Music Reviews


Empty Arena, Glendale, Ariz. (Tuesday, Oct. 21)


When Metallica frontman James Hetfield stepped up to the microphone and asked if Phoenix was ready to hear more "Death Magnetic," it was purely a rhetorical question. Ready or not, "Death Magnetic" dominated the set list on the opening night of the band's world tour to support its first studio album in more than five years.

"Death Magnetic" opened at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 last month and stayed there for three weeks, making Metallica the first band to have five straight studio albums debut atop the chart. Hailed as a return to form for the heavy metal legends who blended their early thrash roots with a more mainstream rock and blues foundation on recent releases, the new disc had fans champing at the bit for a tour that would be heavy on the band's historic sound.

The opening night was -- but not without a twist. Performing half of the new release, Metallica played as much of "Death Magnetic" as they did their first four epic albums combined. The opening tandem of the new "This Was Just Your Life" and "The End of the Line" were as heavy as any other back-to-back billing the set had to offer, with Lars Ulrich laying a frenzied base of artillery-fire drum cover for guitarist Kirk Hammett to lay his razor-sharp riffs over. Like much of the material on the new album, the sound was more Metallica circa 1989 than anything in the two decades since.

The problem wasn't so much song selection as it was pacing. "One" was an early highlight, but when it was followed by another coupling from the new release, much of the crowd sat down. The energy was there, but the awareness wasn't, begging the question of why the new songs weren't spaced more throughout the set to capitalize on the momentum of such crowd favorites as "Four Horsemen," "Master of Puppets" and "Fight Fire With Fire."

Staged in the round with four caskets serving as mobile beds for lighting and lasers above the stage, the pacing wasn't helped by the layout. There weren't video screens to highlight the performances, and it wasn't hard for the vast expanse of the stage to swallow the band, especially from the second level. Like the set list -- which in Metallica fashion is sure to shift and adapt from night to night -- the band's command of the stage is certain to become more synchronous as the tour evolves.

Based on crowd response, the night's highlight was a menacing run through Metallica's breakthrough single and mainstream calling card, "Enter Sandman," which closed the main set. Covers of "Last Caress" and "So What" opened the encore, and the night ended with the band unleashing its classic "Seek and Destroy" under full house lights and with a couple dozen black "Death Magnetic" beach balls bouncing through the arena from the rafters.

New Orleans metal veterans Down offered direct support, featuring former Pantera bandmates Phil Anselmo and Rex Brown along with members of Corrosion of Conformity and Crowbar. Frontman Anselmo pushed the crowd through his outfit's well-received, 10-song platter of Southern swamp churn and grinding, Black Sabbath- and Deep Purple-inspired sonics.

Set list:

That Was Just Your Life
The End of the Line
Sad but True
Wherever I May Roam
Broken, Beat & Scarred
Until It Sleeps
Four Horsemen
The Day That Never Comes
Master of Puppets
Fight Fire With Fire
Nothing Else Matters
Enter Sandman

Last Caress
So What
Seek and Destroy