Review: Metallica (M72 World Tour Live From Arlington, TX)

When you hear the term ‘concert film’ you may think of a bunch of people sat in a cinema, watching a gig happen live in front of a massive screen, whilst eating a big bag of popcorn, with a litre or two of Pepsi Max sitting in the cup holder next to them. And you’d… well, you’d be kind of right. But what you might not necessarily think about is the actual atmosphere of the concert film itself and the effect it has on the cinema-goers. The realistic feel of a live gig from the comfort of a chair has been achieved by only a few artists and bands recently, but nobody has done it quite better than the Californian metal legends Metallica. Their M72 World Tour is already in full swing, and for their 2-night pit stop in Arlington, Texas, they decided to bring both of the performances of their ‘No Repeat Weekends’ all the way from the AT&T Stadium to thousands of cinemas worldwide, spanning across 75+ countries, for a very special live event.

Visually, the stadium design for these gigs is stunning. Several large beacons are positioned around the standing area, projecting video effects to help those with seating tickets get the full experience. The stage where the band play is shaped as a massive 360° ‘snake pit’, consisting of a large circle in the middle of the stadium. And the fans? Well, there are fans standing amongst the beacons, but there are also fans standing INSIDE of the snake pit circle. They surely get the best view of all; watching the band play right in front of their eyes, spinning around to catch different members at different times. And yet, the video game nerd in me can’t help but think that the stage layout really reminds me of the city of Midgar from Final Fantasy VII – it looks oddly ominous yet mysteriously welcoming. Before each night begins, AC/DC’s hit It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll) plays over the speakers as a slideshow of old band photos circulates for everyone in the stadium – and then, just as the lights go down, the iconic Ecstasy of Gold (from the 1966 film The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) plays out, complete with video excerpts from the film, as the four horsemen take to the stage, and get ready to unleash hell.

Night 1 began with the Ride The Lightning classic, and fan favourite, Creeping Death – it made for a crushing start to the performance which, hilariously, made our broadcast freeze for a few seconds when the full band kicked in. The live stream just simply could not handle the heaviness! Despite the technical glitch, the cinema audience were loving it; heads were banging, feet were tapping, and every single eye in the room was transfixed on the band. During their playthrough of Leper Messiah, I was completely transfixed on Lars Ulrich – he was absolutely on fire during this track, completing each drum fill with what looked like flawless ease, as if to suggest that he can do it all in his sleep. And he probably could. “Is the Metallica family here with us?” James asks the crowd before King Nothing, as if positioned in front of an Ouija board – the response he gets back from the crowd (or “Family”) is, simply, ear-splitting.

When it came time for the band to play some new material in the shape of their latest album 72 Seasons (released earlier this year) the stage started to illuminate in a bright yellow. Lars came back and took a seat on his yellow drum kit. James had an ESP guitar handed to him by his guitar tech, with a massive ’72’ taped across the body. And then the intro to Lux Æterna kicked in, with its ferocious double kick pedal pattern, and its crushing yet cruising guitar riff. They all sound absolutely electric together – nobody misses a beat or note as they flawlessly play through the new songs as if they were recorded yesterday. After playing Too Far Gone?, Robert and Kirk stand as a duo as they play a brand new jam for the first time called G.B.A. (of which initials, Robert says, are “unknown”) – I couldn’t help but think that if they really did write this before they came onstage, then they can literally write anything, anywhere, anytime. So if their flight ever gets delayed on this tour, and they have a guitar or two to hand, then expect a whole new album!

Night 1 ended with the classic Master of Puppets – a song that was introduced to a whole new generation due to its inclusion in the Netflix series Stranger Things. And as the cameras shoot shots of the crowd, you can see that everyone, and I mean everyone, knows every single lyric to this song. Regardless of where you may have first heard it, it’s crucial to point out that Metallica really are everywhere, and there is simply no stopping them. As the American audience starts cheering for more, the house lights go up and the members face their adoring fans. They all take the mic separately to address their own thanks, with James saying “Thanks for coming and celebrating life. We are Metallica, and so are you.” And so, with that, the fun is over. Until Monday.

The last of the 2 nights began with their frenetically charged debut single, Whiplash. For a tour that aims to celebrate all 40 years and all 11 albums of the group’s career, this was a perfect choice – to start where it all properly began. This transitioned deliciously into For Whom the Bell Tolls, arguably one of the band’s greatest songs. It was groovy and it was heavy – and, let’s be real, what full playthrough would be complete without Robert Trujillo’s crab walk during the intro? It just had to be done. “Here’s something from your favourite album” James jokes as they segue into Dirty Window, off of the widely polarised album St. Anger – it’s great that they can at least joke about the split opinions that their fans have about the record (I, for one, think it’s pretty good) and that they aren’t afraid to play some songs from it. Another hilarious line that James delivered came straight after Fade to Black, where he exclaimed to the crowd that “After 223 years, I still like that song!”, which made everyone in the cinema chuckle.

When the iconic acoustic guitar intro to Battery sifted its way across the walls of the stadium, a shockwave of crowd cheers followed, and it actually drowned out the riff on our end for a few seconds! Trust me when I say this – their performance sounded just as tight as the recording from 1986 does. And then afterward, the signature Metallica beach balls come crashing down from the heavens as they played their version of Whiskey in the Jar. Except this time, instead of the “classic black design with a silver logo” balls that fans all know and love, the balls are now freshly designed as a pinwheel of black and yellow, with M72 written on them, alongside the city and date in question. They end the track by paying tribute to Phil Lynott, the late Thin Lizzy vocalist, as James raises a hand to the air and says “We miss you, Phil.”

They finish the set with Enter Sandman, from their self-titled 1991 album, which got a deafening response. The call and response section in the form of “Now I lay me down to sleep/Pray the Lord my soul to keep/If I die before I wake/Pray the Lord my soul to take” was screamed back at the band, which sent shivers down my spine; not only because this part of the song is fucking creepy in itself, but because witnessing thousands of people scream it back was intense and thrilling to hear. Beer cups full of Metallica plectrums were given to each of the members who, in turn, threw every last one into the crowd, and to every single outstretched hand out there. Or, if you’re Kirk, a whole cup of plectrums got thrown at the camera, as if he was giving the cinema audiences their share of the free picks, for being there with them.

Having seen Metallica live myself at Reading Festival 2015 (in person, not in a cinema) I can safely say, with all honesty, that there is no excitement lost in seeing the band play on a screen. It was just as exhilarating as the real thing, and is a great way of getting the UK fans involved too because, as of the current day, no UK dates have been added to their M72 World Tour… yet. But when that day comes, the fans inside this cinema are definitely going to buy tickets, so that they can experience the full theatrical masterpiece in person, right in front of their very eyes. These Arlington shows have proved that concert films can be ever-evolving and can introduce brand-new ways of pairing the music with the latest in visual innovation. Metallica now seem to be the masters at this, by putting on 2 shows that completely blew me away each time. If only every other show on this tour could be livestreamed in the same way that this one was…

Review – Joe Richardson

Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield pics – credit Jeff Yeager

Robert Trujillo and Kirk Hammett pics – credit Brett Murray

All future Metallica live dates can be found here

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