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Metallica live in Foxborough, MA

Metallica at Gillette Stadium
Metallica at Gillette Stadium

Take a look at the 2017 concert schedule for Gillette Stadium – the monolithic home of the New England Patriots, tucked away in an otherwise-quiet suburb – and there’s one gig that looks a bit out of place. Amid modern chart-toppers, country stars and classic rock radio stalwarts, Metallica represent the heavy side of the musical spectrum alone. Before an audience of tens of thousands last Friday night, the California-bred quartet returned to Massachusetts for the first time in 8 years to prove themselves the biggest heavy metal band still breathing once more.

The concert-going day began earlier than most, as diehards flooded Gillette’s sprawling expanse of parking lots to tailgate their Friday afternoons away. The sun was still beating down on the sparsely-filled stadium when veteran Illinois alt-rockers Local H –the somewhat perplexing winners of Metallica’s “Hit The Stage” quest for a “local” opener – actually did hit the stage to kick things off. The duo’s guitar-drums attack, clearly a sound honed in sweaty rock clubs over the years, sounded a little lost in an echo-y arena setting though not for lack of trying on the part of guitarist Scott Lucas or drummer Ryan Harding. Danish quartet Volbeat, who played to a more receptive crowd in the direct support slot, presented a more polished hard-rock product. All smiles and charisma, if lacking in much substance, they were better equipped to work the room.

With nightfall came the evening’s main event – a spectacle that spared no expense from its opening moments on. Towering LED screens broadcast the cinematic accompaniment to the band’s traditional “Ecstasy of Gold” intro before the monstrously glitched-out visages of Metallica that grace the artwork of last year’s Hardwired…To Self-Destruct loomed over the crowd, and the sensory overload commenced. They emerged with Hardwired’s barn-burning lead single and title track, an effectively vicious tune despite its bone-headed chorus, before powering through “Atlas, Rise!”, the classic “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and a dramatically pyrotechnics-assisted “Fuel.” That hard-charging opening volley set the tone for the remainder of the night, a balanced sampling of new material, the band’s more commercially-leaning hits and their earlier thrash gems.

A division that handed a solid third of the set over to new songs would’ve been cause for greater concern were Hardwired a weaker record, but the material held up well, and the band seemed invigorated to dig into it. Frontman James Hetfield did all the talking, peppering his stage banter with references to the “family” of Metallica fandom and questions to the audience with easily-shoutable answers – but lead guitarist Kirk Hammett, bassist Robert Trujillo and drummer Lars Ulrich were most certainly enjoying themselves too. Perhaps it’s the advantage of the sporadic touring schedule of their fourth decade, but there was nary a moment when anyone looked bored on that stage.

Still, the set wasn’t without its pacing concerns. The full-band drum circle that bifurcated “Now That We’re Dead” was a head-scratcher, for instance. Following up the relatively low-key “Halo On Fire” with a directionless Hammett solo stymied some momentum, too, but Trujillo’s tasteful nods to both the recently-departed Chris Cornell and Metallica’s Cliff Burton in his own solo spotlight got things back on track.

The set’s back stretch offered its most thrilling moments, with a powerful “One” into an unstoppable “Master of Puppets” as its peak and an extended “Enter Sandman,” complete with a brief fireworks display, its thunderous conclusion. One could quibble over setlist choices – one less Metallica ballad for “Blackened” would’ve been nice – but as the smoke cleared both literally and figuratively over the colossal venue, there could be little doubt as to Metallica’s enduring power as a live band. Decades on, they’re still the masters.

Local H

Volbeat

Metallica

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