If anyone was in doubt that Metallica are still hard-wired to rock, all those doubts were dispelled at their powerhouse, pummelling, bonecrushing show at Slane Castle on Saturday. Underneath damp skies at the Co Meath venue, the fearsome foursome proved that age has not withered their warrior spirit – with a blend of sheer brute force and sometimes dazzling speed, these grand old men of metal reclaimed their crown as the kings of the dinosaurs. By the banks of the river Boyne, they not only walked the earth – they stomped it into the ground.
It's hard to believe that it's been nearly 30 years since their self-titled album, aka The Black Album, propelled the thrash-metal band into the stratosphere. Over the following three decades, though, they've had to work hard to cling on to their cred. A very public scrap with music sharing service Napster did them no favours with fans; although time – and the near-collapse of the music industry – has since proven they were ahead of the downward curve. And a documentary film, Some Kind of Monster, which was meant to burnish their cast-iron credentials, had its moments of unintended, toe-curling comedy.
Now, nearly 40 years after they formed, James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett and Robert Trujillo bound on to the Slane Castle stage with something to prove. The crowd of 75,000 were well primed by Norwegian metal band Bokassa, Swedish metal band Ghost – who came on stage in full religious attire – excellent Irish band Fangclub and Northern Irish punk veterans Stiff Little Fingers. They were also well watered by a downpour during Ghost's set, but as the skies cleared, and a rainbow appeared behind the massive stage, it was time for the puppet-masters to reaffirm their dominance, and show that their fingers were anything but stiff.
This was the umpteenth date on the band's gruelling WorldWired tour, which began three years ago and takes in a total of 170 shows before it ends in November. That would test any band's endurance. Earplugs were de rigueur along with the vintage Kill 'Em All T-Shirts – the band started out at 11 and just cranked it up from there. They did have a bit of a warm-up on Friday night when they played a secret gig at Dublin's Olympia to a delighted elite crowd. The band also donated €35,000 to the Capuchin Monks – a welcome drop in the ocean to help Dublin's poor and homeless.
Though there was no question Metallica would deliver on the night, the big question on Irish fans' lips was, would they do their traditional cover of Thin Lizzy's Whiskey in the Jar? "I hope so," said Alex Conyngham, whose father, Lord Mountcharles was determined to be at the concert, despite illness. "In the old days, when Dad would take over the DJ booth at the nighclub, he always ended with Whiskey in the Jar."
After a spaghetti-western-style video intro, they opened with Hardwired, from their most recent studio album, Hard-Wired to Self-Destruct, and set out their stall with the chorus of “We’re f***ed ... sh*t out of luck... hard-wired to self-destruct!” This is very much an old-school Metallica record, designed to hark back to their thrash-glory days of ...And Justice For All, eschewing the slow-burn anthems for good ol’ puerile speed-thrash. “Hello, Metallica family!” greeted Hetfield, and the family gave a fist-in-the-air welcome.
They kept up the pace for The Memory Remains and Ride the Lightning, and the crowd were with them all the way. Just to seal the deal, they hit into Whiskey in the Jar, while the statue of Phil Lynnott beamed down from the screens. To be honest, any bar band could have done it better, but they're quickly forgiven after delivering the first big anthem of the night, The Unforgiven, followed quickly by Moth into Flame, one of the stronger tracks from the current album which they performed with Lady Gaga at this year's Grammys.
“We’re blessed to be here after 38 years,” declared Hetfield. “But what’s more amazing is that you’re still here. Thank you, Metallica family, for turning up here.”
Metallica may be determined to go disgracefully into middle-age, but they couldn’t hide the saggy middle bit of the show, which included a rendition of The Wild Rover. They shoulda quit with Whiskey while they were ahead.
As dusk settled on Slane, it was time to bring out the lasers and pyrotechnics for one big blast of One, followed by a double-whammy of Master of Puppets and For Whom the Bell Tolls. The band then moved the party on to the catwalk for a final burst of metal mayhem that ended with a suitably explosive Seek & Destroy.
At this stage, the Metallica family know what to expect from the encore, and they duly delivered their two biggest tunes, Nothing Else Matters and Enter Sandman, ending with the requisite fireworks display. After so many years, it felt routine, but for the fans, nothing else mattered.
The band must have enjoyed themselves, because after it was all over, they stayed on stage, tossing out guitar pics to the fans, drummer Lars Ulrich listing out the gigs Metallica have played in Ireland, including the Top Hat, the Point and "your mother's f***ing barbecue", and leaving with "Thank you Lord Henry, thank you Ireland!"