Metallica - 02 Arena
Live Review

Metallica – 02 Arena, London

What an extraordinary gig! I, along with thousands of Metallica fans across the country were more than a little intrigued when metal’s forerunners announced this very special performance. Celebrating the release of their thrashier-than-ever new album Death Magnetic (currently #1 in the UK Album charts) the band set out to showcase the new tracks, as well as some rarely played gems. A real treat for the hardcore fans who have heard Enter Sandman live more times than James Hetfield’s guitar chugs in Master of Puppets, in the usual ‘greatest hits’ style shows.

Tickets went on sale to their most dedicated of fans across three days – day one being limited to paying ‘Metallica Club’ members, the second day extending sales to the slightly cheaper ‘Platinum’ club’s members, and finally on day three for the free ‘Mission Metallica’ members. For the next-to-nothing sum of £5, it wouldn’t have been a surprise in the slightest if tickets had sold out before the third day, but never-the-less, I was in luck, and scored a couple of tickets for myself and a mate.

After initially being fairly unsure about where exactly the tickets I had booked for this special event would situate us, we were astounded to find ourselves standing directly in front of the stage (which was positioned in the centre of the arena) – amongst the first hundred-or-so people to enter the arena. We were thrilled!

During almost three hours leading up to the event, the audience was kept entertained by a combination of classic Metal, Rock and the occasional comedy tracks being blared through the O2’s impressive sound system. Tenacious D’s Tribute and Team America’s America: F*** Yeah! in particular, triggered a lot of energy, with nearly the whole arena singing along.

This energy, however, drawn mostly by a united sense of anticipation was to be augmented by about 200%, when James Hetfield, (vocals/rhythm guitar) Lars Ulrich, (drums) Kirk Hammett (lead guitar) and Robert Trujillo (bass guitar) hit the stage, welcomed by the pure force of the audience’s applause and a sea of ‘devil’s horns’ hand gestures!

Metallica smashed into Death Magnetic’s opening two tracks: ‘That Was Just Your Life’ and ‘The End of the Line’. The audience were singing along with passion – it was amazing how many of the fans surrounding me knew all the lyrics off by heart, with the album only having been released just three days before (did someone say leak…?).

Following this was ‘The Thing That Should Not Be’ from the band’s 1986 masterpiece – ‘Master of Puppets’, a song atypical of the band’s usual live setlist. This caused an eruption amongst the audience and, albeit not quite as raw and powerful as in his heyday, eliminated any doubt about Hetfield’s voice. Still going strong at 45 – he was terrific in this vocally demanding classic.

The band’s first top 40 single, ‘One’ – a common addition to the band’s live shows, but never-the-less a fan favourite appeared later, and after hearing those iconic first four notes of the riff, the crowd once again went wild! They even managed to pull off Frantic – a song from 2003’s St. Anger, (to which James sarcastically referred to as a fan favourite) an album often considered one of Metallica’s weaker efforts. The song nevertheless received a great response from the crowd, and quite rightly so! It sounded better live than the studio recording!

‘Master of Puppets’ was a highlight, and had the whole arena chanting “MASTER! … MASTER!” at the top of their voices. In fact, for much of the gig, the audience were singing along so loud, James’ voice was little more than an echo, but I can hardly complain as I was joining them!

The whole band were on tremendous form all night, and, bar a few mistakes on Lars’ part, they can still pull off the almost subhuman riff speeds of their early thrash records, and make it look easy! They were clearly enjoying themselves, with all members singing the lyrics whilst playing, and visually interacting with the crowd.

At one point, after welcoming the enthusiastic audience, James, taken back perhaps by the thousands of mobile phones and cameras held in front of him, told everybody to put their cameras and phones away and “enjoy the metal show”. He concluded: “you can call your mum later, alright? A little two second blur of some sh*tty Metallica on YouTube – it’s not gonna make you famous. Enjoy this moment, alright?” (Ironically, the clip is now on YouTube.) I managed to get some nice shots, but it was at this point that I put my camera away!

The stage setup was very intimate, especially compared to Metallica’s usual stage theatrics. With the stage being in the centre of the arena, there were eight microphones surrounding, and so, although we rarely saw the entire band at any one time, each member would continuously change positions throughout the show, while Lars’ drum kit would rotate around the middle facing different directions of the audience. Being right behind one of the mics myself, I was literally within eye-contact with members of the band at different points in the show, which was a new and exciting experience!

After finishing their first set, the band stormed back on stage for an encore, leaving the houselights on, and playing Queen’s ‘Stone Cold Crazy’ (which is covered on their Damaged inc. cover/compilation album) as well as two classics from their 1983 debut: Kill ‘Em All, ‘Jump In The Fire’ and common set closer, ‘Seek And Destroy’. The latter was accompanied by inflatable black Metallica beach balls falling from the ceiling and being bounced across the audience, and onto the stage, causing the band to run up and kick them off. Lucky fans carried them home at the end, and it was hilarious to witness people attempting to deflate them. One man was continuously trying to jump onto it on the train, attracting a lot of stunned faces from non gig-goers!

After triumphantly finishing ‘Seek and Destroy’, to an ecstatic crowd, each band member proceeded to hurl all the guitar picks they could find into the hands of lucky fans. Despite being right in front of the stage, however, I was not so lucky and didn’t manage to catch any. Even more to the audience’s desire, Lars followed this by handing out his drumsticks to craving fans, and it is unbelievable how close I was to Lars at this point, and to getting one but alas, the girl two spots away from me nabbed it! It was funny to see Lars teasing the audience, however, by holding out the sticks, then pulling them back like a cheeky primary school bully!

This was a spectacular night that will not be forgotten, and a performance that will be remembered for much more than “that gig that only cost a fiver.” The new songs are the best since 1991’s The Black Album, and there certainly seems to be a new lease of life in the band. I don’t think I’m the first to say – best five quid I’ve ever spent!

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