Metallica headline Glastonbury: ‘They’ve earned it’

Heavy metal will come in from the cold for one night only when the band take the top slot at the legendary summer festival

Love them or hate them – and the band don’t care one way or another – Metallica have earned the right to headline Glastonbury next week.

If commercial success is the arbiter, in the first instance, of what makes a headliner, Metallica's album sales are far in excess of the weekend's other two headliners, Arcade Fire and Kasabian. The Black Album is the biggest-selling album of the past 25 years on SoundScan, surpassing 16 million sales in the US last month, and it's not even their best.

In critical terms, Metallica have two albums in Rolling Stone's list of the top 500 of all time. They've played with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and the pianist Lang Lang – who know what great music sounds like.

That their brilliance has somewhat waned in recent decades should not be a disqualification – nobody begrudged The Rolling Stones or Paul McCartney their Glastonbury headline slot, even though they had been stinking the place out creatively for years.


The hostility towards Metallica is indicative of a bunker-music mentality as reflected in the ill-advised comments made about them. They will be clashing with Scottish instrumentalists Mogwai who dismissed Metallica as “shite”. This from a band named after a Gremlin.

The musical apartheid which deems it odd that Metallica should headline a mainstream festival only seems to be practised in Britain and Ireland – where heavy metal is treated like the bold stepchild who should be heard and never seen. Other mainstream European festivals, such as Roskilde in Denmark, will happily mix Metallica with Sigur Rós, as they did last year, while Rock Am Ring in Germany has had Metallica, The Killers and Kaiser Chiefs on the same bill.

Metallica are also the headliners for this year's Sonisphere, Europe's biggest travelling festival. It travels to seven countries this year – Norway, Finland, Switzerland, Poland, Italy, Germany, and the UK, the only place where it is a multi-day event. It will play to more than 300,000 fans in total.

Sonisphere was founded five years ago by music promoter Stuart Galbraith as a touring hard rock festival.

Hard rock struggles everywhere for mainstream exposure and radio airplay, but balanced against that, he says, is the “massive loyalty and sense of community” that does not exist in any other music genre.

Galbraith is particularly scathing about the BBC. "It is telling that the BBC has only one rock programme across its whole public broadcasting network which broadcasts for a couple of hours late at night with Dan Carter. " (BBC Radio 1, Tuesday at midnight.)

At Knebworth, Metallica are one of three headliners along with Iron Maiden and The Prodigy for Sonisphere UK which takes place between July 4th and 6th.

When both Metallica and Iron Maiden were announced for Sonisphere, there were more than a few groans on social media.

Great bands as they are, their ubiquity as metal festival headliners has attracted a lot of whinging, but Galbraith is unrepentant.

After landing a coup of getting the UK’s only performance of the “big four” (Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer and Metallica) in 2011, Galbraith put together a vintage line-up of headliners compromising of Faith No More, Queen and Kiss in 2012. It flopped and he had to cancel.

Lesson learned, there was no Sonisphere at Knebworth last year because he couldn’t secure headliners good enough to be sure of selling tickets.

“We’ve been very open in our views on Sonisphere at Knebworth,” he said. “If we think we can put together a bill and have headliners that can sell and work, we’ll run,” he says.

“Metallica and Iron Maiden sell tickets. They enable us to run a festival which sells tickets and people vote with their feet. We’ve learned that despite comments and criticisms from people saying we want new headliners, we did that and people didn’t buy tickets.

“I’m afraid we have to work on bills that will sell and that means that we end up with repeat headliners because that is what people want to see.”

Galbraith says it is “fantastic” that Metallica are playing Glastonbury, giving mainstream exposure on the BBC to a genre which is completely ignored otherwise. “It is good for both rock and metal. As we have been saying there are precious few outlets for rock, particularly on the BBC.”

It helps that Britain’s two big outdoor rock festivals at Download and Sonisphere are eminently accessible by air for Irish fans and thousands make the pilgrimage every year.

The last outdoor hard rock festival for Ireland was Download in 2006 at the RDS which featured a particularly strong line-up involving Metallica, Guns N’Roses and Alice in Chains.

Sadly, there will be no manifestation of Sonisphere in Ireland any time soon, says Galbraith, though countries such as Finland, Switzerland and Norway are able to generate the 30,000 to 40,000 minimum crowd needed to make the festival sustainable.

“We’ve thought about it, but the market isn’t strong enough to fit a festival of this calibre,” he explains. “There isn’t a strong enough metal/rock audience in Ireland to make it viable I’m afraid.”

Homegrown fans will have to be content with gigs by Slayer (July 1st) and Anthrax (July 2nd), both in the Academy, Dublin, in advance of their appearances at Sonisphere the following weekend.

Those thinking of making the trip to Sonisphere could also include Black Sabbath’s possible last ever concert which will be on Friday night, July 4th, in Hyde Park and will feature an extremely strong support bill of Faith No More, Soundgarden and Motörhead.

This weekend features one of the strongest ever line-ups at a hard rock festival at Hellfest, which is staged in Clisson near Nantes, in France. It includes Black Sabbath, Aerosmith, Iron Maiden, Slayer, Deep Purple, Avenged Sevenfold and Status Quo.

Europe's biggest metal festival, Wacken Open Air, in northern Germany, takes place between July 31st and August 2nd, but there is no point in looking for tickets. It sold out within 48 hours.