“Baltimore, are you aliiiive? Are you aliiiive?!?!” James Hetfield asked a stadium full of headbangers in Baltimore Wednesday night, echoing the sort of stage banter Bruce Springsteen made famous. Then he twisted it. “If you want to live forever, first you must diiiiie.” With that, Metallica kicked into “Now That We’re Dead,” an ominous new quasi-love song off their latest LP, last year’s Hardwired … to Self-Destruct, that featured a super-sized drum solo involving the band’s four members.
It was a larger-than-life moment from a larger-than-life band, one that has pulled out all stops for its WorldWired Tour, which it kicked off with this gig in Charm City’s M&T Stadium with support from Avenged Sevenfold and Volbeat. It was Metallica at their biggest: seemingly hundred-foot screens that stretch to the upper rafters of the gigantic venue, chest-rattling bass drum that approximates Lars Ulrich personally kicking you in the gut and pyro displays that include 40-foot flames that turn into fireballs and fireworks galore. The stage even has giant balloons that display the Hardwired LP’s cover. It’s been nearly 20 years since the band last toured U.S. stadiums – and it’s been nearly 10 since they did a proper North American run – so it seems they’ve spared no expense to announce their homecoming.
But despite all the bells, whistles, balloons and explosions, none of the spectacle felt bloated. This is a group that 25 years ago took the big-rock mantle left behind by Led Zeppelin and Queen years before them and shaped it in their image. It’s the sort of show they were born to do, judging from the 10s of thousands of waving fists during “Sad but True.”
The audience was with the band right from the charging opening riffs of “Hardwired” through the final ringing notes of “Enter Sandman.” Some fans even held up their cameras to take video of the scene from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly that the band plays before they go onstage. The group later reflected that good will back on the audience, with Hetfield calling the stadium a family. “We don’t give a shit where you’re from, what religion you are, what color you are,” he said early on. “The fact that you are here and celebrating live music and life together, you are part of the Metallica family.” Each step of the speech earned cheers from the crowd.
Metallica made good on that message of inclusion by stacking the set list with their hits to bring their fans together – “One,” “Master of Puppets,” “Fade to Black,” nearly half of the Black Album – all of which got roaring applause and even audience participation as the crowd sang in Greek chorus whenever Hetfield stepped back from the mic (the line “I ask no one” in “Wherever I May Roam” was particularly deafening). They also played close to half of Hardwired … to Self-Destruct: five mostly lengthy, intricate new songs. It’s a daring move for a band that put out its latest album less than six months ago, but it was a risk that paid off because the crowd was never disengaged and in multiple parts of the stadium, fans could be seen singing along to the songs. (At a dress rehearsal for fan-club members at the stadium the night before, some were even calling out for “Spit Out the Bone,” Hardwired’s epic thrash closer.)
The band members appeared to be enjoying themselves, too. Part of WorldWired’s monstrous staging includes a circular catwalk that forms a small area for fans that the band long ago dubbed the “snake pit.” Throughout the night, Hetfield, Kirk Hammett and Rob Trujillo strutted around the catwalk, and for their first-set closer, “Seek and Destroy,” they all huddled on a tiny stage at the end of the catwalk, Lars Ulrich’s drums and all, for what Hetfield told the crowd was a “reproduction of our garage.” It was a rare intimate moment for such a large show.
But in the end, it was still the sheer girth of it all that wowed fans. Each song had its own special visuals: a giant bell for “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” hands with marionette strings stretching down to Ulrich for “Master of Puppets,” Gallagher-esque smashed explosions for “Battery,” marching soldiers who are revealed to be skeletons for “One.” Coupled with the intense heat of all the pyro, it’s the sort of concert you feel as much as you witness.
When they were done, each of the band members walked around the entire length of the stage for a four-minute victory lap, fireworks still piercing the sky as they tossed hundreds of guitar picks into the audience, mugged and, in the case of Ulrich, affectionately sneered for fans’ photos. Hetfield got fans clapping, Hammett told the crowd that they “fuckin’ rule,” Trujillo got them to growl like monsters and Ulrich told them, “Metallica fucking loves you.” Even as they walked to the back of the stage, the audience was cheering for more but before the house music could come on, the band was gone, ready to do it all again in Philly two nights later. In the stadium hallway, one middle-aged man ran toward the exit shouting that it was the best show he’d ever seen in his life.
“For Whom the Bell Tolls”
“Now That We’re Dead”
“Moth Into Flame”
“Wherever I May Roam”
“Halo on Fire”
Guitar and bass solos, including “(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth”
“Hit the Lights”
“Sad but True”
“Master of Puppets”
“Fade to Black”
“Seek and Destroy”
“Nothing Else Matters”
Metallica mapped out the North American dates of their 2017 WorldWired Tour, which will hit stadiums and festival stages this summer. Watch here.