"Wherever you go, the Metallica family is there": Front row and in the snake pit at the opening night of Metallica's blockbuster M72 tour

Metallica M72 Tour
(Image credit: PAUL BERGEN/ANP/AFP via Getty Images)

It’s King’s Day in the Netherlands – a national holiday to celebrate the birthday of King Willem-Alexander, who this year turns 56. The streets and canals of Amsterdam are awash with pissed-up citizens dressed in the royal colour of orange. But Metal Hammer don’t see any of that first-hand. 

We’re five miles outside of town, where 71,000 Metallica fans are gathering at the Johan Cruijff Arena for a party of their own. It’s the first date of Metallica’s M72 World Tour, in support of 11th album 72 Seasons, and tonight the band will debut their new show. 

“I’ve travelled halfway across the world to be here today,” grins Jason, a 52-year-old fan from Newcastle, Australia, who’s wearing a zip-up Master Of Puppets hoodie. “It was actually 31 hours, all up, to be here.” 

Is it worth it? “Totally. 100%. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else,” says Jason, who has been to more than 70 Metallica shows in 22 countries. “I love everything about Metallica – what they represent, the connection with their fans, and obviously their music. Yeah – pretty much everything!” 

From the outside, the Johan Cruijff Arena – home to AFC Ajax football club – looks like a giant hamster cage, with long, transparent tubes housing escalators to transport people to their seats. Around the perimeter and with an hour until doors, fans are queuing at the t-shirt stands – stocked with 15 different designs – grabbing food from hotdog vans, spilling out of bars and meeting up with friends. 

Because this is Metallica, today isn’t just the start of an ordinary tour, it’s the start of an experience. The M72 Tour will go through Europe – including Download festival – followed by North America, and is currently scheduled to finish on September 29, 2024, in Mexico City. They will play two shows per place with no repeats in those setlists, with different support bands for each. 

There are also a ton of extra activities planned: today, fans can visit a pop-up shop selling exclusive posters, t-shirts, beer cups and a limited-edition ‘Screaming Suicide’ skateboard, as well as seeing a free show from Eindhoven metalcore quintet Another Now. 

Then, there are the tickets. Aside from the regular seating and standing ones, fans can buy one of six ‘enhanced experiences’, which can include meet and greets, a production and stage tour, food and drinks in the ‘Black Box Lounge’, and access to the Snake Pit – the exclusive standing area within touching-distance of the band as they play live. 

The VIP check-in marquee, fitted with speakers blasting out Limp Bizkit’s Rollin’, is staffed by women in a uniform of black leather jackets, black trousers, yellow tops and gold hoop earrings. Employed via a hospitality agency, Fabienne is into it. “Normally in my other jobs, I have to wear a blouse and my own pants,” she explains. “But now we’ve got style too, and it’s nice. It fits in with the whole concert.” 

Milling around some nearby benches, we meet Martyna, a fan who stands out in her own, bright yellow, Metallica leather jacket. She made it herself, and estimates it took her more than 70 hours. “This is actually a mustard-coloured Primark jacket that I painted with leather paint,” she explains. “I made little glitter appliqués, and then handpainted the Amsterdam shadow part [on the back]. I hope I don’t get sued! But I’m not selling them, so I’m not making money.” 

Martyna is here with boyfriend Kent, whom she met on the Metallica official Fifth Member Forums. She’s Polish but was living in Ireland at the time, and invited Kent – originally from Iowa but living in Amsterdam – to see Metallica at Slane Castle in 2019. Now the pair live together here. 

“I was @ladyofjustice and he was @kbell75,” smiles Martyna. “We didn’t know what each other looked like, we didn’t know anything. But then I decided, ‘Well, I have an extra ticket for Slane…’ and the rest is history!"

Kent, sporting a Kill ’Em All t-shirt, is also into craft projects. “I have a bus-sized poster that I’ve designed with photographs and scans from my entire Metallica collection – about 800 items or so,” he says. “That’s just vinyl and CDs. It doesn’t include the posters and t-shirts I’ve accumulated in 34 years of being a fan.” 

They’ve come to the show with Martyna’s parents, and her dad – who used to teach metal-working in a college – made the big silver Metallica logo necklace hanging around her neck. “He’s literally a metal dad!” she laughs. 

Outside one of the VIP entrances is 36-year-old Neal Fitzpatrick from Lurgan in Northern Ireland, just outside Belfast. He’s stoked to hear we just met Kent, who previously offered him Amsterdam travel advice on the forums. Neal, wearing a Ride The Lightning hoodie, has paid €998 for two nights’ entry into the Snake Pit. It’ll be his “six or seventh” time seeing the band, whom he discovered via a friend at age 16, but his first time seeing them this close up. 

“Apart from it being in the middle of the arena, I don’t know what to expect!” he laughs. “Everything seems to be quite under wraps, so it does. No one really knows what’s happening.” 

Is there a song you really want them to play tonight? “Well, my favourite song’s Creeping Death. I like to play the drums a little bit back home, so I’ll be just focusing on Lars. Lars gets a lot of stick. Lars is fantastic. He’s been doing it for 45 years. I am a Lars supporter!” 

