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Live Review: Metallica – SSE Hydro, Glasgow

There are not many bands that can play a venue the size of the Glasgow Hydro (with a capacity of 13,000), there are even less bands from the metal world that can do it, and from the thrash scene there’s only one: Metallica. Their contemporaries – the rest of the “big 4”: Megadeth, Anthrax, and Slayer – as big as they are – wouldn’t manage to fill this venue. While Metallica have been involved in various controversies over the years, from Napster, to stylistic changes (both musically and aesthetically), they have managed to pull through, and at this stage in their career are arguably more popular than they have ever been.

With the release of their tenth studio album, and a career spanning over thirty years, Metallica have hit the road again to support “Hardwired… to Self-Destruct”. Their most recent work managed to get to number one in 57 countries, and in April of this year it went platinum. It’s quite an achievement for a band who’s debut album “Kill ‘Em All” only had an initial pressing of 15,000 copies. The Guardian’s Dom Lawson described it as Metallica’s “finest record in 25 years”, and I’d have to agree. Going along to the venue tonight, I was keen to see how these new tracks would sound along side the older thrash classics.

First up tonight however are Norwegian metallers Kvelertak. The doors opened at 6:00pm but it’s not unit 7:20pm that the band finally play. When singer Erlend Hjelvik, complete with owl headdress, runs onto the stage to the sound of “Åpenbaring” (taken from their second album “Meir”) he’s greeted by cheers from a hall that’s probably not even half full. Unfortunately the sound is very muffled (for want of a better word), and as strong as their material might be, it’s going to be an uphill battle. You can’t fault this outfit’s energy however; Kvelertak constantly prowl the edges of the large square stage in an effort to engage with the audience. They’re throwing guitar shapes aplenty, and mosh along with their particular brand of growly rock. “Clap your fucking hands, Glasgow” shouts Erland. There’s not much between song banter, the band preferring to fire out the songs in quick succession, which get a warm reception from the crowd. Kvelertak are an entertaining enough band, but the poor sound isn’t doing them any favours. Thirty minutes into their forty minute set, I can feel myself getting restless and checking my watch to see how long it is until the main event. I didn’t know Kvelertak’s material before arriving tonight, in fact I’d never heard of them before I heard they were supporting Metallica, but they put on a good show, and no doubt won a few fans tonight. If I’m brutally honest, I wasn’t impressed enough to run out and buy their albums though.

By the time the sounds of Ennio Morricone’s “The Ecstasy Of Gold” fill the Hydro, almost every seat seems to be taken and the standing area is Metallicapacked. The giant cubes hanging from the ceiling show video footage from spaghetti westerns of old, and the crowd sing along in anticipation of the main event. It doesn’t look like a sold-out show tonight, but it can’t be that far off. The high ticket price (probably the most expensive single gig I’ve ever been to) hasn’t seemed to have deterred their hardcore fan-base. The band launch into opening track “Hardwired”, the speedy high energy track gets fists punching the air and heads banging. While the sound quality is better than for Kvelertak, it’s still quite rumbly. The guitars and drums cut through the mix, but the bass is indistinct and James sounds like he’s singing in the toilet with the amount of reverb on his vocals. As the gig goes on, the sound sorts itself out to an extent, but never quite reaches what I’d expect to hear from a band of this stature. “What your going to hear tonight is some new stuff, some stuff from the middle and some old stuff”. While the tracks from the new album fit seamlessly into the set and sound great, it’s the old tracks that I enjoy most. Classic tracks such as “Seek & Destroy”, “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)”, “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and the unexpected “Blitzkrieg” put a smile on my face. One of the largest crowd reactions I saw tonight, and another highlight for me, was the homage to Cliff Burton. Robert Trujillo, a lone figure on the stage, played a storming version of one of Cliff’s bass solos, while the video cubes above him displayed images of Cliff. It was a very nice tribute to one of metal’s greatest bass players who sadly lost his life back in ‘86.

The stage show, consisting mainly of video cubes, rising and descending from the ceiling is technically quite clever. The firefly/moth imitating drones are also pretty cool, but for the price of entry, I was expecting a bit more. I remember seeing the statue of Justice being torn down on the “Justice For All” tour, and marvelling at the suspended coffins during the “Death Magnetic” tour. While there were elements of tonight’s show that were impressive, there wasn’t anything quite as memorable as I’ve seen them do previously. It is, however, great just to see Metallica live on stage, and for most people, that and the music is probably enough.

Metallica finish off the night with “Spit Out The Bone” (one of the best tracks from the new album), “Nothing Else Matters” (which I found to be a bit dreary for an encore), and the classic “Enter Sandman” (which brings the energy levels back up). I’d like to have seen more of the older faster tracks such as “Whiplash”, “Phantom Lord”, “Creeping Death”, etc… but with such an extensive back catalogue, they are never going to please everyone. A good night slightly marred by a less than perfect sound.

Reviewer: Martin Patterson

Photography: Callum Scott.

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