Arguably the biggest metal band in the world, Metallica, brought their WorldWired Tour to Hartwall Arena in Helsinki for two sold-out nights, on May 9th and 11th, 2018. To call these shows highly anticipated would be an understatement, as they were the last dates on a massive world tour, tickets to which came on sale over a year ago and sold out within seconds. The supporting act was, surprisingly enough, Kvelertak, who combine elements of classic heavy metal with punk and black metal sensibilities. We were definitely in for an interesting night.
Metallica is one of those bands that pretty much everybody grows up with to at least some extent. I’m mostly familiar with their output from the 80s and had seen them only once before, back in 2006 in Tallinn, where they played Master of Puppets in its entirety. They have a bit of a reputation for not being the most disciplined live act, so I was a bit hesitant to see them again. However, having enjoyed their latest album, Hardwired…To Self Destruct, I felt that I should give them another shot.
Listen along to the setlist from May 9th on Spotify here:
The arena had a peculiar set up for this night. Instead of the traditional stage on one side of the hall, they had installed an enormous square stage right in the middle of the floor. This was of course in keeping with Metallica’s signature performance style. Above the stage they also had little cubes hanging from the ceiling which would later turn out to be screens.
Kvelertak started promptly at 19:30. The vast majority of the audience had not taken their seats yet, so they played to a half-empty arena. Despite being very popular in Finland, they were a bit more on the fringe. As a punk black heavy metal band from Norway, they of course sang entirely in Norwegian. I’ve been a fan of them since their 2010 debut, Ulvetid, so I was excited to see them again. It was bizarre to have such an extreme band on such a large stage. I’d say their sound would have been better suited for a club gig. Though they didn’t have the kind of name recognition a venue this size demands, they brought their absolute A-game. They used every inch of the stage and displayed a kind of genuine rockstar demeanor. Kvelertak’s sound was melodic and clear enough that it didn’t get muddied at all in the big venue; the guitars and the bass came out crisp and distinct. At the risk of nitpicking, I’d say the drums sounded a bit flat and near the end the vocals got a little lost in the mix. Overall, it was a great show from them with hits from all three albums, even if the majority of the audience may not have gotten into it.
Just as Metallica was set to begin, the arena began to fill properly. As the square stage was set in the middle of the hall, the crowd had flocked to one side aggressively, with the other side half empty. It seemed to be due to the fact that the venue usually lets the standing crowd in through two doors which are both on the same side. Therefore the crowd was automatically bottle-necked to one side. The intro tape was AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘N’ Roll)” as usual for them. The crowd took their places and the lights dimmed. Ennico Morricone’s “The Ecstasy of Gold” began to play as the little screens showed clips from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. The crowd broke out in thunderous applause once the opening riff to “Hardwired” began to sound on playback. The band joined in two bars before the first verse. The sound was twice as loud as it was for Kvelertak, which was fair considering the hall was twice as filled. “Hardwired” was the energetic opener to the new album and it worked perfectly as a fast and heavy start to the show. The next song was “Atlas, Rise!” which was the second track from the aforementioned new album. Though I wasn’t expecting them to play the whole album they did have me a bit worried at this point. The song was melodic and interesting enough and it kept up the energy well enough. The crowd screamed out the “Atlas, Rise” part of the chorus diligently.
Following the second song, singer and rhythm guitarist James Hetfield grabbed the mic and said “Metallica is with you,” and that, “[they’ll] play some new songs and maybe an old one,” which led into “Seek and Destroy.” The screens at the top turned out to be able to move up and down, showing old footage of the band, sometimes a whole image on one screen and other times dispersed into a mosaic of screens – an interesting effect. After two verses, Hetfield did his signature, “Thank you, good night!” fake-out. This didn’t seem quite as effective on the third song as it usually did near the end of the set. In fact, the song itself lacked its usual punch when played so early in the set. “Harvester of Sorrow” from …And Justice For All followed. I had expected a few songs from that album, as it was its 30th anniversary. The screens were merely showing neon blue and green on their edges for this one. Before the last verse they stopped playing, leading the crowd to cheer wildly. They then abruptly finished the song. It was a cute gimmick.
The screens then showed a sort of 80s pixel animation which ever so slowly turned into the Metallica logo. They then began to play the classic, progressive, and mostly slow song, “Fade to Black”, from one of their absolute best albums, Ride the Lightning. Lead guitarist Kirk Hammett couldn’t help but overuse the wah wah pedal as usual, which dampened the feeling somewhat, but not enough to destroy the whole song. Hetfield then made sure the audience was with them by making the upper balconies cheer. “Now That We’re Dead”, one of the dullest songs from the newest album, came next. Just as I thought the track was boring, all four of them started drumming on these strange cubes that had risen from the stage as the song started. It was a surreal moment but a welcome change of pace.
Following that was yet another song from the new album, “Confusion.” Hetfield dedicated it, “to those who served,” which presumably meant military service. Once again the song was one of the weaker choices from the album. Honestly, I spent most of it waiting to find out what the next song would be. At this point, bass player Robert Trujillo took the mic and had the crowd chant with him. Hetfield pulled out his Gibson Explorer and they began to play “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” They played it a bit fast and Hetfield sang it a bit like he was in a hurry to get it over with. Though a fantastic and classic track, it felt a bit rushed and obligatory.
