Metallica at Download night two: the ultimate celebration of heavy metal

An even better setlist, a big party atmosphere and all the bells and whistles: Metallica's second night at Download was truly special

Metallica onstage at Download
(Image: © Future (Katja Ogrin))

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“You guys having fun tonight?” asks James Hetfield after a rip-roaring Ride The Lightning. The roared response from a packed and sun-kissed Donington crowd is very much in the affirmative. “Well,” he frowns, glint in eye, “knock it off!” It’s the second night of Metallica’s two-part Download residency, and if part one took a little while to truly hit its stride, tonight the party vibes are in full flow from the get-go. 

Not only is tonight’s setlist undoubtedly superior than its already stacked predecessor (a set-opening tour debut for Whiplash and Until It Sleeps getting only its third UK airing since the 90s are major highlights), but the show itself feels more energetic, more fun, powered by ramped-up pyro, lasers and more retina-singeing visuals. The first two songs played from this year’s 72 Seasons also happen to be two of the album’s very best cuts: the title track a rollocking, groove-laden tubthumper that gets heads banging, the stomping If Darkness Had A Son packing one of Metallica’s best post-2000 choruses. It’s a chorus that Donington is happy to belt back at a band showing no signs of fatigue or disinterest at playing the exact same ground twice in 48 hours - if anything, the Four Horsemen look even more excited to be back.

Hetfield is on epic form, his voice sounding rich and powerful, his stage banter equal parts moving ("We are Metallica...and so are you") and hilarious (his embarrassed reaction to Lars Ulrich accidentally terrifying a young fan the drummer very sweetly offers to bring on stage draws peals of laughter: "Oh, Lars...Lars makes all the girls cry."). He also remains the coolest motherfucker in rock music, looking like a heavy metal sheriff surveying his township as he strides out on stage, cigar in mouth and squid-adorned ESP in hand, as the band slice through Ride The Lightning instrumental The Call Of Ktulu.

Donington eats it all up: the scenes that break out during Whiskey In The Jar look like something from a particularly rowdy wedding dancefloor; an explosive One sees everyone full-heartedly singing along to the riff, solo and everything in between; the huge fireworks display that explodes into life during Enter Sandman draw 'Oohs', 'Ahhs' and cheers aplenty. It's the ultimate heavy metal celebration, and no one is holding back.

After the show, all four members sneak back out on stage to express some sincere gratitude and spread a little more love around. "We hope we made you happy," says Hetfield warmly. Judging by the shit-eating grins plastered on the faces in front of him, we'd say that's very much mission accomplished. 

Metallica Download 2023 night two setlist

1. Whiplash
2. For Whom The Bell Tolls
3. Ride The Lightning
4. Until It Sleeps
5. 72 Seasons
6. If Darkness Had A Son
7. Welcome Home (Sanitarium)
8. You Must Burn!
9. The Call Of Ktulu
10. The Unforgiven
11. Wherever I May Roam
12. Moth Into Flame
13. Battery
14. Whiskey In The Jar
15. One
16. Enter Sandman

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.