As far as legendary musical acts go, it’s undeniable that the Bay Area has been home to some of the greatest in the world, and if the sold-out Fox Theater on Saturday, December 2016 is any indication, one of those bands will be coming back in a big way.
Metallica has been a top contender in heavy metal since their 1981 inception, coming up with Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax as the “big four.” They seemed unstoppable and nearly inimitable (despite several cover bands’ best attempts). But they proved that they were not inalienable, as legions of die-hard fans felt sold out on and abandoned by the commercial successes they found after 1991’s self-titled Metallica, known colloquially as “The Black Album.”
The Black Album is one of the greatest-selling records of all time in the US and was the first time the band debuted at number one on the charts. The next five consecutive releases (every record since, essentially) all matched that feat, catapulting the band into the mainstream. Commercially, they were doing fine, but critically they were still hearing reactions from reeling fans.
On November 18, one month before James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett, Lars Ulrich, and Robert Trujillo sold out Tthe Fox Theater’s intimate 2,800 seats, they released their 10th studio album, a double-disc titled Hardwired…To Self-Destruct. Something about it is different from their most recent string of releases, from Load, St. Anger, and Death Magnetic — there was a familiarity and blending of all their records present on the record that even some of the staunchest critics have recognized and lauded. Metallica recognizes this, and with the exception of select cuts from the newest record, there wasn’t a single song played that was released after The Black Album.
Scheduled for a 9pm start, the lights didn’t go down until 9:33pm, and it was still close to another five minutes before Hammett began tinkering with his guitar offstage. It was impossible to be prepared for how loud it actually was, in large part to the discordant sounds. After a good deal of noise, the flame was turned on, and all four horsemen walked out on the stage from four different corners.
The stage was surprisingly bare, but a true-to-form adaption of the circular stage they perform on in their stadium shows. There was a complete absence of a lighting rig outside of the house cannons, and several strategically-placed cannons on the floor of the stage with an enormous white background. It looked as if they were set to play projections, but the wall remained blank.
They officially opened with “Breadfan,” a cover of a Budgies song from their 1973 album Never Turn Your Back on a Friend, a deep cut that they have appropriated in their live shows, on their albums, and in their music videos for over 20 years.
For the intense level of technicality and sound quality at which Metallica often plays, the amount of equipment on stage was surprisingly sparse. Ulrich was centered in the back on a large, plain white box of a drum riser. There were four speakers flanking him, two on each side, all four bearing the left-most edge of the lightning-bolt shaped M from the original Metallica logo. Three microphones were spread out on the front of the stage, and there wwas an array of pedals among the mic stands. Being a guitar effects nerd, the thought of the off-stage racks had me drooling. But the complexity was not lost — somehow Hetfield was able to sing from any microphone on stage, and Hammett was playing with each pedal as if it were one that followed him.
The audible onslaught continued with”Creeping Death” from their 1984 sophomore album Ride The Lightning, followed by “Blackened” from their fourth album …And Justice For All before they took a moment to address the room.
“Metallica at The Fox for the family,” said Hetfield to a roar of cheer. “Thanks for coming here and helping the cause, helping Alameda get some food. We care very deeply about everyone in this community. We’re here to celebrate the love of the arts. We are Metallica and we play…heavy music.”
With that, they launched into “Sad But True”, the first of only two cuts from their 1991 release. During the song, a fan’s sweater landed on stage and was kicked off by Hetfield as the band exited, one by one at the end of the song. Hammett left first, followed by Trujillo, Hetfield, and finally Ulrich before Hammett returned for a blistering guitar showcase.
Following the solo, Hetfield could be heard transitioning into the opening acoustic riff of “Fade To Black.” An immediately satisfying example of how much fun the band has together happened after the song had fully transitioned off of the acoustic — stage hands appeared to remove the guitar and its, stand but Hetfield and Trujillo positioned themselves directly in their path, essentially blocking them and forcing them to spend a few extra seconds on stage, laughing with a huge smile.
The sixth song of the set began around ten after 10pm, after Hetfield mused on the title of their latest release.
“Hardwired…To Self-Destruct. What does it mean?” he asked the crowd. “I don’t know but I like the way it sounds. Are you ready for it? Atlas, Rise!”
They launched into the third single from the album, “Atlas, Rise!” Following the new track, Hetfield told the crowd, “We have so many songs, it’s hard to choose sometimes. Let’s play some older stuff,” and sandwiched a surprise “Harvester of Sorrow” from Justice between “Atlas” and “Moth Into Flame.”
Trujillo then took the spotlight as the stage cleared one by one for his showcase on the bass guitar. Watching him slink around the stage all night was truly entertaining. He has a wide stance, crouching and bouncing as if he were ready to unleash an attack with all four limbs, holding his bass low between his legs.
The rest of the show played out like a greatest hits, giving roughly half of the audience (many of whom admitted to this being their first Metallica show, myself included) the treatment of songs that should be heard by Metallica live.
Right out of the solo they launched into “One,” “Master Of Puppets” (the only selection off the 1986 album of the same name) and Hammett’s face-melting guitar solo at the end of “For Whom The Bell Tolls,” which paved the way for the set closing tune “Enter Sandman,” the infamous single from their breakthrough self titled album.
They returned for a three-song, roughly 25-minute encore that saw the traditional arrangement of “Whiskey in the Jar,” the title track from Hardwired… which ended up being the fastest (and shortest) song of the evening before closing with “Seek and Destroy,” the lone selection from Kill ‘Em All.