Two nights, 32 songs, 100,000 fans: The full review of Metallica’s M72 opening shows

With the second night of Metallica’s M72 Tour Amsterdam double-bill still ringing in our ears, we look back over a long heavy metal weekend for the ages.

Two nights, 32 songs, 100,000 fans: The full review of Metallica’s M72 opening shows
Sam Law
Ross Halfin

Even after all these years, in the live arena Metallica still know how to raise the bar. If there’s one non-musical moment that’ll stick with us from the landmark first stop on the San Francisco giants’ planned two-year M72 World Tour, it won’t be queueing alongside the metal masses for a show-exclusive shirt six hours before doors open; it wont be walking into Amsterdam’s colossal Johan Cruyff Arena to see the space-age stadium setup for the first time; hell, it won’t even be Lars Ulrich’s eye-catching new 72 Seasons-yellow drum kit magically popping-up around their circular stage. No, the one that’ll really endure is how, at the end of 32 songs and well over four hours of music across two awesome nights, the 50,000+ punters in attendance were still baying for more.

We’ve already talked about the opening Thursday night in-depth but, in the context of the full weekend – or perhaps as the very first show of the whole damn tour – it had a no-frills urgency that stood apart. Between Mammoth WVH’s somewhat-static virtuosity and Architects’ all-action attack, the stage was set for something special. And Metallica duly obliged, bringing a lean, mean set for the ages that managed to fit three new tracks (Lux Æterna, Screaming Suicide, Sleepwalk My Life Away) while still feeling like a career-spanning retrospective from jaw-dropping opener Orion to lesser-spotted deep cuts King Nothing and The Day That Never Comes. Nothing Else Matters dropped mid-set! When your show ends with a full-throttle run-through of Ride The Lightning, Battery, Fuel, Seek & Destroy and Master Of Puppets – and a whole stadium moshing – it’s a bit special, even by Metallica standards.

Night two feels substantially more relaxed. With bright Saturday sun falling through the closed roof, first-show nerves mercifully dissipated, and a Metallica setlist that feels far more predictable thanks to the no-repeat format and simple process of elimination, there’s more room to have fun.

That begins with the arrival of Boston terrors Ice Nine Kills. If there was a hint that Thursday’s openers struggled to fill the stage, there’s none of that here, as Spencer Charnas and the boys emerge in full black tie to scatter across the whole setup – while being assailed by two separated Leatherfaces for opener SAVAGES. The sunlit, 30-minute slot doesn’t quite allow the horror movie-obsessed collective to show off all they’ve got (they did that at Friday’s Metallica-endorsed, between-shows headline at Amsterdam’s legendary Melkweg), but from the hacked-heads of Hip To Be Scared to Spencer sporting a Freddy Krueger claw for The American Nightmare, they’ve got a perfect blend of cutting/campy theatrics to command the gaping space.

It was supposed to be Five Finger Death Punch up next, but the Las Vegas metallers have been forced to withdraw due to unforeseen circumstances, opening a slot for home-country heroine Floor Jansen to step up and save the day. Although not exactly a sonic like-for-like, there are few in Amsterdam who’d argue the Nightwish vocalist isn’t a substantial upgrade. Addressing the crowd mostly in her native Dutch and proudly sporting her growing baby bump, Floor is very much at ease in venues of this size, with her incredible voice turning the repurposed sports venue into a glorious cathedral of sound. And though the lack of any Nightwish material leaves a few casual fans huffing, the strength of solo songs like Fire and My Paragon, as well as a smattering of Northward/After Forever hits, and a climactic duet of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom Of The Opera alongside local hero Henk Poort means her 60-minute slot is a real highlight of the weekend.

Metallica’s set rolls around fast. With no apparent volume-restricted handicapping as well as access to impressive production and the full stage, Metallica seem to be inviting their supports to throw down a gauntlet across these shows, and relishing the challenge to up their game. There’s slight deja vu as we’re run through AC/DC’s It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘N’ Roll) and Ennio Morricone’s The Ecstasy Of Gold for the second time in three days, but that’s where it ends. A different instrumental intro rings over the PA this evening. Ears crane. Is that… The Call Of Ktulu?! In a dark echo of Orion on Thursday, we’re enveloped at the outset by Metallica’s other classic instrumental. An ear-shattering Creeping Death sees the audience find full voice. The furious Leper Messiah delivers the angular riffage to rattle the front rows into limb-flinging action.

It’s the underrated southern-gothic of 1996’s Until It Sleep that really stirs the hardcore, though. Performed live for the first time in 15 years, frontman James Hetfield’s cries of ‘Where do I take this pain of mine / I run but it stays right by my side...’ chime with his more recent compositions, adding to the timelessness already there. Then tonight’s three fresh cuts arrive stacked around a spine-chilling Welcome Home (Sanitarium). Even more than Thursday’s new offerings, 72 Seasons, If Darkness Had A Son and You Must Burn! benefit from the scale and maxed-out volume that come with shows of this stature. They’re still far longer than they needed to be, but it’s hard to complain that they’ve outstayed their welcome while being stomped into the ground.

We rocket into a second half of the set designed to delight lifelong fans and casual listeners with off-rails aplomb. The Unforgiven, Wherever I May Roam and Harvester Of Sorrow are simply irresistible, shifting through shades of melancholy, menace and bombastic mania with an ease that only Metallica can really manage. Moth Into Flame is the moment they detonate the pyro tonight, turning their in-the-round stage into a furious ring of fire. Fight Fire With Fire rolls back the years, as each player is pushed to the limit of their thrashy capabilities. A raucous cover of Irish traditional standard Whiskey In The Jar ramps the party atmosphere to a cup-smashing high.

If there’s a downside to the two-night M72 format, it’s that by the time we arrive at the last two slots in that 32-song allocation and we’ve still not heard Enter Sandman or One, there isn’t much room left for surprise. Once again eschewing a traditional encore, we crash through those familiar uber-classics in a pyro-laden blur and the band come together to wave us off into the night.

Of course, we could argue that the masses’ aforementioned cries for more are justified. Getting just one song from Kill ‘Em All, and, er, nothing from 2003’s divisive St Anger feels odd given the career-spanning scale of event. But the banging breadth and depth of the setlist we did get – not to mention the three days of buzz and camaraderie that accompanied an international assembly of the Metallica Family – more than justify the low-quantity, high-quality format of the tour. As part of the broader festival, June’s double-headline at Download will have a different flavour, but expect those shows to be every bit as essential for fans, not just of Metallica, but metal as a whole.

A staggering showcase befitting metal’s greatest band.

Metallica headline Download Festival on June 8 and 10.

Metallica’s M72 World Tour, live from AT&T Stadium in Arlington TX, comes to cinemas worldwide on 18 and 20 August via Trafalgar Releasing. For more information or ticket updates visit

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