The lights went down and Hetfield began to play “Halo on Fire” by himself for a bit until the band joined in. I had not expected this one, since it’s the longest on the album at 8 minutes 15 seconds. That being said, I’m on record as calling it the strongest song on the new album. In fact, I was secretly hoping it was on the set – the last section with the solo was one of the best grooves Metallica has ever done. At this point I already felt like the gig was well worth the price of admission. After that, Hetfield proclaimed, “I love that song. I hope you do too.” He then introduced us to Trujillo and Hammett and left the stage with drummer Lars Ulrich. The remaining two then began to play local Hanoi Rocks legend Michael Monroe’s “Dead, Jail, or Rock ‘N’ Roll.” Michael Monroe himself joined them on stage for it and sang it together with Trujillo. As legend has it, they’ve been playing local songs in each country they’ve visited on this tour. Hanoi Rocks, being a classic Finnish band, made sense for them, especially since Michael Monroe is famously friends with them (and everyone else). This rendition, however, was extremely poorly thought-out and a sloppy.
Monroe exited as the rest of the band then came back on stage to play another cover, “Die, Die My Darling”, originally by The Misfits, which had massive pyrotechnics coming from the stage floor. I swear I felt it nearly singe my eyebrows, even from the seats. Hetfield then introduced the next song as yet another from the new album, namely “Moth into Flame.” He said it was about fame and getting addicted to it. The screens showed Las Vegas style images of temptations in neon lights, such as casinos and such. They also had floating lights akin to fireflies above the stage. It appeared from my vantage point that this was achieved with tiny drones carrying LED lights. It was a breathtaking visual. What didn’t they pack into that stage, I wondered.
At this point Hetfield took a moment to sincerely thank the audience for supporting them for over 30 years. “Everyone is welcome to the Metallica family. Even [dramatic pause] old people,” he said while coyly pointing at his fellow bandmates. He then admitted to being “a bit old” himself while feeling he’s still a boy on the inside. He went on to talk a bit about how he saw a lot of middle-aged people in the audience and also a lot of young people. He then very cheekily called them “the next generation of the Metallica family” and pointed out a couple of young people in the audience, a couple of brothers aged 17 and 19. He then asked where their parents are and it turned out they were right there in the front of the crowd with them. Hetfield was obviously delighted to hear this and stated, “You have very cool parents,” to which the audience applauded loudly. Talking to the crowd is a pretty tired rockstar move, but this time it lead to a genuine moment that surely left a smile on everyone’s faces.
Hetfield introduced the next song saying, “Do you want heavy? Metallica gives you heavy, baby!” The song in question was “Sad but True”, which is arguably a very heavy song. It’s at that sweet spot between 80s thrash metal and modern Metallica, where fans young and old can enjoy it for what it is. It was a heavy and powerful track to add to the mix. The untitled album, often referred to as The Black Album, holds many classics to choose from. As personally I detest the ballad “Nothing Else Matters”, I was hoping that “Sad but True” was the only track from that album. The house lights went down and the familiar intro to “One” rolled. It remains one of their surefire hits and it was no surprise to hear it on the anniversary of …And Justice for All. The little screens came down showing old pictures of veterans and images from World War I (as far as I could tell). Hetfield’s delivery alternated between passionate and completely uninterested. The bridge with the abrupt tremolo resembling machine gun fire worked as well as ever. Aside from Hetfield sounding bored at times it a tight performance of a great song.
The hits kept on coming with “Master of Puppets.” They had the crowd participate in not just the chorus, but the verses as well. Fortunately, the audience was also well-versed in the material and sang loudly and confidently, even singing for most of the melody on the solo. The band was less tight on this one, however. Hetfield signed off with, “You make us feel good.” The house lights went down again and the crowd was left waiting for the encore. Another intro tape began to play in the darkness; it was the beginning of “Spit out the Bone” from the new album. It was one of the more energetic and thrashy tracks from the album, so it made sense to add it to the set. They came on stage to pyrotechnics and all the screens brandishing Finnish flags with Metallica’s logo on them. It was a cheap move bringing out the flags but since they payed for the screens they may as well show the people what they want.
After that Hammett was handed a new guitar and he played a little solo that lead into “Nothing Else Matters.” His playing was noticeably off key – perhaps the guitar was out of tune? The song evidently remains very popular with the fans who raised their phones with the flash on to simulate lighters. It gave the arena a classy candlelit ambiance. As mentioned, I can’t stand the song and it seemed as if the band shared my sentiment, as they appeared to sleepwalk through it. At the end, the screens zoomed in on Hetfield’s guitar pick. It had a Finnish flag on it. I felt a bit irked with all this obvious pandering but thankfully they saved the moment with the energetic hit, “Enter Sandman.” The crowd all stood up and began to party. It was a gorgeous celebration and a perfect song to end with.
Overall the night was an absolute success. Kvelertak, though an odd choice, played a great set and rose to the challenge of taking on a huge indoor arena. Metallica was surprisingly on-point for most of the night, with just a few notable exceptions. The set was well-put-together with mostly classic songs from the first five albums and some new ones from Hardwired mixed in, though I felt as though they may have played a few too many new songs. On top of that, they seemed to have been on autopilot for some of the classics, like “For Whom the Bell tolls”, “Master of Puppets”, and especially “Nothing Else Matters.” That being said, I left the venue feeling exhilarated. It was a great rock show on a scale with which not many bands can compete. I definitely recommend seeing Metallica live at least once.
Intro: The Ecstasy of Gold (by Ennio Morricone)
2. Atlas, Rise!
3. Seek and Destroy
4. Harvester of Sorrow
5. Fade to Black
6. Now That We’re Dead
8. For Whom the Bell Tolls
9. Halo on Fire
10. Dead, Jail, Or Rock ‘N’Roll (Michael Monroe cover)
11. Die, Die My Darling (Misfits cover)
12. The Memory Remains
13. Moth into Flame
14. Sad but True
16. Master of Puppets
17. Spit out the Bone
18. Nothing Else Matters
19. Enter Sandman