Has it really been 36 years?
To see Metallica’s James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett and Rober Trujillo on stage in 2017, it’s difficult to believe that it has been more than three decades since the San Francisco-based foursome got together in a dingy garage and began constructing the songs that would become the foundation of heavy metal — or thrash metal, as it was called at that time — for millions of future headbangers to enjoy and revel in.
Sure, when Metallica first came to be in 1981, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Saxon, and a handful of others had already treaded those metallic waters. With the arrival of the seminal “Kill ‘Em All” album in 1983, however, the gauntlet was thrown. A new wave of heavy metal was born, and he Metallica was the parent.
Fast forward to 2017. Hetfield, Ulrich and Hammett are still here, joined by Trujillo on bass, the “new kid” on the three-block party, which included his predecessors Cliff Burton and Jason Newsted. But just hanging around isn’t Metallica’s style. Staying relevant, however, is.
The proof was in the pudding and on display June 9 at Iowa Speedway in Newton as part of a special concert brought together by actor and celebrity Ashton Kutcher and former NFL tight end and Iowa Hawkeye Dallas Clark called the “Native Fund,” which helps Iowans in need during disaster relief.
The performance featured opening acts Volbeat and Avenged Sevenfold, but the day (and the night) belonged to the headliner, Metallica.
And they did not disappoint.
The foursome hit the stage running with opener “Hardwired… To Self-Destruct,” from the 2016 release of the same name. The band eschewed its usual six-to-eight-minutes-per-song template for the rapid-fire tune, which was a glorious throwback to the “Kill ‘Em All” days that so many long-time and hardcore Met fans have been longing for.
Another new song, “Atlas, Rise!” kept things rolling at top speed and showed the band to be in fine form and continuing to draw from its New Wave of British Heavy Metal DNA. And speaking of past, the third song “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” complete with a Robert Trujillo, fuzz-infused bass opener (ala Burton, the band’s original and much-beloved bassist who was tragically killed while on tour in 1986), brought the crowd to its feet.
A tight-pocket version of “Fuel” gave way to the ethereal “The Unforgiven,” off the band’s monstrous 1991 self-titled album, and all was well with the more than 24,000 in attendance. “Now That We’re Dead” found all four band members picking up sticks to bang together on four massive drums. Even the solo spot was unique and better than in the past. Instead of Hammett’s wanking and dive bombing on his guitar through an annoying wah-wah pedal effect, he joined Trujillo for a bass-and-guitar-only version of the band’s “Mission Impossible” soundtrack offering,
“I Disappear,” which surprisingly worked well, despite the lack of histrionics on either musician’s part.
That’s not to say everything was paint-by-number perfect. The band destroyed (in a bad way) the ending of “Whiplash,” a powerhouse thrasher from “Kill ‘Em All.” Ulrich’s song-closing cymbal crashes were out of sync with Hetfield and Hammett, as though the band had decided to go with an alternative ending in the practice room just prior to hitting the stage — then forgot to employ it. The misstep caused Hetfield to quip afterward, “I like that song. Not sure about the ending. Thirty-six years and you think we’d be professional.” The lack of long-time staple “Creeping Death” also was a glaring omission from the setlist.
That aside, the quartet blistered through its thick catalog of meat and potatoes metal, sprinkling the old (“Seek and Destroy,” “Battery”) and the new (“Halo of Fire”, “Moth Into Flame,”) with sonic ease. Hetfield introduced “
Moth” by saying it was a song the band enjoyed playing “when the mic works,” jokingly referencing the band’s Grammy performance with Lady Gaga in which Hetfield’s vocal mic was inadvertently turned off. The formidable frontman also made it a point to give a nod to Iowa’s heaviest of heavy offspring, Slipknot, by dedicating “Sad But True” to the Des Moines natives.
“Iowa, I know there’s a certain band that comes from here that’s extremely heavy,” Hetfield said. “We’ve toured with them, we’re friends with them, so we want to dedicate this next song to Slipknot.”
The band rolled out “One” and “Master of Puppets” to the delight of the old-school Met fans, and the set closed in predictable fashion with the playing “Enter Sandman,” a song that, at the time of its release in 1991, split the Metallica fan base almost in two. One faction longed for the heavy, while the other saw it as a natural evolution and accepted its entry into Metallica lore with open arms — as did the thousands on this night who came, saw, and heard how powerful Hetfield, Ulrich, Hammett and Trujillo remain to this day.
If fans wanted wanted heavy, they got it — in spades.