"Metallica does not give a fuck," announced James Hetfield two songs into the Toronto stop on Metallica's current 'WorldWired' Tour. Regardless of religion, politics or even diet he explained, the Metallica "family" was here to celebrate life, a sentiment that equated the metal superstars to Vin Diesel and company in the Fast and the Furious films.
Dumb as it sounds, it's an apt comparison for one of the few acts around that can still pack baseball stadiums. Like that bloated franchise, even while still packing an impressive punch Metallica might be too big for their own good. From the first notes of "Hardwired to Self-Destruct," issues with the sheer size of their current live rig — five 50-foot video screens flanked on each side by a stylized "M" and "A" that occupied an entire side of the stadium — were palpable. Chief among them was the thunderous echo of sound reverberating around the Rogers Centre that threatened to drown the band out.
Still, this is Metallica, so a little bit of noise wasn't going to stop them, or the tens of thousands of fans who soaked up every riff with glee. "For Whom the Bell Tolls" was an early highlight, while "Fuel" put the band's pyro rigs into overtime. New tracks like "Moth Into Flame" and "Atlas, Rise!" fit in surprisingly comfortably with the classics "The Unforgiven" and "Wherever I May Roam," further proof that after some rocky years creatively, the band have finally rediscovered their groove.
But, Metallica have never been ones to play it safe, and in between the sonic blitzkrieg (though they've lost a bit of their edge, all four members can and do still shred), they made some curious choices. First was the bizarre drum circle during "Now That We're Dead," in which each member abandoned their instrument mid-song to pound on a massive Japanese drum.
Then there was Kirk Hammett and Rob Trujillo's "solo." First the guitarist and bassist worked through a drumless, instrumental version of "I Disappear." Then Trujillo tackled Cliff Burton's bass solo from "(Anesthesia) – Pulling Teeth" while images of Burton played behind him. Why they didn't play these two songs in full, especially coming after the nine-minute "Halo on Fire," was kind of baffling.
"Hit the Lights" got things moving again, and "Sad But True" remains as crushing as it first did 26 years ago. But the centrepiece of the band's main set had to be "One," where lasers, fireworks and more pyro simulated the gunfire and shelling that introduces the brooding track. But where the show's production served to enhance elements of that song, it tended to detract from the performance elsewhere.
Hetfield, Hammett, Trujillo and Lars Ulrich were specks on the absolutely massive stage compared to the video screens and the filters, and effects added to the images projected onto them added another layer between fans and the band. For all Hetfield's talents as a frontman and guitarist, he wasn't able to bridge that gap with his broad proclamations of solidarity with the "family."
That changed when all four members gathered on the small platform that jutted out into the audience. Claiming the band were "re-creating the garage" that had birthed them, it was the loosest and most comfortable the band seemed all night. Hetfield and Ulrich joked around while Ulrich even pulled a young kid out of the crowd, sitting him behind the kit to count the band into "Seek and Destroy" which closed the main set. "Blackened" brought the band back for an encore, buttressed by "Nothing Else Matters" and "Enter Sandman."
Though a little less fast and furious than in days gone by, Metallica nevertheless touched on almost every phase of their career, proving why, for better or worse, they remain true monsters of rock.