Metallica

Royal Arena, Copenhagen - 2017

Text: Tobias Nilsson Photo: Lunah Lauridsen

Once upon a time, or earlier this year, Copenhagen got a brand new and shiny new arena. Intended for sports, music, and other forms of entertainment, the Royal Arena went all in with an opening event that had heavy metal superstars Metallica play four nights in a row.
Well, that was the intention anyway, but one night had to be postponed as James Hetfield suffered from a bad throat. Almost half a year passed, and now Metallica was back again, delivering on that long-awaited show.

“Hey Copenhagen, welcome back to the show that never was.”
- James Hetfield (vocals/guitar)


The band had brought along a sense of humour, that much was clear already from stepping inside the doors of Royal Arena. Inside, after passing the guard check of course, were attendants handing out t-shirts. T-shirts made special for this show, with an original Brian Schroeder (a.k.a. Pushead) design depicting a skull opening wide to say aaah, and a text saying “Papa Het was a Hoarseman 5.2.17”
C’mon, you’ve got to admit, that’s pretty damn witty.
Metallica had more than humour packed in their quiver. For one thing, there was the stage and light-rig. The stage itself was built in the now classical square shape which Metallica is so fond of, and had a rotational device below the drumkit. It was placed in the middle of the hall, so that the band was standing on an island with fans on each side. This is a style they’ve been sporting for a long time now – the first time I saw a version of this was back in -96 on the Load tour.
It wasn’t so much what they were standing on though, as what they had overhead that was fascinating. This was no rehash of something old, not as far as I know. Hanging from a square rig as large as the stage itself, were many large cubes with video-screens on all sides. These were used alternatively to display actual still images or videos, and also pure colours and lights. During the Ecstasy Of Gold intro, I was afraid my place on the floor relatively close to the stage was a badly chosen one for watching this, as the images from The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly were hardly visible at the steep angle, but it turned out not to be a problem later on, for various reasons. One of these, certainly, was the fact that the cubes were moveable. Yes, they hung from wires that could be lengthened at will, sending the cubes up and down during the show in different formations. It looked amazing from my vantagepoint, but I couldn’t help wondering how much they blocked the view for those fans in the seated isles further up the tribune.
There was of course some pyro stuff going on as well, although not as much as I’d expected, but the show held another card up its sleeve, something I can say with confidence that I have never seen before – fireflies! What the hell, I hear you thinking, and you’re right, of course! Who would be weird enough to release a bunch of fireflies at a metal concert?
Only the most awesome stage-production crew ever, that’s who! For Moth Into Flame, a whole bunch of, well, I guess it was teeny-tiny drones with a little light attached, touched off the stage floor and flew up into the air above the musicians. Sometimes randomly whirring around, and sometimes doing complex formations, this looked absolutely stunning! I have no idea how they technically pulled it off, but it was nothing less than mesmerizing to behold! It looked so good in fact, that it stole quite a bit of attention from the gig itself.

“If it’s too heavy, let me know and we’ll stop.”
- Hetfield (vocals/guitar)


Why was that though?
Well, as you have guessed, it was a one-of-a-kind experience of course, but it also had a bit to do with the show as a whole. You see, Metallica wasn’t running in top gear this evening. There were glimpses of total presence and dedication, sure, but between these there were long, droning stretches of what mostly felt like another day at the office, and a tired one at that. Don’t get me wrong, the guys were performing, moving about, headbanging, doing all that they should, but the connection with the audience wasn’t there most of the time, giving the appearance of a band going through the moves, moves they’ve gone through so many times before. Neither did they connect too much with each other – last time we saw them, they had a lot of fun playing off of each other, doing combined poses, that sort of thing. This night, there was only a bare minimum of this, with each band member mostly hanging out on his own side of the stage, sometimes joining Lars Ulrich in the middle, but then with their backs to the crowd.
Focusing on the upsides, because those really are the only parts worth mentioning, the whole band had fun trying their hands on drumming as large boxes emerged from the floor in Now That We’re Dead. Interestingly, Ulrich seemed to play the simplest of the rhythms, as Hetfield and Robert Trujillo did more advanced stuff, and Kirk Hammett was somewhere in between – take from that what you will.
Ulrich did get to have some extra fun at the end of For Whom The Bell Tolls, where instead of waiting for his drumkit to revolve, he got up and walked around it instead, while still playing, mind you.
Hetfield also seemed to light up after the usual question about how many had seen Metallica before, and how many were here for the first time, Here, his eyes caught hold of nine-year old Alexander in the front-row, who was here with his father. While everyone agreed that this was parenting done right, Hetfield asked a relevant question – “Where do you go from here?”

