The Master of Puppets: Metallica pulls Johannesburg's strings
Many heavy metal bands have come and gone over the decades, but not many have stayed as strong as Metallica.
The band is 32 years old, has nine studio albums, four live albums and nine Grammy Awards to their name and this past week brought their second tour to South Africa.
Back in 2006, Metallica headlined the Coca-Cola Colab, the first of the famous full-day music festivals that rocked the country. But their set was shortened and was a mere snippet of what we experienced on Saturday at FNB Stadium.
Drummer Lars Ulrich says the last time they were here it was a bit crazy but this time it was different.
“There were people who came from all over… We played a bunch of different songs than we did when we were here seven years ago, which we’re always trying to and people said they were very pleased that we said we would come back and we did come back.”
Ulrich, 49, has been with the band from the start and says the band keeps it fresh through fear of repetition and constant curiosity.
“We try to constantly put ourselves in different situations creatively… We’re doing a movie and did a record with Lou Reed. We don’t necessarily go out and actively try to pursue these things like advertising ‘Metallica looking for odd projects’, you know. People call us up, and we keep ourselves open to new projects… We don’t seek them out but they come to us and they look interesting and we jump on them.”
He says it’s then they realise that they have no safety net but that’s part of the ride.
“That keeps it fresh and keeps it alive but the main thing we do is try not to repeat ourselves.”
Ulrich says he hopes the movie is good. “I can’t guarantee it’s good but I can guarantee you it’s different.”
The band has been touring their entire career and although they’re aging, they show no signs of getting old.
He says he keeps fit these days by running and by working out with “the two most hardworking people on tour” – the band’s physical fitness team, who he says “take care of our battered limbs and broken backs.”
He says they know they’re not as young as they used to be and they are aware of their own mortality. “We now know our boundaries, which we didn’t know 20 years ago. It comes with age.”
Thirty-two years in the making, Metallica still stick to their roots music-wise but Ulrich says the band continues to evolve and every moment is different, with each record having different inspiration.
“We’re open to the good fortune that’s come our way seeing people appreciate our music and the difference our music makes on people’s lives.
“The main reason we keep going now is that we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We’re looser and give off our best but we’re not as anal. We no longer point out each other’s mistakes and we don’t argue, but point out the positives.”
Ulrich says they’re a band of brothers who know and respect each other. He’s proud of the fact that they’re still here and to play in South Africa to over 40 000 people on Freedom Day is a beautiful thing.
“We’ve had our well-documented melt-down but we aim to rise above that, and we’re the best of friends.”
He says there could be an album in the works, but they’ve
been busy with the film and other things and they’ve been working on ideas.
“I hope there’s another album on the way, but it’s taking it’s own sweet time to make,” he says with a laugh.
There have been so many beautiful moments, Ulrich says, and he can’t pick one. “Perhaps the most beautiful memory is yet to come.”
Metallica have been pioneers in their genre and metal as we know it. Thirty-two years and they are still going strong, melt-downs, drama, beauty, rumours and all.
And no, Ulrich says. “I did not invent the double bass pedal.”
The show on Saturday just showed their sheer might. It was like Metallica brought a fire-breathing dragon to a knife fight.
“We’re so happy to be back. Are you ready to rock?” Lead singer James Hetfield held the Johannesburg crowd in his hands.
Truly the Master of Puppets, Metallica played hits like Fade to Black, The Memory Remains, One, For Whom the Bell Tolls Nothing Else Matters and their gloriously epic Enter Sandman to a hard-rocking crowd.
Fireworks, fire and energy that 20-year-olds would be jealous of, Hetfield, guitarist Kirk Hammet, Ulrich and bassist Robert Trujillo destroyed our minds as they ripped though their set with such power, everyone was still reeling afterwards.
The ‘I like three songs’ Metallica fans may not have understood that display of awesomeness that happened on Saturday night, as the band played songs that only the true fan would love. But make no mistake, even those fans got a performance of a lifetime as they performed solos to make the metalhead’s heart sing.
“I hope it doesn’t take us this long to come back again,” Hetfield said to the crowd, thanking the Joburg Metallica family for being so awesome.