Eight Legendary Metallica Festival Appearances

In celebration of the news that Metallica are to headline the UK's Glastonbury festival for the first time this summer, we revisit eight classic festival shows from the Bay Area legends...


Donington Park

August 17, 1985

Played with: ZZ Top, Marillion, Bon Jovi, Ratt, Magnum

“If you came here to see spandex, and fucking eye make-up and all that shit, and the words ‘Rock ‘n’ roll baby’ in every fucking song, this ain’t the fucking band. We came here to bang some fucking heads for fifty minutes: are you fucking with us?” That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you introduce your band to metal’s spiritual home. The heaviest band on a lightweight bill, the Bay Area ‘bangers tore through a nine song set - starting with Creeping Death, ending with Motorbreath – which served notice that metal was changing forever.


Oakland Coliseum, California

August 31, 1985

Played with: Scorpions, Ratt, Y&T, Rising Force, Victory

So closely are Metallica identified with San Francisco, that it’s possible to forget that they were originally an LA band. This landmark show in their adopted hometown however served notice that the quartet’s hearts belonged in the City by the Bay. The quartet played an identical set-list to their Donington debut – Creeping Death, Ride The Lightning, For Whom The Bell Tolls, The Four Horsemen, Fade To Black, Seek & Destroy, Whiplash, Am I Evil, Motorbreath – and made it almost impossible for LA pretty boys Ratt to follow them. Somewhere in the crowd, a teenage Robb Flynn was taking notes.


Tushino Airfield, Moscow

September 28, 1991

Played with: AC/DC, Pantera

Russia didn’t get many heavy metal festivals in the 1980s – 1989’s Bon Jovi-headlined Moscow Music Peace Festival – so the arrival of AC/DC, Metallica and Pantera for the country’s first ever Monsters Of Rock show was kinda a big deal. Official estimates for the attendance range from 500,000 to 1.6 million (!): what’s undeniable was that Metallica killed it that afternoon, with Enter Sandman and Sad But True from the band’s newly release ‘Black’ album among the highlights of a 13 song set.


Donington Park

August 26, 1995

Played with: Therapy?, Skid Row, Slayer, Slash’s Snakepit, White Zombie, Machine Head, Warrior Soul, Corrosion of Conformity

Titled in deference to the fact that the gig took place when Metallica were in the middle of recording their Load album, this was the band’s first headline appearance on metal’s most sacred turf. Their 20 song set was bookended by cover versions (Budgie’s Breadfan and the Anti-Nowhere League’s So What, respectively) and featured one brand new song – Devil’s Dance, which would emerge on Reload – and a bizarre mash-up medley of Kill ‘Em All/Ride The Lightning era tracks. The main talking point of the day however, was James Hetfield’s new mullet, a truly terrifying creation.


Donington Park

June 1, 2003

Played with: Audioslave, Zwan, Flint, Apocalyptica, Disturbed, Stone Sour and more.

The first ever Download festival wasn’t short on controversy or drama. Sunday night headliners Limp Bizkit pulled out in the run-up to the event (to be replaced by Audioslave), Prodigy man Keith Flint was given a ludicrously high slot on the main stage (his solo album was then shelved forever by his record company) and Metallica chose to introduce their new bass player Rob Trujillo to their UK fan-base with a secret show. Only 8,000 people managed to squeeze into the Scuzz Tent to see the all-new Four Horsemen, but those who did were ‘rewarded’ with UK premieres of Frantic and St. Anger amid a ten song set.


Donington Park

June 6 2004

Played with: Korn, Slipknot, Slayer, Machine Head, Soulfly and more.

Metallica’s headlining appearance at Download 2004 will go down in history as the only Metallica live show not to feature Lars Ulrich. The Danish drummer had a stress-related panic attack aboard a flight from Copenhagen and was taken to hospital when the plane touched down at East Midlands airport. Rather than pull the show, the band recruited Slayer’s Dave Lombardo and Slipknot’s Joey Jordison and soldiered on without their founding father. Some suggested they’ve never sounded better…


Warsaw, Poland

June 16, 2010

Played with: Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax, Behemoth

Back in the mid 1980s, New York metal writer Don Kaye coined the term ‘The Big 4’ to describe the four leading acts in the burgeoning Thrash Metal movement. The four bands had history – Megadeth were formed after frontman Dave Mustaine was kicked out of Metallica, Slayer guitarist Kerry King temporarily moonlighted with Megadeth, Anthrax had looked after Metallica when they came to New York City to record their debut album Kill ‘Em All in 1983 – but until June 16, 2010 the four bands had never shared a stage. More Big 4 shows would follow, but really, this was the one that secured attendees the biggest bragging rights.


Atlantic City, New Jersey

June 23, 2012

Played with: Modest Mouse, The Gaslight Anthem, Lucero, Baroness, Arctic Monkeys and more

In 2012, Metallica decided to create their very own bespoke, self-curated music festival. The gathering was staged at Bader Field, an abandoned airstrip in Atlantic City and featured appearances from groups as diverse as Modest Mouse, the Arctic Monkeys, Fucked Up, Hot Snakes and The Gaslight Anthem, in addition to an exhibition of James Hetfield’s classic cars and Kirk Hammett’s collection of vintage horror movie memorabilia. The opening night saw the quartet play their classic second album Ride the Lightning in its entirety for the first time, meaning a first ever live performance of the much-maligned Escape. Historical.

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.