Gig review: Metallica at Etihad Stadium, Manchester

Roofs serve two main functions, keep stuff out and keep stuff in. Manchester’s Etihad Stadium doesn’t have such a luxury, so there was nothing to stop the torrential rain soaking one of the biggest headlining gigs that San Franciscan metal bemoths Metallica have played in the UK.

Metallica at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester. Picture: David Hodgson

Even though the lack of cover could have prevented the astonishing volume of noise the band create from leaving the venue, fortunately Metallica make so much of it that there was little chance. Manchester will never know what the ‘one toy’ of stadium paraphernalia was that the weather curtailed, but as they were treated to two and a half hours of rich pickings from a 38-year career, neither will they be concerned.

The traditional opener, Ennio Morricone’s The Ecstasy of Gold, gives way to Hardwired, which together with other tracks from the most recent album of the same name that make an appearance, including Moth to the Flame and Lords of Summer, sound like the band could have produced them whilst still precocious 1980s thrash metal upstarts.

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Unsurprisingly a substantial part of the setlist is lifted from their mainstream breakthrough eponymous album from 1991, ‘Metallica giving you heavy’ in the form of Sad But True, The God That Failed and The Unforgiven still packing the necessary punches. Pyrotechnics and fire set the scene on a number of tracks, none more so than One, the band’s anti-war anthem triggering waves of headbanging throughout the crowd to the sound of machine gun fire.

Metallica at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester. Picture: David Hodgson

Throughout lead singer James Hetfield cites the crowd into ever increasing levels of air punching, the stage runway allowing him, guitarist Kirk Hammet and bassist Robert Trujillo to move throughout the throng. Eventually Lars Ulrich’s drumkit joins them at the front of the stage, by now holding so much surface water that every note he smashes results in a cloud of droplets, reminiscent of a 1990’s rock music video trend.

There’s an odd interlude where Trujillo and Hammet alone cover the Stone Roses track I Want to be Adored, which sounds neither like the original nor a clever interpretation, requiring the crowd to take it in the light-hearted spirit intended.

Throughout the five large screens behind the band project images that reflect the vintage of the song, none more so than during the set’s highlights, thumping renditions of For Whom the Bell Tolls, Master of Puppets and Welcome Home (Sanatorium). These are as much of the heavy metal psyche as the Flying V guitar sound or thumping, driving bassline, emitted from Trujillo’s low slung instrument, played with his trademark crouching. All of these tracks have a unique quality of constantly sounding newer and fresher than the last rendition, there being no chance of any of the band’s extensive output ever appearing stale.

The encore closed, inevitably, with Enter Sandman, a fireworks display making optimum use of the lack of cover. Metallica get stronger and stronger, the Worldwired tour will amass a total of 170 dates, in all weathers, vocals as strong as they were 30 years ago, the sound as tight and as loud as it ever has.