Metallica, Glastonbury Festival, England 28/06/14

I'll always remember the night Metallica tor Glastonbury a new one...

Anyone saying to me ‘Metallica haven’t been any good since the late nineties’ wouldn’t get much truck from me, save for perhaps a little bickering over the actual descent into mediocrity’s starting date. For me, their Reading Festival headline appearance in 1997 marks the beginning of the end, and I haven’t really been much of a fan since then. I’ve seen them countless times between now and then of course, as our paths have crossed at festivals all over Europe, and time after time I’ve walked away, head shaking and wondering where it all went wrong for such a truly iconic heavy metal band.

Anyway, here I am in the pissing rain at Glastonbury – oh my fucking God how I hate Glastonbury – doing a bit of work for one of the lesser lights on the bill, and readying myself for half an hour of Metallica before heading off site to a nice dry hotel bar. Same shit, different field.

Except something’s wrong. Lars Ulrich’s drumming is absolutely awful – I guess that’s a given – but everything else seems strangely excellent. Opening with a crashing Creeping Death, the band look more energised than I remember them, especially Kirk Hammett, whilst James Hetfield gets the old roar back into top gear. Metallica are levelling Glastonbury (which, for all the noncery pre-festival from bleeding hearts crying about Hetfield’s hunting activities seems gratifyingly full of fans), and they’re levelling it with pure, unadulterated heavy metal thunder.

For Whom the Bell Tolls sounds better than at any time I’ve heard it played in the last twenty years, whilst Anywhere I Roam and Sad But True grind Glastonbury into submission with pure evil intent and crushingly proficient riffage. But if all these are pleasant surprises, it’s the next track, Fade to Black, that really presses home the fact that this is Metallica in top form. Hammett pulls off that solo at the end of the song note-for-note – not something you can always say about the man – and even Ulrich reigns in his more florid tendencies to give the song just what it needs – and only what it needs – as it reaches that fantastic crescendo. Almost inspite of myself I’m singing along and punching the air. 

But then, in what might later be seen as a masterstroke of pacing, they dissolve the momentum they’ve built up in the first half hour by including a song from Death Magnetic, Cyanide. It too, actually sounds OK, but today, in this environment when the band is flying the flag for heavy metal in the citadel, no in the very face of smirking, ironic hipsterdom, I’d like to have seen them roll out something a little more ‘classic’ to bludgeon Jo Whiley and her ilk just a little more. 

Hetfield's voice starts to sound a little tired on The Unforgiven, a little thin in parts, a little warble creeping in in places. But it isn’t as bad as I’ve heard it in the past, and the man is truly giving this everything so you can’t complain too much, right? The goodwill built up in the first part of the show carries the band through a few rough patches here and there now, but once again Hammett pulls another marvellous solo out of the bag – I TRULY HAVE NOT HEARD HIM PLAY THIS WELL IN A LONG, LONG, TIME – and they get through the rest of the song unscathed. 

The Memory Remains is a crowd pleaser – there’s a huge amount of crowd participation at the end that even Bruce Dickinson would have been proud to have incited – but to be honest I’m a bit cold on that song and, for this reviewer at least, the mind wanders here for the first time of the evening.  But Christ I’m already here half an hour longer than I expected to be, and those first shiverings of discontent are soon dispelled by the crackle of heavy machine guns. A cheer goes up as even the least metal in the audience realise what this means, and seconds later the gentle picked intro of One begins.

Actually parts of One are the ragged Metallica we’ve become used to, out of kilter drums, out of tune vocals – you know the score – but the Pink Floyd-via-Pushead film playing as a backdrop helps distract the more critical amongst us, whilst everyone else just goes apeshit. Against all the odds Metallica are owning Glastonbury.

Having broken the back of the task, the band head around the home turn and into the strait with a juggernaut, steamroller-heavy romp through Master of Puppets – the highlight of the night for me, now banging my head and singing along to the harmony solo with the three Swedes next to me like it’s 1986 all over again – during which Hetfield sounds genuinely enthused and happy to be here delivering a size-twelve kicking to us all; The audience are lapping everything up now, so even another dip in pace down into Nothing Else Matters can’t dampen our enthusiasm. Where I’m standing every man woman and child is singing themselves hoarse, gearing themselves up for an almighty, thousands-strong ‘YEAH-YEAAHHH’ just before the solo. You know the bit I mean.

Last track Enter Sandman has never been one of my favourites, but you can’t deny it’s a great way to end the set; However I’m glad to see that after a crowd-pleasing encore return of Whiskey in the Jar, the band ends the night properly with Kill ‘Em All chestnut Seek and Destroy, leaving the denizens of Glastonbury to return to their tents with a true thrash classic ringing in their ears.

I didn’t even intend to review this set. Then I thought it would be fun to take the mickey out of a band clearly on the way down with their best days behind them, mixing in a bit of sadness on the demise of a band I once loved dearly. Imagine my suprprise and delight, then, to be able to report on the best Metallica show I’ve seen in seventeen years. It’s good to have them back, in this kind of form, even if it was just for the one night. A love affair rekindled? Not quite, but the lines of communication are definitely open again. 

 

Jaymz n'Kirk pic courtesy of The Sun Newspaper