The universe came up with many and imaginative tricks trying to kill European festivals. But it didn’t take into account that for media terror, germοphobia and illiberal dystopias, there is an antidote: Metallica. Live. Together with seventy thousand unmasked sweaty humans.
On the 12th anniversary of June 24th, 2010 – date of Metallica’s last appearance in Greece – with quite a bit of rain, same as then, the Download festival made its debut on German ground, Hockenheim to be precise, where the German Formula 1 grand prix is held.
Although they were preceded by other bands, when we arrived at the race track at 16:00, it was Behemoth’s turn to deliver the goods. It goes without saying that daylight, a huge stage and a vast arena aren’t allies for a band aiming to create an atmosphere reminiscent of an intimate satanic ritual. However, due to the fact that Nergal and his guys have managed to reach beyond the stereotypical extreme metal audience, when the time came, the mostly tame German crowd did sing ‘Come unto me Bartzabel’ rather vigorously.
Then, on the second stage, thank God for that, but still, came Enter Shikari. I believe them to be, after careful consideration, the most terrible fit for any festival line-up in all my years as a concert enthusiast. An indescribable electronic pop / hardcore mix, like a worse version of Linkin Park, with motivational love and ecology messaging in between songs. There’s 50 painful minutes of my life that I’ll never get back.
Back to the main, snakepit-adjacent stage, with Five Finger Death Punch. Say what you want about the look, the bro mentality and the videos exclusively featuring navy seals and marines, but these guys know how to write a hit song and managed to comfortably entertain a huge crowd, led by original members Zoltan Bathory and Ivan Moody. Stuff like ‘Wash it All Away’, ‘Burn it Down’ (my introduction to FFDP back in the day), ‘Lift me up’ and ‘Under and Over it’ went over great and time flew by.
At 19:30 sharp, during the rain’s peak, Sabaton came on stage with the sounds of ‘Ghost Division’. I know they have quite the loyal fan base, but their stuff just isn’t for me. Live, just like on their albums, they reproduced the same ‘plastic’ pompous sound throughout the show. At least it seemed that many people around me did enjoy them.
Now let’s get serious. It’s a long way to the top. The ecstasy of gold. Relief. Joy. Normality. And then, surprise. Lars, instead of taking his seat on his kit, comes towards us, to the drums that are suddenly emerging from the snakepit’s front ramp, and before you know it, amidst pandemonium, ‘Whiplash’, ‘Creeping Death’, and ‘Enter Sandman’, on the 3rd slot if you can believe it, with all four legends on a two-meter strip, at spitting distance.
A noteworthy objection: for those of us that are close to the rail, there was a price to be paid. We were hearing the drum’s natural sound being repeated fractions of a second later through the PA, creating a strange sonic haze.
After that opening trio, everyone takes their ‘traditional’ place and we’re back to flawless, classic Metallica sound production. The song selection however wasn’t classic at all; ‘Cyanide’ and I finally met in person, and immediately afterwards ‘Trapped Under Ice’ had a bit of a clusterfuck during the middle section but sounded ripping nonetheless. The rarities didn’t stop there, as the laconic, focused and grateful James Hetfield asked us if we like ‘St. Anger’. Well, if the sound on that record resembled ‘Dirty Window’s guitar tone in this performance, we’d like it a lot more, is the answer.
Even with this new, slightly shorter set, with 16 songs instead of 18, an uncomfortable realization of the passage of time, Metallica always find a way to make each show a unique life experience, with classics in different spots, refreshing deep cuts and unquenchable thirst. Which is why, after seeing them so many times, the enthusiasm hasn’t faded out.
And, heading towards the finale, while casual – or not – fans were enjoying, as they should, ‘Fade to Black’ and ‘Seek & Destroy’, in comes a thunderous ‘Damage Inc.’ punching us in the gut with full force, a friendly reminder from your friends in Metallica, that when they so wish, they put the turbo mode on and kick the shit out of everybody else. Still.
Setlist: Whiplash, Creeping Death, Enter Sandman, Cyanide, Trapped Under Ice, Nothing Else Matters, Sad but True, Dirty Window, Wherever I May Roam, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Moth into Flame, Fade to Black, Seek & Destroy
Encore: Damage, Inc., One, Master of Puppets