Hoping to join Neal in the Snake Pit is Piotr, who’s holding up a sign that reads: ‘I Need A Ticket’. He claims this tactic has worked for him “hundreds” of times at previous gigs. He’s seen Metallica before, including a handful of shows in the Snake Pit, and wants to have the experience again.

“It’s in front of the stage, it’s a cosy experience – not like 10,000 people pushing back,” he smiles. “It’s the best!” 

What’s the highest amount he’s willing to go up to? “According to local police, I cannot offer anything, because then the person selling could get a fine,” he admits. “But I could offer to buy beers inside, to a total of €20.” 

And then there’s the aforementioned Jason from Australia, here with Erwan, from Paris (total Metallica shows seen: 24), and John, from Chattanooga (total Metallica shows seen: 47) who tells us he paid $2,500 for an I Disappear Diamond pass that grants him access to every show. 

The trio met via Facebook, where Jason runs The Legacy Remains, an unofficial Facebook fanpage for MetClub Legacy members (someone who had a paid MetClub membership between 1994 and 2015 for two or more years, or had an active paid membership on August 24, 2015). 

They met in real life at Metallica’s 40th anniversary shows in 2021. Not only are the trio grateful for their friendship with each other, they’re inspired by the band’s openness about mental health. On the back of John’s pink battle jacket is a patch reading ‘You Are Not Alone’. “You’re not,” he affirms, in a warm Southern accent.

“Wherever you go, the Metallica family’s there. And last year, during the Fade To Black song [at a show in Pittsburgh in August], James had his little [speech] about suicide, and being there for people – you’re never alone, you’ve got just to reach out and someone will be there.” 

How do you feel about Metallica touching on these kinds of subjects? James also sings about it on Screaming Suicide, from 72 Seasons. Some fans might say: ‘Just play thrash.’ “I love it,” says John. 

“I’m actually a mental health professional,” chips in Jason. “So I think it’s great. I think that’s one of the big reasons that Metallica really have such a worldwide fanbase and have some really close-knit connections. Obviously suicide’s one of those prevalent issues in society at the moment, and I think writing songs [about it] is very brave, and breaking down the stigma that’s around that.” 

Do you think it’s particularly difficult for men of that generation to talk about that stuff? “Yeah, definitely. It’s a generation of bravado,” says Jason. 

“Yeah, our generation’s definitely that,” agrees John, aged 52 like Jason. “I’m born in Alabama, raised in the South, and that’s just not something you ever talk about in the United States. And I worked for mental health myself for 10 years, working with kids, and you see a lot. And music is one of those things [that can help]; you’ve gotta find whatever it is. For me, it’s metal. For someone else, it’s classical. Whatever it is, it helps mend your soul.”

Metallica fans Amsterdam 2023

(Image credit: Derek Bremner)

Metallica fans Amsterdam 2023

(Image credit: Derek Bremner)

Walk inside the Johan Cruijff Arena at floor level, and you’re faced with eight towers arranged around a central ring-shaped stage, each topped by video screens. They’re currently lit up orange, presumably for King’s Day. It looks like a cyberpunk wrestling ring. 

When Lars spoke to us about the new show ahead of the release of 72 Seasons, he hinted that the band had been inspired by some of the world’s biggest popstars. “I don’t think it’s a secret that we’re playing in the centre. We’ve been doing it when we’ve been playing indoors for years – I guess going back 25 years – but we’ve never been able to pull that off in a stadium,” he explained. “

We are playing in the centre of a football pitch. That part’s pretty exciting – we’ve never been able to do that. U2 did it with The Claw [a claw-shaped central structure on their U2 360 show, from 2009-2011], Ed Sheeran did it last year [with six leaning video-screen poles arranged around a round stage on the Mathematics tour]. I think we’ve found a way to pull it off.” 

The set-up certainly looks imposing, and after a set from Wolfgang Van Halen’s band, Mammoth WVH, it’s up to Architects to give it a spin. Frontman Sam Carter is constantly on the move, running all around the circular stage to engage with as many people as possible. Metallica’s audience don’t seem to be familiar with the band, but it’s impossible to ignore the likes of Tear Gas, Deep Fake and Impermanence – some of the biggest British metalcore anthems of recent times, with a booming crunch that fills the venue. 

“I realised that these next two years of playing shows with Metallica and Mammoth WVH is going to be fucking incredible, because we get to play to stadiums full of people that like loud fucking heavy music,” yells Sam at one point, making a point of uniting the multi-generational crowd in their love for metal. Set-closer Animals (“the best song we’ve ever written”) is legitimately thrilling. 

That feeling of togetherness only grows ahead of Metallica, as AC/DC’s It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock ’N’ Roll) blasts over the speakers, and the video screens light up with photos of Metallica meeting their fans. ‘We’re here for you’, the photos seem to say. ‘You’re important to us.’ Flashing yellow lights intensify. And then, intro tape The Ecstasy Of Gold plays. 

