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Black Sky Thinking

Why Metallica Headlining Is Exactly What Glastonbury Needs
Dan Franklin , June 20th, 2014 05:30

Fourth horseman Dan Franklin rides the lightning to Metallica's defence and compiles a top ten of songs he'd like to see them perform in order to level a crowd of millennials smashed on miaow miaow and entitlement

I wonder how many Metallica fans felt it was crushingly inevitable that the band would headline Glastonbury next weekend, apart from perhaps Louise Mensch?

For a lot of us, it was a massive surprise. For any follower of heavy music, Metallica is the gateway drug: one drop of the ointment of Kill 'Em All in your ears and before you know it you're snorting Cephalic Carnage and mainlining Pig Destroyer. To co-opt an oft-repeated aphorism about Led Zeppelin: saying you're a fan of Metallica is akin to saying you're a fan of breathing oxygen.

The announcement has (actually inevitably this time) drawn (actually pretty insipid) fire: not least the mild declamation from Jarvis Cocker that the band are "a bit abrasive" to headline. It's true, what the festival has recognised, finally, is that Glastonbury would benefit from something pretty bloody abrasive actually. While The Park Stage gathering can collectively zone out to Mogwai while they wait for the heavy bits, the "shite" Metallica featuring the "unbelievably bad" Lars Ulrich (Mogwai’s words), the group that sings of blood running red and strong down the Nile, will storm the Pyramid stage.

Glastonbury is simply the latest in a series of self-disruptions in a career of about-turns that began in earnest with the so-called Black album in 1991, the band's commercial breakthrough, a betrayal to those for whom thrash metal is crystallized in the Bay Area of 1984. Black has sold 16 million albums, making it the best-selling album since Soundscan began: the defining heavy rock classic of the CD era, made for and of its time. There will be a huge contingent at Glastonbury who will own this album just like they own Nevermind and Use Your Illusion (both released in the same year). To what extent they unveil themselves during Metallica’s set is what makes the proposition so compelling.

But there is a hard truth: for its core audience Metallica is veering dangerously close to karaoke by-proxy, following Glastonbury a week later with the UK leg of their 'By Request' tour at Sonisphere in Knebworth Park. This Age Of Kickstarter set democratises the show (in theory) but often reinforces the favourites as their fans get to play at Masters of Puppets.

What Glastonbury represents − writ large − is a middle-aged band who has seen and done it all, laying down the gauntlet to itself and taking on all-comers: the millennial individualists smashed on miaow miaow and an overpowering sense of entitlement, the Isle of Wight brigade ruining their deck shoes in the mud, people who actually like Kaiser Chiefs, the stag-dos, the hen-dos, the onesies, the people for whom the cornucopia of bands on offer is muzak and Glasto a kind of rural Wetherspoons. Metallica can cram metal up the arses of Team Apathy.

For the Eavises I imagine the milking station debate in years past, the inevitability they faced as they realised you simply can’t ignore one of the biggest genres out there: it was this or Carcass headlining the John Peel stage, with Mortician opening proceedings at the West Holts. For that father and daughter, they who have succumbed to Rock, we salute you. And with a supporting bill of Lana Del Rey, Robert Plant and Jack White, it’s time to park the figurative bus in front of that main stage, just as Metallica squeeze their hundred-strong road crew into the artists' area.

As the Saturday night showdown approaches, and bearing in mind that Lars UIrich has a habit of putting the setlist together just before showtime, what if he decided to challenge himself even further with a few leftfield choices?

As if their appearance needs further debate, I have compiled my requests for a Metallica setlist like no other: the underplayed, underrated, overlooked, the unexpected, and actually the downright rubbish. Which songs would they choose to truly wake in fright the slumbering, sunburnt masses at Glastonbury? Which songs would really surprise the jaded throngs at Sonsiphere? Add your views and selections in the comments section…

'Fight Fire With Fire'

A soothing almost twee introduction yields to full-blooded Old Testament arockalypse blitzkrieg. What better way to stun a live audience and simultaneously celebrate the recent reintroduction of Cold War hostilities than the pure Shock and Awe of this opener to Ride The Lightning.

'Creeping Death' or Master Of Puppets?

The biggest question at any Metallica gig is whether the second song is '…Death' or '…Puppets'. Both thrash masterpieces, both similarly structured (triumphant intros, unstoppable momentum, tribal breakdowns) – it’s a question of whether the band want a gang chant of "Master! Master! Master!" or "Die! Die! Die!" But the Pharaonic overtones of 'Creeping Death' should seal the deal, this being the Pyramid Stage after all. The rendition above is the only occasion the band played live without Ulrich, at Download Festival 2004, with other drummers spontaneously filling in as the Dane was taken to hospital: Slipknot’s Joey Jordison laid waste to the majority of their set, recalling all those classic Metallica live bootlegs, spraying fills and double bass drum runs all over the show.


