flames burst from the top of the screens, either side of the screens, and in front of the screens, the perimeter of Ulrich’s kit, and three flamethrower towers at the other end of Twickenham Stadium. The biggest fireworks display this side of New Year’s Eve closes out the show. And, this time, more than 80,000 chanting fans have turned up on a glorious summer evening.
But neither time have Metallica let the spectacle or sheer scale of the production upstage them or their songs. They’re not four multimillionaires going through the motions, playing the same well-worn songs in the same well-worn sequence night after night. They’re four musicians having a great time playing songs together.
Cheers ripple across the field as famed film composer Ennio Morricone’s The Ecstasy Of Gold from classic Clint Eastwood western The Good, The Bad and the Ugly is played over an American Western video on the screens. And it’s not long before Ulrich, Robert Trujillo, Hammett, and Hetfield (wearing his customary ‘Papa Het’ motorcycle patch), take up positions behind drums, bass, guitar, and microphone respectively for 2016 single Hardwired from namesake latest record Hardwired… to Self-Destruct. A pop of fireworks closing out the tune is a first taste of tonight’s pyro.
“Are we ready to let loose tonight, London?” Hetfield asks to screams from the South West London audience before the band break into solo Reload cut The Memory Remains, the audience chanting along to the 1997 single’s signature riff, football anthem style.
“It’s so good to be me, I tell you. I get to look out here and see all this love from London,” Hetfield says to his tightly-packed audience before teasing older material, the four-piece diving into their sophomore album’s title track Ride The Lightning. “Are you ready for this?” the frontman asks before one of tonight’s many epic, spine-tingling Hammett guitar solos.
The three men on stage not beholden to a sitting position make the most of the fan-surrounding walkway, with microphones positioned in at least 10 different positions allowing Hetfield free-reign of the massive stage surface. The familiar Hammett intro to 1991 single The Unforgiven slows down proceedings while still featuring a rousing solo from the 56-year-old guitarist, before Hetfield trades his own electric guitar for an acoustic to round out the song.
“What do you guys listen to your music on now?” Hetfield asks the crowd. “Well, however you’re listening to it, thank you. Thanks Alexa!” he chuckles, the group’s 38-year career having spanned music-listening technology from vinyl and tape through to MP3s and streaming via a very public legal battle with illegal online file-sharer Napster. The true mix of generations in attendance tonight is evident as the group treat Twickenham to new album cut Moth Into Flame and with it, unleash a fury of fire by way of a continuously sweeping flame on stage between Ulrich and Trujillo as well as massive bursts from above the on-stage screens. The crowd are suitably impressed as cheers and whoops accompany each burst.
“As you know, It’s not cheap to go see Metallica, I totally get it,” the 55-year-old frontman says. “We appreciate you putting down your hard-earned money to come down here and celebrate life with Metallica,” he continues to cheers from the crowd who’ve paid anywhere from £60 for the cheap seats to hundreds for golden circle access, roaming tickets that allow fans to attend any show on the current tour, or “enhanced experiences”.
“Do you want your music heavy?” Hetfield teases. “For this next song, you don’t mind if it’s really heavy?” he continues to a rapturous response from the Twickenham crowd. The opening riffs of Sad But True lead all in attendance to throw arms in the air and chuck about any long hair they have available. Following S&M cut No Leaf Clover, Hammett and Trujillo move to the front of the walkway and bang out some mesmerising solos, bass player Trujillo (the new one, with just over 15 years to his name) especially demonstrating his supreme versatility as a bassman, while both men also take turns at vocals.
Anti-war …And Justice For All cut One is teased with the sound of gunfire and bombs, more pyro from the various towers, and silhouetted soldiers marching across the gigantic screens to accompany Hammett’s slowly picked guitar part that’s synonymous with the melancholy song. 1986 album title track Master Of Puppets puts the speed back into the metal as heads all around nod furiously along before the song segues into its delicate middle section. Hetfield, who steps to the front of the walkway to play those notes, suggests to the audience: “Let’s do this together”, even though little encouragement is needed for 80,000 fans to sing along.
The sound of bells ringing out over the PA ensures the screams proceed the opening drum hits and guitar riff of fan favourite For Whom The Bell Tolls. A drum kit is quickly assembled at the tip of the walkway allowing the band’s founding member Lars Ulrich to get close to the audience for Ride The Lightning single Creeping Death. “One more song out here with Lars being the frontman,” Hetfield declares before engaging the Twickenham masses in a call-response for Kill ‘em All cut Seek & Destroy. And with that, the four men depart their stage.
Of course they return for a customary encore, the screens displaying a Union Jack flag emblazoned with the Metallica logo as new record cut Lords Of Summer opens the final three-song run. And as the flames rise not only from the stage floor, but the giant supporting structures above the stage and the sound desk halfway across the stadium, even those at the very back of Twickenham’s West Stand feel the heat.
Metallica’s most enduring hits from their eponymous fifth record close out the evening in customary fashion, their one-two punch of Nothing Else Matters followed by Enter Sandman has even those in the cheap seats on their feet singing along before fireworks light up the sky.
Tonight is a triumph. Not just in terms of scale or production, but in terms of demonstrating that metal music is still huge both to the generation that grew up with it but also to today’s all-streaming, selfie-taking, smartphone generation. It also serves to show that Metallica themselves continue to innovate when many had long dismissed them as a relic of yesteryear. After an eight-year drought of new material and perhaps longer for songs that connect with people, Hardwired… To Self-Destruct hit the mark and then some. And, as this tour winds down, we can only look forward to what is to come from these giants of metal.
Live review of Metallica @ Twickenham Stadium by Kalpesh Patel on 20th June 2019. Photography by Jamie MacMillan.
Jamie has more great live music photography available over at his site: https://jamiemacmillanphotos.com/