When was the last time anyone has been to a stadium in the US for a metal band headliner? I’m not talking about a collection of 10-15 bands a-la weekend festival. I mean a true blue show with a headlining band and their opening act or two. It seems like an era long forgotten, which speaks volumes about Metallica’s reach, influence and certainly…their fan base.
One of the ground breaking acts of the '80s and '90s brandishing their own version of speed metal, with power and complexity to boot, Metallica might be a band headed for a spot on the endangered species list. But don’t try telling that to the crowd! Their beloved metal gods had seen an eight year gap between the release of their last two albums but it was more of a gathering of those seeking nostalgia from the band that supplied the soundtrack to their teen years. Interestingly enough, those same metal heads, now older and with teems of their own, could be seen walking the concourses of Hard Rock Stadium stride for stride with their sons and daughters, passing down the experiences of their youth.
On this balmy 85-degree night in South Florida, Metallica pulled it off. And in grand style. Awash in the land of EDM and pool party DJs, you might think there would be little interest in such a spectacle. Think again! The blacked out crowd, sporting the uniform of the metal genre, showed up in force. A hint of this “phenomenon” could be gleaned from James Hetfield, Metallica’s co-founder and lead singer, as he asked the crowd if this was their first Metallica concert. The ensuing roar of affirmation was evident, even for me waaaaaaay up in the cheap seats, as it seemed a little more than half the patronage were newbies.
Keeping with tradition, the show opened with a scene from the 1966 Western The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, featuring a score by the legendary Ennio Morricone, something Metallica has done since 1983. This scene, however, was played out on an apparatus that was absolutely mind blowing. Stretched across five gigantic screens, estimated at 4-5 stories tall and spanning the stage they may have lifted from the hangar for a fleet of jumbo jets, the scene melted away to feature a colorful, albeit grotesque, media mix of the band member’s faces bulging and morphing in mesmerizing fashion. Then, BAM! Metallica launches into the blazing fast “Hardwired” straight into “Atlas, Rise!” keeping the digital wall active with giant images of each band member doing their part to melt everyone’s face.
For a bit of a breather, and the show’s only extended monologue, James Hetfield welcomed the audience by saying, “Metallica does not give a shit who you are, where you’re from, what God you believe in, what color you are, who you voted for.” He wanted Miami to focus on similarities and the ability of music to bring people together before launching into “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” an antiwar song.
Hetfield, guitarist Kirk Hammett, bassist Robert Trujillo, and other founding member, drummer Lars Ulrich, then blasted through fan faves such as “Creeping Death,” “Master of Puppets,” “Sad But True,” “Seek and Destroy,” “The Unforgiven,” and “Wherever I May Roam.” It was a thunderous, visceral experience complete with 20 foot flames, fireworks and dancing fire from the stage floor that swept right to left to right in front of Lars’s kit for the duration of “Moth Into Flame”. That and “Halo On Fire” demonstrate how little Metallica has softened over the years. And as the crowd chanted “Obey your master!” during “Master of Puppets,” it was obvious who was pulling the strings as bodies whipped back and forth like demented rag dolls.
Aside from the encore, the highlight of the night was their epic, “One.” An additional antiwar song to the set, it's the re-imagining of the book “Johnny Got His Gun” set to a metal soundtrack. Slow motion silhouettes of soldiers and tanks plodded across the gigantic screen as the song opens. The rapid fire double bass and guitar chunks signal the crescendo building to the song’s climax: a horrendous, thundering “BOOM!”. A landmine explodes on screen! Lights flashed and the silhouettes were turned to skeletons in varying degrees of mutilation and decay marching ever onward to the afterlife.
One could point to the rise of Metallica, with fans stretching from South America to South Korea, propelled by one record: their self-titled album, often called "The Black Album,” released in 1991. Two of three song encore contained tracks from this monumental album. “Nothing Else Matters,” was performed minus the spectacle of “One,” but it was enough. Everyone was held spellbound by its sweet, if not melancholy, melody. “Enter Sandman,” wrapping the show, opened with that iconic intro instantly recognizable to any metal fan and a thump so ferocious and adrenaline-inducing it could motivate the most gentle soul to run through a brick wall.
Metallica has been through it all and still they appeared genuinely happy to be playing and grateful for the fans repeatedly acknowledged as facilitators to what they ultimately love, to tour the world playing their style of metal music. And we all left in sincere appreciation, as well, for that fact.