You have to ask yourself after a lifetime of attending concerts, “Have I grown too cynical?” On “the music industry’s biggest night,” the bright glow of optimism is mired in a growing disdain for giants cut off early and worthy winners shunned in favor of vanilla, palatable drivel. Metallica is a band that for little reason has taken an enormous amount of flack from fans and pundits. With the notable exceptions of Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath, they’ve accomplished almost the unthinkable; making heavy metal something that could fill arenas worldwide. Yet, they are still dogged as uber-capitalists on account of their one major misstep: a public spat with early music piracy app Napster. When you pry away the strains of cynicism, there is little left to see other than the undeniable truth: the four musicians that make up this band just might be the best in the business.
Haters be damned. Metallica topped off a night where earlier they played a one-off collaboration with Lady Gaga at the Grammys (and subsequently had lead singer James Hetfield’s mic completely fail in the process) with a lean, mean set of career-best hits as the final night of the CITI Sound Vault at the Palladium. The set opened as nearly ever Metallica show does, featuring the timeless Ennio Morricone song “The Ecstasy of Gold” over the PA. The band came in right at the conclusion to chime in with their recent single “Hardwired” off Hardwired… to Self-Destruct. They followed that with the speed metal frenzy of “Creeping Death.” The song’s frenetic verses and choruses give way to the mosh breakdown and fan singalong, “Die! / Die! / Die! / Die!” The audience chanting continues on the opening power chords and distorted bass intro from Robert Trujillo of “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” the crowd bellowing “Hey” in unison.
“Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” is the first in a series of Metallica’s most epic fan favorites. The contemplative, quieter opening gives way to the thrash-iest of the band’s segues before a manic series of guitar solos from Kirk Hammett. It’s evident here just essential drummer Lars Ulrich is to their sound as the momentum is carried to explosive heights through his performance. At the end of that song Hetfield inquires of Ulrich when the last time they performed at Hollywood Palladium was. Ulrich replies March 10th 1985 (he’s right, they ended with “Motorbreath”). Playing to the more menacing side of their sound—think Slayer’s South of Heaven—“Harvester of Sorrow” is all chugging, fist-banging power. “One” takes things a step further and dives headfirst into the unbridled horror of being a wartime casualty deprived of arms, legs and a face for talking or seeing. The song is all an elaborate setup for the breakdown double kick drum assault from Ulrich, and it works perfectly. When Hetfield comes in on top of the pummeling with the famous refrain, “Darkness / imprisoning me / all that I see / absolute horror,” the crowd is notably elated.
The longer songs reach their apex in this show with the inclusion of the seminal song “Master of Puppets.” The group leaves none of the song’s interlocking melodies out, even the angelic bridge after the second chorus. The set proper ends with their first major hit single, the nightmare-infused “Enter Sandman.” It being one of the poppiest of their material, every one in attendance knows every word, chord and grunt, but it doesn’t matter. No one is thinking this is too soft of a metal song and not true enough to be worthy of enjoyment. After that, the encore is logically a straightforward take on …And Justice for All opener “Blackened” coupled with the band’s often set closer, “Seek and Destroy.” It may not be unusual, but the audience is thrilled to shout the answer to Hetfield’s “Searchhiinnnnnn” with “SEEK AND DESTROY.”
The band leaves to a well-deserved applause. Right as it looks like they’re about fully gone from the stage, Ulrich runs back and grabs a mic. “Hey is this still on?” he ponders aloud. He quips in reference to the night’s earlier mic fiasco at the Grammys but joyfully indicates the band will be back in Los Angeles on 7/29 playing the massive Rose Bowl. While the band has been known to play longer sets, there was really no wasted space here. Seeing them formulate these creations in person cements just how talented these four players are. Metallica take their songcraft and their performances seriously. The amount of care and precision in each song is evident and is truly second to none. If you can’t enjoy this, and find the joy in the communal catharsis, you are seriously jaded beyond recovery.
For Whom the Bell Tolls
Welcome Home (Sanitarium)
Harvester of Sorrow
Master of Puppets
Seek & Destroy
All photos by Raymond Flotat