“BURN, AMSTERDAM, BURN!” James Hetfield yells during Fuel, as bursts of fire erupt around the ring-shaped stage at the 71,000-capacity Johan Cruijff Arena. It’s the first date of Metallica's worldwide M72 Tour, in support of new album 72 Seasons, and the atmosphere is one of pure celebration. The band are encircled by eight towers topped with wraparound video screens beaming the action to the nosebleeds, while inside the ring is their infamous ‘snake pit’ where fans can get within touching distance. It doesn’t get much bigger than this.
But first, Architects. Metallica have scheduled two shows per city, each with a different setlist and support bands, and the Brightonians are doing the honours tonight. All those songs from last year’s The Classic Symptoms Of A Broken Spirit, that sound like they were written for stadiums? They live up to the promise. The hooky, industrial-flecked likes of Deep Fake and Tear Gas are resolutely crushing. “You are currently witnessing a lot of boys – men – on this stage, living their wildest dreams,” grins frontman Sam Carter, reminding himself how far they’ve come. “Our job is to warm you up. ARE YOU WARM?”
At 8.35pm, AC/DC’s It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock’n’Roll) blasts over the sound system, followed by familiar intro tape The Ecstasy Of Gold. The Four Horsemen appear, spread out around the stage, opening with Orion for the first time in 12 years. What’s immediately clear is how much fun they’re having, a grinning Kirk running up to fist-bump a grinning James. During For Whom The Bell Tolls, Rob and Kirk literally run rings around each other. There’s already a party atmosphere in Amsterdam due to national holiday Koningsdag (King’s Day), which seems to involve wearing orange and getting wasted, and James dedicates King Nothing to the occasion.
Much has been made about James’ personal lyrics on 72 Seasons, and it takes guts to belt out Screaming Suicide to a football stadium, especially for the first time. “Are you out there?” he asks the audience, who raise their voices in encouragement. A satisfyingly chunky Sleepwalk My Life Away also gets debuted, Rob Trujillo so pumped that he mimes a mic drop at the end.
Their latest material might be well received, but Metallica know why people are here. Following a lighter-waving Nothing Else Matters, still fresh after 32 years (James: “That song’s alright, huh?”), they embark on a winning streak of Sad But True, Ride The Lightning, Battery and Fuel. Besides the latter’s explosion of pyro, there are no other surprises tonight – just Metallica being the best at what they do.
Then, James teases the fans. “Would you like a new song or an old song?” he asks, the response indicating the second option. “Alright, new song: SEEK & DESTROYYYYY!” He’s yelling so loudly, he misses Lars’ count-in. When the song finally starts, everyone loses their minds.
After closing with a triumphant Master Of Puppets, Kirk peeling out the solo that won them a new generation of fans via Stranger Things, James stands silently on the stage as the house lights come up and the crowd cheer, and cheer, and cheer. As techs remove his monitors, he takes it all in, mouthing ‘thank yous’ to individuals in the snake pit. “Are you sure?” he asks the Johan Cruijff Arena in disbelief, as the standing ovation continues. Yes James, we’re sure.
Metallica: Johan Cruijff ArenA setlist
For Whom the Bell Tolls
Holier Than Thou
Fade to Black
Sleepwalk My Life Away
Nothing Else Matters
Sad but True
The Day That Never Comes
Ride the Lightning
Seek & Destroy
Master of Puppets