In an age when technological gimmicks and special effects often override the act employing it, Metallica delivered a pile-driving show, working in tandem with, rather than relying on, atmospheric enhancements.
In reference to the illustration on the cover of “Death Magnetic,” huge silver and black open-faced coffins loomed ominously above the four stage corners, occasionally lowering and producing eerie additional lighting effects. A few green lasers, along with heavy blues and oranges, made for subtle ambiance.
What wasn’t subtle, however, was song selection and execution, and the roaring pyrotechnic flames breathing fire warm enough to be felt in the rafters. Seriously. These were same sort of flames that barbequed lead singer and guitarist James Hetfield in Montreal in 1992.
Songs ranged from new material to deep cuts, covering the 27 years of Metallica’s existence.
Storming off into “That Was Just Your Life,” and signing off with “Seek and Destroy,” Hetfield’s rapid-fire rhythms were target practice and his vocal range stayed wide open. Lead guitarist Kirk Hammet proved why his hybrid of metal riffs and soulful wailing remain in a category alone. Robert Trujillo’s four-fingered bass weaving would make Cliff Burton smile down from above. And, to me, Lars Ulrich’s drumming sounds much tighter with two rack toms instead of four. Not that the change was necessary.
A case can be made for advantages and drawbacks to playing “in the round,” and the jury’s still out on this one. The giant square stage at center arena provided four unobscured front-row views from the floor seats, allowing Hammet, Hetfield and Trujillo to travel freely to all four corners of the stage. Ulrich was posted center stage on a short riser that rotated clockwise at regular intervals, and he made routine contact with the hordes surrounding him on all sides as well.
Aside from the floor seat’s perspective, what the round approach may subtract from, however, is a sense of onstage unity. The band sounded great throughout, but they were positioned so far apart, it was impossible to see them all at once.
A co-worker, himself a guitarist, pointed out that the three string players changed instruments almost every other song. But, then again, nothing throws an instrument out of tune, drums included, quite like extreme climate conditions. In this case, six feet of roaring flames.
The near-capacity crowd of 14,263 stuck around for the long haul, and songs drawing exuberant praise included “Blackened,” “Creeping Death,” “Sanitarium,” and “Enter Sandman.” The primal pulse of “Sad But True” was served with a loading dose of tribal intensity.
My pick of the litter was the title track to “Master of Puppets,” an album that scared the shit out of me the first time I heard it 22 years ago.
Hetfield ordered on the houselights for the encores, as black, full-sized and fully-inflated beach balls dropped down from the rafters during “Whiplash” and “Seek and Destroy.” Great souvenirs. Of the four Metallica shows I’ve seen between 1987 and Saturday night, this one tops. Also noteworthy is that Metallica donated $5,000 of its proceeds to the Arkansas Foodbank Network, just in time for Thanksgiving.