Guitarist Diaries: Metallica @ 02 Arena, 15 September

It feels like this September should have be renamed Metallica Month. And in the middle of a new album release, a load of kufuffle about its production values , the usual ‘they were better in ‘84’ rants and an extra helping of Lars Ulrich soundbites, there’s been two live gigs. I say gigs but Metallica’s Berlin and London 02 shows were actually billed as Album Launch Parties. I went to the latter event at the 02 Arena and here’s my thoughts…

I must first admit that I’ve had an odd relationship with Metallica. A love / hate relationship it could be said. I was lucky in my allocation of older brothers and was exposed to the glorious sounds of Maiden’s Live After Death and Metallica’s second album Ride The Lightning at the age of eight. So the band is almost engrained in me and I know I’m not alone in this respect. They’ve inspired so many guitarists I’ve spoken to since joining the magazine; they are responsible for countless musicians picking up instruments in the first place.

But what the hell happened to them in the nineties?

While I’m still in awe of what the band achieved for the cause and art of heavy metal in the eighties I haven’t liked anything they’ve put out since The Black Album. Again, I’m not alone in this regard. There’s nothing wrong with a band changing their sound of course but for me, Metallica’s songwriting quality dipped on the Load and Reload albums. They lost some of the spirit I loved so much. And the less said about St Anger the better.

While I know millionaires in the forties can’t pretended they’re hard drinking youths touring in a van, I heard some of that spirit coming back on their new album Death Magnetic.

For the first time in years I was looking forward to hearing the band play new material live.

The live arena is a place where Metallica have never let their fans down. But even by their standards the £5 ticket charge for the 02 show was surprising and impressive – and the proceeds were going to charity. The show also marked the debut of Ticketmaster’s new paperless ticket scheme. Strange then that you need a printed e-mail to collect your – printed – ticket at the venue. I’m still trying to work out how it’s a good idea.

As you can see in the pic above, Metallica’s stage is set up like a boxing ring tonight in the middle of the arena – similar to the setup they had in the nineties and showcases on the Cunning Stunts DVD.

It means everyone gets a good view of the stage – even if I am staring at James Hetfield’s back as they kick into opener That Was Just Your Life.

That song’s Dyers Eve and Blackened-ims become even more apparent live. The sound is very echoey in this cavernous venue and remains so for a intense run through pf second new song End Of The Line, which in turn sounds like a cross between Creeping Death and a hybrid of the riffs from Pearl Jam’s Why Go and Animal.

Which is a good thing.

The sound picks up for the steamrolling chugfest The Thing That Should Not Be – and when it dips again later on new material suggests the sound guys haven’t quite got to grips with the new songs yet. Hetfield’s on his usual fine form and when the band kick into The Black Album’s Of Wolf And Man it’s clear this isn’t going to be a greatest hits set – although a run through of the classic One is most welcome.

As I suspected, Broken, Beat & Scarred is going to be a live favourite – it’s got the heaviness and groove that the Load albums were aiming for with vintage Metallica’s sense of urgency. It’s early days and the band sound a little rusty on this one live but people around me are already singing along to the words.

Cyanide was a big surprise for me – it’s been a real grower since I got the album and live its dynamics truly shine. Ok, it’s no Seek And Destroy but you can tell how much fun the band are having with it from the looks on their faces.

Then comes the lull of the show.

It arrives with the St Anger song Frantic. Even Hetfield cracks a joke about the popularity of that album before it kicks in but the crowd’s apathy says a lot. And in all honesty it’s got a decent riff but not much else going for it. Still, guitar spotters will have noticed a rare outing of Hetfield’s ESP Grinch tonight for the song.

Until It sleeps – which was Load’s first single – is slightly less dreary but again feels like a quality drop here. Kirk Hammett, who nails his parts tonight, can’t even save this one from sounding clunky.

Kirk’s all guns blazing on his signature ESP for the next song though – bringing unadulterated wah solo power for the Eastern sounds of Wherever I May Roam

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