You’d never know these four guys are in their fifties. Nor that they’ve been doing this for — wait for it — 36 years.
To put that into perspective, when Metallica first came on the scene in 1981, Ronald Reagan had just become president, a gallon of gas was a buck 35 and “Three’s Company” and “The Jeffersons” ruled the airwaves.
How naive we all were. But was there a better moment than this for the Bay Area quartet to come screaming into our lives with their hyperfast metal, pounding guitars and incessant drums? Along with the rest of the so-called Big Four — Anthrax, Slayer and Megadeth, the latter a quasi-splinter group from the big M — Metallica ushered in a new era of sonic booming rock that was not so much angsty (that would come later) as it was the id’s pure, unadulterated need to scream from the highest hill as loudly as possible.
And here we are now, with 2017’s WorldWired Tour, which the band is using to promote their latest album — remember albums? — “Hardwired…to Self-Destruct.”
In full disclosure, I had only ever seen Metallica live once before, in Camden, New Jersey, in the summer of 1998, from the pit up close. From there I could see all of the nasal flaring and raging, as well as get kicked in the face by a overzealous fan who jumped from the GA section into the pit. I recall scratching my head as the band transitioned from “One” and “Sanitarium” to an acoustic set of country songs (????).
But I figured, what the hell, fully half my life since, it was time to give their live performances another chance.
Now a full month and change into the WorldWired Tour, the band took over the thankfully indoors stage at AT&T Stadium in Dallas Friday night, in which the quartet engaged in a nonstop, energy-heavy and unapologetically loud parade through their nearly four decades of rock, from 1983’s “Kill Em All” right on up to cuts from “Hardwired.”
(I sat much further back this time. Me enjoying an entire metal show in the pit is officially on the Murtaugh List.)
“We don’t care who you voted for,” frontman and rhythm guitarist James Hetfield said during an early set break, “but we’re all here” united in the spirit of rock, Mr. Hetfield expressed as he and the band launched into the “Ride the Lightning” cut “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” the hard-driving song whose name comes from the Ernest Hemingway novel.
Metallica interspersed recent jams like “Atlas, Rise!” and “The Memory Remains” before the band left the stage for a brief pause. Then a rather familiar black-and-white video from 1991 began playing on the massive video screens. Lead guitarist Kirk Hammet then returned and began plucking the A-minor chords of “The Unforgiven” from the album “Metallica” — also known as “The Black Album” — as the audience cheered for more.
Arguably the band’s most famous video — it features a “prisoner” who ages from young man to old but then dies just as he is about to become free — Mr. Hetfield’s 2017 incarnation replaced his 1991 iteration in the old video as the footage of “the prisoner” played behind the band. It was a wondrous way to span the gap of a quarter-century since the band recorded the song.
Immediately after, the band went into “Now That We’re Dead,” which featured an extended drum circle section near the end, with Mr. Hetfield, percussionist Lars Ulrich, Mr. Hammet and bassist Robert Trujillo all leaving all instruments aside and engaging in a percussive drum call-and-response that transcended the metal for which they are so known. It was one of the evening’s most inspired, unexpected moments, and one that showed truly that these are highly talented musicians despite what many would decry as “just noise.”
Mr. Hetfield then returned to center stage to introduce “Moth Into Flame,” a song from “Hardwired…to Self Destruct” that discusses the pitfalls of fame and the flattery that comes with just the touch of entertainment industry success. As if to underline the metaphor, a real dancing pyrotechnic scrolled back and forth at center stage as Mr. Hetfield sang, while video of much larger conflagrations played behind the band’s mournful dirge about the pitfalls of celebrity.
Mr. Trujillo, who has been the band’s bassist since 2003, then came out to the extended circle stage alone, and thrashed on his bass in solo as footage of Metallica’s original bassist, Cliff Burton, played on video monitors behind him. The Dallas throngs cheered on Mr. Trujillo, whose chops on the bass can be stacked against anyone in the world, as evidenced by his audition to join the band in the 2004 documentary “Some Kind of Monster” attested.
