Metallica at Download night one: metal's biggest band slay Donington after more than a decade away

The Four Horsemen dazzle Donington with a career-spanning, celebratory set

James Hetfield onstage
(Image: © Getty)

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It's been murderous getting on-site at Donington today; a sell-out attendance, a stacked, four-day line-up and a traffic accident near the festival has caused bedlam on the roads, leaving many punters stuck for hours in their cars or forced to plod along on foot for miles to finally get stuck into the action. If it were any other band headlining tonight, you might imagine that all the chaos would be the day's biggest talking point. Luckily, this isn't any band. This is fucking Metallica, playing the first of two headline sets this weekend with the promise of no repeats.

With everyone now safely in, metal's undisputed heavyweight champs draw an immense crowd, and a deafnening cheer goes up as AC/DC's It's A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock 'N' Roll) blares out over the PA, signalling their imminent arrival. Images of the band meeting and hanging with fans swarm over the screens - a nice touch that reaffirms the connection the biggest band in heavy metal manage to maintain with their followers. Then, the Four Horseman bound out onstage to tear into a ripping Creeping Death, bathed in searing red lights and backed by a huge, glistening LCD backdrop. Incredibly, this is Metallica's first Download set in over a decade, and no one present is in any mood to tit about.

"Download!" bellows James Hetfield before lurching straight into the crunching, stomping riff of Harvester Of Sorrow, the band completing an opening trio of killer 80s tracks with a menacing Leper Messiah. Playing on a stage that branches out into a donut ring, lucky Snake Pit pass holders poured into the middle, Metallica certainly make the most of Download's upscaled production: the Apex Stage's six impressive, water tower-esque screens are plastered with stunning visuals, intercepted with colourised footage of the band that makes sure everyone, no matter how far back, gets an eyeful.

Tonight feels like a set of two halves: the first a mix of deeper cuts (King Nothing!) and new album picks (Lux Æterna needs to be a setlist staple for years to come), the second a home run of world famous Metallica bangers. It means the atmosphere undoubtedly kicks up another notch around halfway through, a gorgeous rendition of Orion peeling out as the sun sets behind a bedazzled crowd. Then, a run of Nothing Else Matters, Sad But True, The Day That Never Comes, Blackened, Fuel (hello pyro!), Seek & Destroy and a triumphant, set-closing Master Of Puppets draws singalongs so loud you wonder if the planes flying overhead to East Midlands Airport might be thrown off their flight path.

"We appreciate you so much," gushes Papa Het, holding his fist to his chest as his partner in crime Lars Ulrich stands up and grins manically from behind the drum kit. And there lies the real secret to Metallica's enduring success: they really do, all these years on, look like they're having the time of their lives.

Tonight, then, serves as one hell of an opening act, and yet there's the lingering sense that some special surprises (and, incredibly, even more big hitters) have been held back until Saturday. As great as this show is, you suspect part two might be even better.

Metallica Download night 1 setlist

1. Creeping Death
2. Harvester Of Sorrow
3. Leper Messiah
4. King Nothing
5. Lux Æterna
6. Screaming Suicide
7. Fade To BlacK
8. Sleepwalk My Life Away
9. Orion
10. Nothing Else Matters
11. Sad But True
12. The Day That Never Comes
13. Blackened
14. Fuel
15. Seek & Destroy
16. Master Of Puppets

Merlin Alderslade
Executive Editor, Louder

Merlin moved into his role as Executive Editor of Louder in early 2022, following over ten years working at Metal Hammer. While there, he served as Online Editor and Deputy Editor, before being promoted to Editor in 2016. Before joining Metal Hammer, Merlin worked as Associate Editor at Terrorizer Magazine and has previously written for the likes of Classic Rock, Rock Sound, eFestivals and others. Across his career he has interviewed legends including Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy, Metallica, Iron Maiden (including getting a trip on Ed Force One courtesy of Bruce Dickinson), Guns N' Roses, KISS, Slipknot, System Of A Down and Meat Loaf. He has also presented and produced the Metal Hammer Podcast, presented the Metal Hammer Radio Show and is probably responsible for 90% of all nu metal-related content making it onto the site.