Metallica, 02 Arena, London

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The Independent Culture

Everyone has come across at least one Metallica fan this week. You remember those sour-faced Goths at the bus stop? They like Metallica. Those creepy looking kids hanging out in the park? They like Metallica. Those long-haired old blokes talking about guitars in the pub? They really like Metallica.

You see after 28 years and nine studio albums, Metallica has amassed quite the fan base and tonight 20,000 of these schmucks have descended on North Greenwich. The once corporate 02 Arena has become a gloomy pit of black-clad despair and, for a self-confessed ‘Metalli-virgin’ like me, it’s hard to go into this with a completely open mind. I already know I’m going to hate it.

Taking the stage at the devilish hour of 8.45, Metallica arrive to the sound of not one but two intro tapes. The mantra of ‘excess is success’ must be ringing in their poor road manager’s ears.

The equipment is set up in the middle of the arena, allowing Lars Ulrich’s frankly ludicrous rotating drum kit to take centre stage. The rest of the band are to spend the evening running circles around him, so that at any one time the fans are in close proximity to at least one member. It’s an interesting effect and one that with less athletic bands could descend into chaos. But Metallica have clearly spent time in the gym and after two hours they’re still jogging around the stage like a bunch of schoolboys - not the mid 40-year-olds they really are.

What is immediately apparent is just how effortlessly tight the band sound. Watching the aforementioned Ulrich thunder down on his kit while simultaneously teasing the crowd is to see a real talent at work. Yes, I may have previously known him as the most annoying man in rock‘n’roll but there’s no denying the lad can play. His performance on fan favourite ‘Master of Puppets’ is particularly breathtaking.

As flames gush from the floor and a coffin-shaped lighting rig descends from the ceiling, frontman James Hetfield starts laying on the compliments. “London you’re all so beautiful” he declares after ‘Sad But True’. It may be a hard-rock cliché but as Hetfield chats up the sweaty, balding, leather-clad mass, he is clearly doing so with a wry smile. It’s a sense of humour that was so clearly lacking when just a few years ago the then very serious band were forced to visit a therapist to clear up ‘trust issues‘ between members.

With a spectacular laser light show, the release of hundreds of black balloons and a 20 minute post-gig walkabout in which they hand out memorabilia to fans, I have to declare I’m sold. I start to wonder why other bands don‘t have spinning drum kits. I begin making plans for flamethrowers to be incorporated into my own band’s set. It may be the most ‘stadium’ concert I’ve ever been too but if Metallica can completely sway the opinion of a stuck-in-the-mud cynic like me, one can only imagine how good this performance must be to a die-hard fan. They’ll be talking about this on the bus/bandstand/way to the pub for many years to come.