The stand-out track on perhaps the band's most detested album, Load (its successor Reload is worse, and actually Load is very good, sorry), takes the rolling groove of Black Sabbath’s 'Sabbra Cadabra' (which they later covered on Garage Inc as if to 'fess up) and strips any subtlety away in favour of a lyric about getting smacked with a plank of wood. Though their mates in Alice In Chains weren't exactly thrilled with the mid-90s rebrand Load saw Metallica undergo – AIC bassist Mike Inez played their 1996 MTV Unplugged session with 'Friends Don't Let Friends Get Friends Haircuts' scrawled on his instrument, aimed at Metallica in the front row - the second half slowdown is the best doomy, lysergic freak-out AIC never recorded topped off with an increasingly rare wind-in-the-hair Kirk Hammett solo.

'Trapped Under Ice'

Rampant out of the gate, and overlaid by widdly guitar histrionics that would make Yngwie Malmsteen blush, George RR Martin couldn’t conjure ice that burns like this, in a perfect counterpoint to 'Fight Fire With Fire': "Freezing/ Can't move at all/ Screaming/ Can't hear my call/ I am dying to live/ Cry out/ I'm trapped under ice!" When I first bought Ride The Lightning I had been wrongly advised that it was a concept album based around different forms of being killed. Yes, our fragile mortality is the album's main preoccupation but nothing fulfils that imagined brief than the hysterical "eyes of glass stare directly at death".

'To Live Is To Die'

Beginning like a Rodrigo y Gabriela cover version of a Metallica song that clatters into the fully amplified real deal, this strange and schizophrenic nine-minute-plus epic instrumental admittedly lacks the cosmic grandeur of stablemate 'Orion' and the creepy otherworldliness of 'The Call of Ktulu' [sic], themselves rarely played live. As it veers between its slovenly, disjointed central riff and swinging mid-tempo heft, it breaks into triumphant guitar histrionics, then shrinks to music box intimacy: it's a patchwork quilt but also a tribute to then recently departed bassist Cliff Burton, attested to by removing Jason 'New Kid' Newsted's bass entirely from the mix.

'Dyers Eve'

Rarely played in favour of 'Damage Inc', 'Battery' and the like, this crisp closing track from …And Justice For All is one of Metallica's leanest speed work-outs, breaking up the frantic momentum with some deft rhythmic turnarounds. It also turns the lyrical focus away from the evils of the world to a family psychodrama of abuse with its "Dear mother, Dear father" refrain, an interiority Hetfield would revisit on subsequent albums and most rawly on St Anger.

Disposable Heroes

Inexplicably overlooked in the band's live can(n)on, this vicious cut is arguably the best song on Master Of Puppets, so is arguably the best Metallica song ever written. Whereas they have never boasted metal's best drummer, or even the best lead guitarist, Hetfield's precision picking here marks him out as the genre's best rhythm guitar player. It flies at the listener like a rabid dog of war, and amid subsequent battering ram dynamism, the song exudes an untameable, contorting violence, throwing the listener back and forth, as if trying to break down its very structure, reinforced by a snarling lyrical sarcasm: "Back to the front/ You will die when I say, you must die." All this marks it out as the best protest anthem since 'War Pigs', and even surpasses that titanic track because it unflinchingly revels in the horror of the trenches and its ineluctable tragedy: "Life planned out before my birth, nothing could I say." Slayer's 'Expendable Youth' doesn't even touch it. [My office. Now. Ed]

'Bleeding Me'

For all the 'controversy', Load's centrepiece song is like no other they wrote before or since. Muscular and powerful, anthemic but not overblown, confessional but elusive, this is Metallica being bold and winning the day. The version orchestrated by Michael Kamen for the S&M gigs is sublime.

'The View'

Imagine the astonishment, as the slack-jawed Pyramid Stage crowd witness Lou Reed take the stage in hologrammic splendour, like Tupac at Coachella before him, to murder this execrable dirge from Lulu, a remarkable album that managed to worst even Reload. If watching Hetfield bellow "I am the table!" is not enough, perhaps Ulrich trying to master the off-time drumbeat will suffice. He premiered it years earlier in coruscating doc Some Kind Of Monster, triggering one of the films best arguments. Hetfield demands he play it straight ("I’m used to the drummer playing the beat part, holding it together"), Ulrich’s withering response is that Hetfield's riff is "a little stock". He was still trying to master it here. Do it for Lou, boys. Oh, the iniquity...


"Frantic, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick tock!" Need I say more? The apogee of the ragged, incandescent St Anger. Which (whisper it) is actually excellent. Get in the pit!