The last time Metallica toured the stadia of Europe, the acoustically- and atmospherically-challenged Earls Court was London’s unworthy host venue.
Fast-forward three and a half years, and the long-awaited shiny new Wembley Stadium faces yet another challenge. It’s already proved it can accommodate the professional Princess Di-mourners, the Muse-favouring 30-somethings and the immense ego of Al Gore, but can it handle the kind of rocking required by the ‘Tallica faithful? After a circle pit-inspiring support performance by Machine Head and a classy but under-appreciated set by Finnish love metallers HIM, the San Franciscan foursome take to the stage to definitively answer that question.
Kicking into a fast and uncompromising Creeping Death, the already rapturous crowd appears to be on the brink of spontaneously combusting. A series of classics including Sad But True and Disposable Heroes are fired out with the kind of effortless cohesion that can only be achieved through 25 years of relentless touring.
Grey-bearded frontman James Hetfield slows things down just a tad with the acoustic-led intro to The Unforgiven, before launching into …And Justice For All, much to the delight of the dedicated audience who have waited 18 years to hear the 1988 eponymous album track in the epic flesh. An equally rare live rendition of The Memory Remains follows, with the audience participation on Marianne Faithfull’s gravelly accompaniment visibly moving drummer Lars Ulrich.
The gurning Rob Trujillo takes centre stage with his throbbing bass-led intro to instrumental Orion, touchingly dedicated to fallen original member Cliff Burton, while the cool lead guitar stylings of the seemingly ageless Kirk Hammett tug further at the heartstrings for the rousing finale of Fade To Black.
The biggest surprise of the evening, apart from the outstandingly clear and eardrum-splittingly loud acoustics of the new national stadium, comes from the utterly unpredictable inclusion of No Leaf Clover; performed live for one of the only times since the foursome took to the stage with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra back in 1999. A pyrotechnically enhanced One and Enter Sandman bring the crowd to a simmering delirium, before the tens of thousands are sent out into the night with early thrash classics Whiplash and Seek & Destroy.
Yes, the hair is greyer, the tracks are familiar and faith in any new material has been shaken by 2003’s disappointing St Anger, but the new, cleaner and more mature Metallica are clearly enjoying playing live more than ever, and, as proven tonight, they still have the potential to be the most exciting live metal act you’ll ever be lucky enough to see.