What happened on the first night of Metallica’s M72 World Tour

K! was there for the first night at Amsterdam’s vast Johann Cruyff Arena to witness the kicking-off of Metallica’s career-spanning, globe-trotting M72 Tour…

What happened on the first night of Metallica’s M72 World Tour
Sam Law
Stu Garneys

Do you want heavy? 'Cause Metallica gives you heavy, baby. Some truly incredible bands – Iron Maiden, Rammstein, Tool – have delivered some awe-inspiring moments over the past few years, but none felt quite as substantial as tonight’s earth-shuddering return of The Four Horsemen.

It's King's Day in Amsterdam, and the city is wreathed in the Dutch Royal Orange, but the legendary Johann Cruyff Arena is besieged by Metallica's black-clad masses from lunchtime. It's the first date on the San Francisco giants' two-year M72 World Tour and a whole host of festivities – pop-up shops, tribute bands – have been keeping an international congregation of the Metallica Family entertained, but shit only gets real as we file inside to be levelled by the wall of sound.

Mammoth WVH are first-up in the early evening glow. Bolstered by an ear-busting PA, the emotion and undeniable virtuosity of songs like Mr. Ed and Another Celebration At The End Of The World have never sounded more emphatic, but they’re held back somewhat by Wolfang Van Halen and the band being apparently rooted to one spot on Metallica’s sprawling, circular in-the-round stage, meaning there's not quite the 360 energy required of a show of this scale.

Architects, by comparison, strive to own the space. "These next two years are going to be fucking incredible," gasps Sam Carter mid-set. "We're going to be playing stadiums every night, full of people who love loud, heavy fucking music."

The unfamiliar, partisan crowd still take some winning-over, but between canny tributes to Dutch footballing legend/current Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag and the legendary Cruyff, and dropping no-nonsense bangers like Doomsday and Impermanence, they’re not too long getting onside. By the time "the best song we've ever written" Animals brings the hour-long set to a raucous close, the stadium is (momentarily) theirs.

This is very much Metallica’s night, though, and they make short work of winning it back. The mystery in this first night of an unheralded two-night, no-repeats world tour stokes anticipation beyond fever pitch. As AC/DC’s It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘N’ Roll) blares out over the PA and the eight enormous pillars topped with cylindrical video screens burst into life with photos of the band meeting fans, it ratchets up again. Then Ennio Morricone’s The Ecstasy Of Gold sends the atmosphere through the greenhouse-like closed roof. Excitement bleeds into a mixture of disbelief and euphoria as the band emerge not toting one of their new singles, but revered eight-and-a-half-minute instrumental Orion to kick off the whole damn tour.

This can’t be that good, can it? Really? Yes. For Whom The Bell Tolls and Holier Than Thou drop like bombs as the 50,000-plus in attendance find full voice. King Nothing sees James Hetfield address the audience for the first time, dedicating the Load highlight to the Dutch national holiday. By the time they get to a salvo of new songs – 100mph NWOBHM throwback Lux Æterna, the snarling Screaming Suicide on live debut – the crowd are more than warmed up enough to give them their all. Fade To Black overcomes some inconsistencies in the mix, with Kirk Hammett’s lead guitar sporadically going AWOL, by strength of sheer emotion. Then Sleepwalk My Life Away brings the first half to a stomping close.

It’s clear, already, that Metallica are operating at a level above where they’ve been in recent years. Looking lean, mean and clad in damn-near-skintight black shirt and jeans, Hetfield has dropped the ‘Metallica Famileh’ shtick, reverting back to more bombastic classic banter: “Are you alive? How does it feel to be alive?!” The production, meanwhile, subtly overcomes the aesthetic shortcomings of the in-the-round format with a colossal lightshow and orchestral segues accompanied by tasteful animated video clips on the screens filling gaps between songs. It’s a meticulously-planned, well-drilled, perfectly executed stadium metal masterclass.

As they tip over into the second half of the set (the second quarter, remember, of this two-night extravaganza) it’s natural to expect another box-fresh 72 Seasons song or a catalogue-trawling deep cut. Instead, we get all-time anthem Nothing Else Matters. Sad But True rocks the space to its foundations, Hetfield laughing-off a minor tuning fluff (“This is our first time on this stage; we're only human...”) with a sparkle in his eye that says he knows there’s no need to apologise here. The Day That Never Comes (the only post-2000 track not on the new album aired tonight) stokes a different kind of nostalgia, with plenty of punters shocked to think it’s already 15 years old.

Then all hell breaks loose. Having already confirmed that they’d be playing 16 tracks tonight, and presumably saving any setlist-extending surprises for Saturday, there is no fucking about with an encore. Rather, they slam the pedal to the metal with five all-time thrash classics in a row that detonate the audience into a frenzy of pumped fists and spinning pits.

Ride The Lightning and a rare full run-through of Battery get the chaos underway. Fuel sees the stage erupt in flames: the decision to reserve pyro for that point making its arrival all the more effective. The start of Seek & Destroy is fluffed as the crowd are going so wild the band can’t hear drummer Lars Ulrich count them in, but ends with Kirk and bassist Rob Trujillo sprinting round the circular stage together as if caught in some massive, invisible mosh. Mercilessly piling on into closer Master Of Puppets, with its timeless blend of bittersweetness and savagery, it’s actually somewhat difficult even for hardened Metallica veterans to comprehend the brakes-off brilliance of what we’re seeing.

It’s a neck-wrecking, goosebump-lifting classic set from heavy music’s greatest band. And there's still a whole other one to look forward to in two nights’ time...

READ THIS: Metallica: “In the past every single thing had to be fought over… now the band is a safe space and everyone is very protective of it”

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