On June 6th, 2004, mere hours before Metallica were due onstage to headline the Download Festival — the U.K.’s biggest metal event — medics rushed drummer Lars Ulrich to the hospital to treat a then-undisclosed illness. Rather than let down the estimated 70,000 fans in attendance, the band tapped some of their famous friends who had already played that day to fill in. Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo played the night’s first two songs, “Battery” and “The Four Horsemen,” while Slipknot’s Joey Jordison — dressed in his trademark mask and jumpsuit — played the rest of the set (with the exception of “Fade to Black,” performed by Ulrich’s drum tech, Flemming Larsen).
With only an hour to rehearse, Jordison mastered a series of Metallica staples: “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “Creeping Death,” “Seek and Destroy,” “Nothing Else Matters,” and “Enter Sandman,” among others.
“I remember receiving a call telling me to go backstage where I was given the news,” Download Festival’s booker, Andy Copping, recalled on Instagram after news of Jordison’s death circulated on Tuesday. “There were two choices a) do Metallica cancel? or b) do Metallica convince other drummers on site to fill in? I suggested they cancel because I just couldn’t see b) happening, particularly as quite a few drummers that were asked said no. One guy who stepped up was Slipknot’s Joey Jordison. The story was he’d played in a Metallica covers band prior to joining Slipknot, so [he] knew a lot of their songs. Joey, along with Slayer’s Dave Lombardo, saved the day. Seeing Joey play with Metallica in his Slipknot mask was something I will never forget.”
Slipknot percussionist Shawn “Clown” Crahan had hoped to document the rehearsal but was told he wasn’t allowed to film it. So he stood outside of Metallica’s practice room and just listened. “I can remember just listening to Joey play all these Metallica songs, and at least three quarters of them he didn’t play onstage,” he recalled in an interview with Download earlier this year. “So it was like all those guys being kids and just jamming in this basement, so to speak, and they were seeing which ones they were vibing.”
“As cool as it was playing that show, what was cooler was playing in Metallica’s practice room,” Jordison once said, according to Kerrang. ”It was just me and those three guys, just warming up. What a dream come true, man. I’ll have dreams about it every once in a while. It was one of the best gigs of my life.”
Video from the fest shows how adroitly Jordison navigated the band’s songs, nailing the fills and false stops of “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and the galloping rhythms of “Seek and Destroy,” even leading James Hetfield back in during one of the breaks of the latter song. Drum-cam footage of “Creeping Death” captures the ferocity with which Jordison attacked Metallica’s best live song, even adding his own blastbeat here or there.
“I just remember all of us are like, ‘What?’ And Joey always was nervous to begin with, he loves the show so much that his nerves would always get sort of the best of him because the will to want to play was so high,” Crahan said. “So you can just imagine how he was being in there with his gods. What a remarkable day!”
A year after Ulrich pulled out of the show he explained he had been suffering exhaustion and was having trouble in his personal life. “We’d had a heavy touring schedule in Japan, Europe, America, and Australia,” he told Metal Hammer (via Blabbermouth). “In the midst of that there were things that had come unraveled in my personal life — my family and my marriage and stuff. I’d had a lot of late nights and early mornings. So I woke up in Copenhagen on the Sunday morning, had brunch with 14 in-laws and cousins, and then I got on the plane. I was exhausted. We took off, and about halfway over to [England’s] Midlands Airport … I don’t know what the fuck happened, but all of a sudden I just fucking lost it.
“It was pretty fucking scary to be in a little fucking metal tube at 41,000 feet,” he continued. “I’ve never had anxiety attacks or any kind of stress attacks ever. So we landed in Hamburg and went to the hospital. They took some blood tests, and everything was normal physically — it was just everything caught up with me mentally. It was the first-ever Metallica gig I’d ever missed. You wanna try laying in a hospital in Germany while Dave Lombardo — the greatest drummer on the planet — is playing with your band? That’s not easy. Joey Jordison, too. I have a bit of an odd relationship with it — I still haven’t looked at the press or the pictures.”
After news broke of Jordison’s death, Metallica posted a tribute on Instagram: “R.I.P., brother.”