This past Friday, the same day it was announced Metallica scored its 12th number one album on the Billboard charts with last year’s platinum-selling Hardwired... to Self-Destruct, the L.A.-based four-piece brought its spectacle of a show to Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium that was as impressive as the fact that people still buy albums versus simply streaming.
One of the seminal heavy-metal acts of the '80s and '90s that led the way in ushering in a new era of speed, power, and complexity in mainstream rock 'n' roll, Metallica is part of a nearly extinct breed. As opposed to a Beyoncé or Coldplay, these musicians are the last of the hard-rock bands that command a fan base large enough to still fill a sports stadium. During this stop, on a balmy 85-degree evening in South Florida, Metallica once again pulled it off.
More telling of the band's popularity was the crowd. There was an eight-year gap between their last two records, but the diehards were nonetheless out in force. Sure, the occasional Miami cliché wandered around, like the gaggle of overdressed girls who got lost on their way to E11even, but otherwise, this was a diverse crowd, largely Hispanic and white with a broad spectrum of ages, that was uniform in its worship of its metal gods.
Not seen at a Metallica concert: pastel colors. Instead, black — and more specific, black Metallica T-shirts — is du jour. Clearly, fans buying and wearing a band’s merch at said band’s show is nothing new or revealing; however, there were countless ancient-ass Metallica shirts that looked older than most of the lead singers of bands who grew up listening to the veteran rockers (to be fair, there were plenty of shirtless men, most of whom were more Chris Farley than Chris Evans, but, hey, the weather was hot).
Their loyalty was well rewarded with a massive show that was equal parts greatest-hits album and summer blockbuster film in the form of a rock concert.
In keeping with tradition, the show opened with a scene from the 1966 Western The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, featuring a score by the legendary Ennio Morricone, something Metallica has done since 1983. However, the sheer scale of this event outdoes anything the band was capable of in the early part of its career. Behind the band stood four two-story screens. Across from them on the opposite end of the stadium were three columns of cameras and spotlights operated by at least a dozen technicians. Regardless of seat location in the stadium, no fan would miss a single sweaty guitar lick.
Lead singer and frontman James Hetfield welcomed the audience by saying, “Metallica does not give a shit who you are, where you’re from, what God you believe in, what color you are, who you voted for.” He wanted Miami to focus on similarities and the ability of music to bring people together before launching into “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” an antiwar song.
Hetfield, guitarist Kirk Hammett, bassist Robert Trujillo, and the band’s other founding member, drummer Lars Ulrich, then tore through fan favorites such as “Creeping Death,” “Master of Puppets,” “Sad But True,” “Seek and Destroy,” “The Unforgiven,” and “Wherever I May Roam.” The pace and stamina exceeded that of the 20- and 30-somethings thrashing about in the mosh pit on the field. A Metallica concert is a thunderous, visceral experience; it’s like a battle scene between two barbarian armies interrupted by a swarm of bees and a monster-truck rally. A sold-out Miami Dolphins crowd has never been this loud.
Even the band’s recent work, “”Halo on Fire” and “Moth Into Flame,” illustrate how little Metallica has softened over the years. Each song is a fist on a boxer, pummeling an opponent, who burps fire with each successive blow.
Aside from the encore, the standout of the night was “One.” Yet another antiwar song, it's concerned with the horrors of battle, imagining a WWI soldier getting his limbs blown off. For this number, Metallic and the small city of fire-starters the band employs pulled out all the stops by re-creating sounds of gunshots and booming mortars with every pyrotechnic trick at their disposal. “One” was, in a word, intense.
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The main reason Metallica became the world conqueror it is today, with fans stretching from South America to South Korea, is its 1991 self-titled album, often called "The Black Album." The evening’s encore consisted of three songs, two of which came from that game-changer. “Nothing Else Matters,” a work that should stand in reverence alongside “Stairway to Heaven” as a modern masterpiece, was performed with none of the flash and pomp of “One.” It was enough to be entranced by that sweet, if melancholy, melody. Speaking of classics, like AC/DC’s “Back in Black” or Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” the show closer, opened with an iconic intro instantly recognizable to any hard-rock fan and a beat so ferocious and adrenaline-pumping it could get the most docile soul to run through a fucking wall.
When the crowd chanted “Obey your master” during “Master of Puppets,” it was obvious who was pulling the strings while bodies whipped back and forth like blithely, deliriously happy rag dolls. That’s because ultimately, as inclusive as Hetfield wants Metallica shows to be, they aren’t. A Metallica show isn’t for the casual music fan trying something new. Beyond the grandiosity of the fireworks and the lasers lies the music, and that’s what mattered most and always will. This was a show for the truest of Metallica fans through and through.