So after all the rhetoric and bluster of the past couple of months, Metallica finally headlined the Pyramind Stage at Glastonbury on Saturday night. As they took to the stage of the festival that Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson recently called “the most bourgeois thing on the planet”, did the world stop turning? Did the tens of thousands of people who had been enjoying sets from Robert Plant and Jack White leave the field en masse? Did the sky crack, the ground tremor and plagues and pestilence cover the earth?
The band did at least acknowledge the furore that had built up around them since the announcement of their booking. 15 minutes later than planned, a video by Julien Temple crackled in to life showing footage of Eli Wallach in The Good The Bad and The Ugly, along with scenes of English fox hunts soundtracked by Colonel Bogey and The Sweet’s “Fox On The Run.” As the film came to its conclusion, four bears popped up out of the undergrowth and shot the hunters, just before taking off their masks and revealing the four members of the band beneath. So far, so tongue in cheek. Check the video out for yourself:
Seconds later, the band burst on to stage for real, ripping straight in to “Creeping Death” from their 1984 thrash metal classic, Ride The Lightning. If there was anything at all surprising about the set’s opening song, it was the number of people in the assembled throng who seemed to know the tune. Albeit they were being aided and abetted by a group of Metalli-fans that had been invited on to the stage, standing behind the band waving flags and singing along, it was clear for all to hear that when James Hetfield indicated he wanted the audience to join in and help him out, the crowd were all too willing and able to do so.
The sheer force and power of the band’s sound seemed to whip pockets of festival-goers into a head-banging frenzy. Impromptu mosh-pits could be seen the audience over, lit by flare light during second song “For Whom The Bell Tolls”, followed in quick succession by “Wherever I May Roam.”
From there, Hetfield took to the microphone for a few words that struck just the right tone, managing to be both humble and headstrong: “We’re very proud to be here and represent the heavier side of music. I know it’s all represented here so why not heavy? This is dedicated not only to the crowd but to all the British heavy metal bands that have been dreaming and still dream of playing this stage here. Do you want heavy? Metallica gives you heavy!”
Some observers noted that the audience didn’t seem to be quite as big as for the previous night’s headliners, Arcade Fire, but the thrash pioneers were still a huge draw. All too aware of what the festival crowd wanted from them, what was essentially a greatest hits set followed, focusing on music from their most well known albums and singles.
The majority of the material (“Wherever I May Roam”, “Sad But True”, “The Unforgiven”, “Nothing Else Matters” and the classic “Enter Sandman”) was drawn from their 1991 monster, the multi-million selling Black Album. The rest was largely taken from either the aforementioned Ride The Lightning, or what many still consider to be the band’s most accomplished work, Master Of Puppets.
Indeed, just one song from their most recent studio album, Death Magnetic, made an appearance in the form of “Cyanide”, and it was perhaps one of the only missteps of the evening; particularly when introduced by Hetfield with some ill-considered questions to the crowd, presumably intended to endear him and the band to the “peace and love” “bourgeois” fraternity out front.
If anything else detracted from the spectacle of the Californian metal titans in full flow, it was a couple of rare slip-ups from this most polished and experienced of hard rock bands. Kirk Hammet’s fingers seemed a little less nimble than some of his ultrasonic solos required, as he occasionally fell behind the beat or hit a couple of bum notes. Equally, Lars Ulrich, one of the most accomplished drummers in rock, seemed to slip out of time on at least one occasion, but quickly recovered his position. Minor quibbles at most, and ones that majority of the audience probably didn’t even notice in their revelry.
After the rapturously received “Enter Sandman” closed out the main set, the self-styled four horsemen of the apocalypse returned for an encore with their cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Whiskey In The Jar”, and the high octane thrash of “Seek and Destroy” from their 1983 debut album, Kill ‘Em All. Hetfield introduced the latter with the words: “If you’re a fan or not a fan, it’s a song you can get into,” and as the band set about getting into it themselves, a slew of black beach balls were released into the crowd bearing the band’s logo. They looked like the ammunition from Metallica’s proverbial sonic canon as they were beaten into submission by the now noisy and ecstatic Metalli-cised horde.
For a band who have been ridiculed for their challenging artistic choices in recent years, and for a genre that Skin Back Alley has seen very recently be accused of relying on theatrics to make up for the awful music being made, Metallica relied on very little other than their skill, experience, energy and commitment – their best known songs and sheer force of will – to carry the audience with them into heavy metal Mardi Gras.
Naysayers be damned. Far from ruining the most sacred of British music festivals, Metallica reigned supreme, delivering a heavy metal masterclass and, I shouldn’t wonder, adding a few more converts to their already millions strong fanbase across the globe.
A clearly ecstatic Lars Ulrich took to the microphone at the close of Metallica’s set, summing up thus: “I came down here last night and I’ve walked every corner of this festival, and let me tell you, there is no place like this on this fucking earth. Thank you Michael, thank you Emily, thank you Nick. Metallica loves you and we hope to see you another fucking time!”
Watch Metallica’s performance of “One”, from their album …And Justice For All, at Glastonbury below:
“For Whom The Bell Tolls”
“Wherever I May Roam”
“Sad But True”
“Fade To Black”
“The Memory Remains”
“Master Of Puppets”
“Nothing Else Matters” (with intro from “Bleeding Me”)
“Whiskey In The Jar”
“Seek And Destroy”