“That’s a lot of new songs, are you sure you like it?”
- Hetfield (vocals/guitar)


One other thing that didn’t help lift the show to the appropriate heights was the chosen setlist. While I can only commend the band for changing things up since their last visit, they had taken some odd choices here, that didn’t fall too well in with the audience. As Hetfield himself commented, there were a lot of new songs, and mostly concentrated in a stretch through the beginning and middle of the show. The last third or so was solely dedicated to older material, which got the audience going a bit more, but at this time it was quite late to try and save it with songs alone.
For personal preference, I was glad to hear that the band had included one of their Lovecraft themed songs in the setlist, although I must admit that Dream No More didn’t hold a candle to the performance of The Call Of Ktulu from last time.
Through The Never was rushed through at a tempo I don’t think it has been played in ever before, and The Day That Never Comes showed a flaw in the sound production – the fast and heavy bits sounded as they were supposed to, but the calm and clean bits didn’t hold up. On the other hand, this song had an interesting light/video show though, as there appeared to be humans trapped in all of the cubes hanging down from the rig. While at first that looked like little more than a cool effect, the fact that it stretched on like that through the nigh on eight minutes song really screwed with my perception, leading my mind down dark paths which made me almost believe that there truly were people in there – a quite claustrophobic experience!
The cubes were also well used, as they portrayed several images of Cliff Burton while Trujillo played the opening section of (Anesthesia) – Pulling Teeth, a nice homage to the old bass-wiz.
Budgie’s Breadfan was a nice surprise in the setlist which much needed picked up the pace quite a bit, and the fact that the band chose to play around with the fan favourite One was also nice to hear. Instead of using the now well-known bombardment intro, which is nice and good in its own right, they went with using the dialogue from the film Johnny Got His Gun to introduce it. Why they didn’t use the dialogue through the end of the song as well, as they did in the extended cut of the music video for the song, I can’t say, though it would have been nice to hear now that they walked down that path anyway.

“How are you? Are you glad you came back? We are. I see a lot of smiling faces out there, makes us feel good, man.”
- Hetfield (vocals/guitar)


As far as I could tell, Royal Arena was completely sold out this evening. A lot of the visitors were of course those who had bought tickets for the cancelled show back in February – those tickets were directly transferable to this show instead, if you so wished (which I’m sure most did).
And as far as I could tell, most people enjoyed the show, each in their own little way. Now, as Metallica does reach so far across genre restrictions and limitations, I can’t help but think and notice, that a lot of the visitors this night was not the type to go to a show more than once in a blue moon. For these people, I’m sure the show was great, as it was for all of those seeing the band for the first time, and for them I’m happy.
For those of us who have seen Metallica before, and a score of other bands for that matter, we know that this one part of the Big Four is capable of so much more. What we saw was a band performing a solid, entertaining show that never tested the limits of a band running mostly on autopilot. Was this because of the long wait, or that this was a one-off gig in the midst of a North American tour, simple travel fatigue? Who knows? What I do know is that I’m glad I came, but I left severely underwhelmed. This show pales in comparison to the show we saw Metallica give back in February.
Still, that light and stage production, man. A+ with a gold star! That was freaking amazing!

Setlist:

It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘N’ Roll) (AC/DC song)
The Ecstasy Of Gold (Ennio Morricone song)

Hardwired
Atlas, Rise!
Seek & Destroy
Through The Never
The Day That Never Comes
Now That We’re Dead
Dream No More
For Whom The Bell Tolls
Halo On Fire
Solo (Trujillo & Hammett)
Breadfan (Budgie cover)
Fuel
Moth Into Flame
Sad But True
One
Master Of Puppets
Fight Fire With Fire
Nothing Else Matters
Enter Sandman

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