When Metallica stormed the AsiaWorld-Expo stage last week, thousands of Hongkongers were there to greet the pioneering US metallers making their debut in the city. Young Post was there, throwing the horns and taking notes. Here’s what went down:
The band entered the stage silhouetted against blood red screens. The sound was crunchy, heavy and evil. The lead single from latest album Hardwired … To Self Destruct was mysteriously absent from mainland setlists, but the band played the energetic opener loud and proud for a sea of exultant faces.
Drummer Lars Ulrich made up for criticism of a weak drum mix on the album, with a huge, multi-dimensional sound. Bassist Robert Trujillo laid down some thick rhythms, creating a deep rumble that shook the stadium girders. “Lay ho!” boomed frontman James Hetfield. “Is the metal family of Hong Kong here tonight? We’re grateful to be here.”
For Whom The Bell Tolls
An ominous animation of a swinging bell appeared on the screen and the band began performing the anthemic For Whom The Bell Tolls. Trujillo prowled the stage like a panther tapping out distorted basslines, while Hetfield’s voice sounded huge and echoey as he threw his lungs into the dark lyrics. Everyone sang along to the chorus as guitarist Kirk Hammett went hard on his wah-wah pedal.
The crowd carried on singing as the guitar riff morphed into Creeping Death. Crowd excitement hit a peak for the heavy number, and the mosh pit began to gyrate and foam beneath blood-splattered visuals. Cameras zoomed in on a sea of faces illuminated by sweat as Hammett’s rapid-finger solo rang clear. A thousand fists pumped in unison to Trujillo’s heavy rhythms.
Starting as he intended to go on, Hammett took the floor with a meaty, screeching solo that sounded like it was birthed in the foundries of hell. Open-mouthed, sweating and drooling, the guitarist gave life to a creature of amazing distortion before turning his attention to Unforgiven. After an atmospheric acoustic picked intro, Hetfield approached the mic with tangible, affecting emotion, singing, “What I’ve felt, what I’ve known...” It was clear that the band wasn’t just ticking Hong Kong off its list; they were stoked to be in the city and were bringing their best.
Now That We’re Dead
“I can already tell this is the best show on the tour so far ... don’t be shy, Hong Kong. We want you to get loud tonight and let it loose,” Hetfield said. “All sinners, a future. All saints, a past” ... the lyrics to this Hardwired ... number were direct: everyone was welcome at Metallica’s show.
Moth into Flame
This newer track, which has had fans divided, is about “the addiction to fame and how it gets to everyone at some point”, as Hetfield told the audience. Razor sharp white lasers beamed out over the crowd to the sound of thrash rhythms that recalled the band’s earliest work, capped by an insane shredding section from Hammett on his White Zombie.
Wherever I May Roam
It was time for another classic, signalled by the stomping, Middle Eastern-influenced riff of Wherever I May Roam. Trujillo and Hammett united for the backing vocals, and the lyrics “free to speak my mind anywhere” took on weightier meaning in light of the band’s recent censorship.
Ulrich turned his snare into a machine gun going rat-a-tat under roaming spotlights. Hammett’s axe squeaked, squawked, rattled and groaned through each wah-loaded solo alongside arena-shaking bass. Though the song was a new one, its direct, driving riff and evil-sounding undertones recalled their own youth, as well as the sound of contemporaries Diamond Head and Black Sabbath.
Halo On Fire
While the other members patted the sweat from their foreheads in the wings, Trujillo stole the limelight, delivering a bobbly solo from a bass tuned so low that it crackled and jangled. The bassist grimaced as he segued into a slap bass centrepiece, his snarling strings rolling and rumbling like thunder from each strike. Then Hetfield returned to the stage for Halo On Fire, relishing each sinister lyric amid the stomping metal fury. From one mind-melting solo to another, Hammett made light work of his complex guitar parts.
Sad But True
“Do you want it heavy Hong Kong?” Silly question. “Cos ‘Tallica gives you heeeeavy!” Roaming cameras shone a spotlight on excited fans chanting lyrics and punching the air. The sluggish slow-burn of Sad But True readied the room for something much more vicious.
Silhouetted soldiers in tin hats trooped across the screens and the sound of heavy artillery thundered out. It was time for One and everybody was ready. Spinal chills were triggered by the sight of Hetfield and Hammett spotlight amid red lasers. The dazzling lightshow, skull images, frantic fretwork, and doom-laden riffs made for an apocalyptic melee.
Master of Puppets
Puppets probably received the largest cheers of the night, partly due to its censorship on mainland dates. Instead of making a big deal of mainland China meddling in their setlist, the band got to work making sure one of their most well-known songs was worth the wait. The bass was beefy and the guitar sounded rich and full. Hammett’s screeched harmonies brought the song home, and Hetfield finished the job with a sinister cackle.
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Fade To Black
It was hard to tell what was going on here: Hammett grabbed Ulrich’s drumstick and use it to create some pretty fuzzed-out feedback on , before he delved into fevered shredding. A powerful, dramatic rendition of Fade To Black followed, but things went slightly awry. “That was good ‘cept the end part,” Hetfield chuckled. “We’ll get it next time.”
Seek and Destroy
“We’re scanning the scene in Hong Kong tonight,” sang Hetfield. It was a nice touch – one of many during the night (like the ‘Metallica in Hong Kong’ plectrums the band was using) that made the gig feel even more special. A rugby team that had printed matching shirts especially for the gig had looked set to wreak havoc all night – and this was their chance. As the crowd began churning to the sound of guttural chanting, the seven-strong squad entered the pit in a maelstrom of red and black stripes. We prayed for everyone’s safety. Unfortunately, Trujillo could hardly be heard over Ulrich’s snare-snapping solo.
Soft Spanish guitar burst into chiming melodies before galloping off on the back of a deathly thrash rattle. “Hong Kong, you alive?” roared Hetfield, before leading the band into a climactic breakdown. Ridiculously heavy, and the high point of the whole show for many fans.
Nothing Else Matters
This was one of the only songs during the night that seemed to have mixing problems – partly because the crowd was singing so loud that the vocals sounded muffled and lost. The heavy metal ballad’s melody twinkled sorrowfully, before Hammett launched into what I scribbled down in my notepad as “a f*****g huge solo”. It was powerful, skin-tingling stuff, showing the eternal appeal of one of the band’s most commercially popular songs.
After 17 ear-smashing songs, everyone sensed what was to come next: the house lights went up and the steaming air filled with that unmistakeable tom thunk and sinister wah pedal intro of Enter Sandman before its iconic riff took hold. Security staff worked overtime hauling out crowd-surfers while everybody chanted “We’re off to never, Neverland” in a mass singalong that followed gig-goers onto the Airport Express.