Down in the Snake Pit in the centre of the ring, it’s difficult to identify exactly when the band take to the stage. Suddenly, they’re everywhere. James is shredding in front of us, Kirk and Lars are to our back right, Rob’s somewhere to the left. And rather than entering to fireworks or full-speed thrash, they’re playing the progressive, much-loved Orion, causing grown men to embrace and kiss each other on the cheek.

Their show continues in that same, warm spirit. A grinning James and Kirk share a fist-bump. Lars – tongue typically sticking out of his mouth – pops up in four different locations around the ring during the two-and-a-half-hour set, so everyone gets a look at him behind his yellow kit. 

We don’t see Neal again, but we imagine he’s in Heaven. It’s easy to see why the Snake Pit experience is so coveted. You’re literally at the centre of Metallica’s universe, the boundary between the band and fans almost nonexistent, eye contact with your favourite member easily achievable – and if you want to watch a different member, you just walk over to them. 

But when James says, “We are Metallica, and so are you”, pointing outwards towards the people in the seats, it feels like he’s prioritising them as well. There’s a run of material from 72 Seasons. The ‘all generations’ lyrics to Lux Æterna seem especially relevant, as fans of Stranger Things stand side-by-side with veterans who’ve been following the band since the 80s. 

Then, Screaming Suicide and Sleepwalk My Life Away get their live debuts, with Fade To Black in the middle – perhaps not surprising, given the complementary lyrical themes John touched upon earlier. All of it is welcomed by the fans, but Metallica know what people want to hear, and so begins a killer run: Nothing Else Matters, Sad But True, Ride The Lightning, Battery, Fuel – complete with pyro – Seek & Destroy, and a closing Master Of Puppets

Unlike the fake accident on their Poor Touring Me run, or the drones on the WorldWired… Tour, there are no gimmicks tonight. Just a band playing classic songs, with the people they love. It’s even more remarkable, given the bumps they’ve had along the way, not least James’s relapse in sobriety four years ago. Today he looks healthy, and is full of gratitude. 

“Metallica is so grateful to be here after 41 years, and see a beautiful family here to greet us in Amsterdam,” he says. “Thank you so much. We don’t take you for granted.”

As the lights come up, and the band and crew toss out plectrums, we spot the youngest member of the Snake Pit. Dilano is 13, and has come from Rotterdam with his uncle Gerben. “I got into Metallica by watching too much Stranger Things!” he smiles. “And already playing guitar. I tried the solo of Master Of Puppets once… and I can’t play it!” 

He’s not the only young fan here tonight. As we head over towards one of the merch stands, we meet Tania and her 10-year-old daughter, Saar, from Poland. “She plays guitar, and she did a concert with her pop school where she played Nothing Else Matters, so now she had to see them,” Tania says, revealing herself to be the coolest mum around. 

What was the best bit? “That my daughter got the scarf from James Hetfield!” she replies, as Saar produces the frontman’s orange bandana, which had been tucked in his left-back pocket for the duration of the show. “I’m going to tie it around my guitar bag,” Saar smiles. 

Walking around to the benches at the front of the venue, we meet old-school, dyed in the wool fan Svetoslav ‘Svetty’ Vassilev drinking a beer. He’s originally from Bulgaria, but has been living in Connecticut for the past 23 years. Tonight was his 90th time seeing Metallica, and he can’t believe the band opened with Orion. “I said to my friend, ‘If they keep opening like this, I’ll go to every single show on the tour!” he chuckles. 

Which is possible, as he’s in possession of an I Disappear ticket. With old fans and new coming together for such a massive event tonight, why does he think Metallica are still relevant in 2023? “I think it’s just how they treat their fans,” he concludes. “They always try to give everything possible to their fans, like doing these crazy kind of shows for us, and the enhanced experiences. Another thing is the community: the Metallica Family. It’s a great group of people that just makes you wanna go and see more and more shows.” 

There will be more opportunities for get togethers on tomorrow’s ‘off day’ between gigs, as there’s a ‘Metallica Amsterdam Takeover’ at nightclub Melkweg, featuring a book signing and Q&A with longtime Metallica photographer Ross Halfin. Later, there will be sets by the Netherlands symphonic band Haliphron, electro-metal serial killer obsessives Skynd and one of Saturday’s support bands, Ice Nine Kills, plus brilliantly named tribute bands Imitallica and Magnetica, as well as a Metallica film festival. 

“Today, I didn’t arrange anything with friends – I knew I would show up here in Amsterdam and see many faces that I know. That’s one thing I really like about the whole Metallica Family,” smiles Svetty.

Metallica's M72 continues in the US on August 4. The band headline Power Trip festival in October. 

Eleanor Goodman
Editor, Metal Hammer

Eleanor was promoted to the role of Editor at Metal Hammer magazine after over seven years with the company, having previously served as Deputy Editor and Features Editor. Prior to joining Metal Hammer, El spent three years as Production Editor at Kerrang! and four years as Production Editor and Deputy Editor at Bizarre. She has also written for the likes of Classic Rock, Prog, Rock Sound and Visit London amongst others, and was a regular presenter on the Metal Hammer Podcast.