Live Music + Gig Reviews

Metallica @ Download Festival, Donington

1 June 2003



With Limp Bizkit having pulled out of Download 2003, rumours abound were a major metal act would step in. But who? The penultimate week leading to the festival NME announced Metallica would be appearing on the smaller Scuzz Stage. The festival promoters plaintively denied this the next day. End of story. Or was it?

Was it coincidence the Bay Area metal veterans had flown into the UK merely days before Download? Was it coincidence that the band announced to perform, ‘Apocalyptica,’ had a mid afternoon 45 minute set – a stage length rivalled only by headliners NOFX. Surely it HAD to be Metallica. Things were twisted when Apocalyptica, a real band who play metal on string instruments, announced via their website they would be appearing.

Believe the hype or raise a stiff upper lip. That was the question for the 40,000 or so punters on Sunday. I along with about 12,000 others leaked our way into a tent made for 8,000. Excusing myself through the tide of skin and sweat I could finally see the stage.

Well I’ll be! The biggest motherfuckin’ speaker stacks you ever gonna fuckin’ see! From top to bottom, left to right, each and every speaker emblazoned with the Metallica logo. The Lars Ulrich customised Tama drumkit anchored at the centre of a welcomingly intimidating stage setup. Intimidating because the goddamn speakers and amps were so dangerously large and close. It was going to be fast and loud, that much we knew. We just had to wait…

After a good 15 minutes of teasing soundchecking, a demented looking Lars Ulrich bobbled onstage behind his kit. One by one the rest followed – guitar king Kirk Hammett, new bassist Rob Trujilo and beaming frontman James Hetfield. Their welcome was staggering – a genuine call to gods for mercy. Blissful fans were complementarily treated to an oldies set. Opening with Blackened before pummelling through No Remorse, Harvester Of Sorrow, and the awesome Welcome Home (Sanitarium).

Metallica were clearly enjoying the occasion, James Hetfield constantly grinning cheekily, Hammett baiting the crowd and Trujilo humping across the stage with a wide faced grimace-cum-smile. Ulrich, looking older and thinner, appeared ‘in the zone,’ his tongue hissed at intervals while he lashed at his kit, his eyes blood curdled and vein poppingly strained. Being so close was a surreal feeling. The surroundings were relatively intimate for Metallica but despite being an 8,000 capacity tent, it felt like an 800 capacity one, in a strange way. The PA markedly pissed on the Main Stage, where Evanescence were courting thousands of oblivious ‘would be here’ fans.

The final half of this brief hour-long set was even better. High-octane newies Frantic and St Anger was smattered with golden oldies Sad But True and a violent Master Of Puppets. An encore of the classics Creeping Death and Damage Inc wrapped things up. The set lasted an eternal hour while you watched it in awe, but was over before one knew how to make sense of it all.

When one stopped to it all made sense. No ballads, a curious loophole in songs not played: Enter Sandman… One…Nothing Else Matters… Fuel… Seek And Destroy… where art thou? But that wasn’t the point. Metallica sweetened those lucky enough to be there, and let the rest of their UK fans know that they’re back, and that there is still life in the old battery.

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