(Burton died tragically in Sweden in a bus accident while on tour with the band in 1986 at the tender age of 24. He was initially replaced by Jason Newsted, who played with Metallica from 1986 until 2001, at which time the band themselves questioned if Metallica would go on.)
Rejoined by his bandmates, Mr. Trujillo and crew then launched into another cut from “The Black Album” called “Sad But True” before the band dug even deeper into the catalog for “One” from “…And Just For All.” As Mr. Hetfield led his cohorts through the anti-war dirge, computer-animated soldiers marched on the screens behind them, but as the song ramped up in its later verses, the faux GIs were replaced by marching skeletons, who continued on in monotonous, almost rote march to invisible commands from unseen armchair generals — perhaps reflecting a modern sensibility of questioning the mission, if not the fighters.
Yet more old-school Metallica bad-assness followed, with “Master of Puppets,” the eponymous cut from the 1986 album of the same name, ensuing. The audience duly played along, with the gathered chanting “master…master!” in time with Mr. Hetfield’s lyrics. It’s a hard song for which to keep the anger and charge going three-plus decades after its first recording, but the band kept up the angst and adrenaline of the song well Friday.
Proving — to me, anyway — that this was a far different set list from that which I saw nearly two decades ago, the band trotted out what is arguably its single greatest composition, “Fade to Black” from 1984’s “Ride the Lightning.” The quartet was tight, without a hint of irony or doubt, as they set about the seven-minute dirge that goes from an acoustic near-ballad to thundering electric meditation on death and suicide.
“Are you still with us?” Mr. Hetfield screamed as the band trudged from the main stage and out on to a platform setup amid the crowd, where a drum kit awaited Mr. Ulrich, and the band was set for one more trick before curtain.
“How many Metallica virgins we have here tonight?” Mr. Hetfield inquired, with a surprisingly vocal segment of the crowd announcing their cherry-breaking voyage seeing the band. “How many of you have an album called ‘Kill Em All’?” he then asked, at which point Mr. Hetfield et al. proceeded into “Seek and Destroy” from their debut album. It was a hard-driving, incessant aural rage that belied the band’s age, but one that was a capstone to nearly two hours of solid hard rock.
After a brief interlude of darkness, the band returned for an encore begun with “Blackened,” the opening cut of “…And Justice For All,” with its nearly 10-minute dirge about nuclear war and its aftermath. Mr. Hetfield and crew seemed barely winded, investing “Blackened” with a delightful rage and call-and-response with the fans.
It struck this reviewer as a tad odd to go from the heights of rage to the quiet introspection of “Nothing Else Matters” from “The Black Album,” however, once Mr. Hammet strummed out those signifying opening chords, the audience was with him and the band as they played the mostly acoustic tune from their 1991 album.
Mr. Hammet, not done, strummed his guitar at the song’s conclusion, all but teasing the audience with the final riff of the “…And Justice for All” song “The Frayed Ends of Sanity,” but then, because he — and they — must, beginning the chord progression of what has become, undoubtedly, Metallica’s signature song.
That riff is without ambiguity, its dark, minor churn unmistakable as Mr. Hetfield and his bandmates returned to join Mr. Hammet for “Enter Sandman,” the tune for which they have become, for better or worse, most defined.
The quartet wasted no energies in pushing forward through the final song, vamping on the familiar chorus and verses as Metallica made their way to the finis of an evening of hard rock, and proving that age is just a number.
And that, even in their fifties, the band still refuses to apologize for being who and what they are. It’s a refrain I have heard actually vocalized by the likes of Scott Ian, the bearded leader of Anthrax, when I asked him what he would say to someone who claimed he was too old to rock: “I would tell them they’re an idiot and to stop talking to me.”
Copyright © 2017 The Washington Times, LLC.