BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
Two songs into their set Sunday night, Metallica had a message to share.
Brawny singer/guitarist James Hetfield stepped up to one of the several microphones erected across the massive stage and said, “All are welcome. We don’t give a s*** where you’re from, who you vote for, or what you eat…we are here to celebrate life, to celebrate live music.”
It was an edict Metallica adhered to for the next couple of hours at SunTrust Park as the band delivered a musically punishing, visually stunning concert that will leave 39,000-plus sets of ears ringing for much of the week.
Although the quartet – Hetfield, drummer Lars Ulrich, guitarist Kirk Hammett and bassist Rob Trujillo – are all in the early 50s, they approach their nearly 35-year-old catalog with the muscularity of musicians with far less wear on their bodies.
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Ulrich, his baseball cap turned backward, pumped his fists toward the crowd when not busily smashing cymbals during “Atlas, Rise!,” one of five songs Metallica unleashed from their current album, “Hardwired…to Self-Destruct.”
Although the band was dwarfed by its mammoth stage, the five video panels that folded out like a picture frame provided searing close-ups of the band at work: Hammett’s nail-polished fingers zipping across the strings of his customized guitars emblazoned with White Zombie and The Mummy artwork; Hetfield’s tonsils as his voice turned into a bellow on “Sad But True”; Trujillo’s deliberate stance as he delivered an effects-laden bass solo; and Ulrich, making those nifty drum fills and double bass drum assault look so easy.
The band hopscotched through its musical inventory, revisiting 1984 with “Creeping Death,” “Fade to Black” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” a cruncher anchored by Trujillo’s bass as he and Hammett chased each other across the stage like a couple of matadors in a musical bull fight.
Their monster self-titled 1991 album (aka “The Black Album”) also received a deserved spotlight with selections including “Wherever I May Roam,” eternal crowd-pleasers “Nothing Else Matters” and “Enter Sandman” and the relative quiet of “The Unforgiven.”
That song epitomizes the longevity of this band because Metallica was not built on loudness alone. The haunting strains of “The Unforgiven” underscore their dexterity with a melody; Hetfield’s voice even hit some pretty notes on “Now That We’re Dead.”
But, of course, the volume is what makes Metallica one of the most revered hard rock bands in music history and they definitely didn’t disappoint anyone seeking a holy inferno of metal awesomeness.
Fire raced across a track on the stage as Hammett spit a nasty riff on “Moth Into Flame,” a song with a groove that affectionately recalls ‘80s-era Sunset Strip sleaze, while the middle of “Now That We’re Dead” featured the quartet in a semi-circle onstage, all pounding giant drums (a bit sloppily, considering they’ve been doing this bit for months).
The pyro that accompanied “Creeping Death” literally sizzled as it erupted, but the unequivocal musical and visual highlight of the set centered on “One.” Lasers and flash pots ushered in the 1988 classic as eerie video of shadowy soldiers rolled across the video screens. Hammett’s guitar rang clearly through the stadium as the song wound to its climax of machine gun drumming, with white lights flashing and skeletons dancing on screen.
Even if Metallica’s brand of molten rock isn’t your thing, it’s impossible not to be impressed by their tremendous technical precision. These guys clearly aren’t planning to tiptoe into retirement any time soon, so why not hang on for the ride?
Sharing the bill on this leg of the “WorldWired” tour, which is slated to span the globe into 2018, are California’s Avenged Sevenfold and Danish quartet Volbeat.
A7X arrived onstage to the locomotive double bass drumming of Brooks Wackerman and fleet-fingered riffing of guitarist Synyster Gates as the band burst into the title track of their 2016 album, “The Stage.”
While it was nearly impossible to hear singer M. Shadows over the musical thrashing behind him during “Afterlife,” the mix cleared for “Hail to the King,” which he dedicated to the Atlanta Braves.
A continuous stage stalker who made good use of the sprawling space, Shadows unleashed plenty of hoarse yells as the band raged behind him on songs including “Almost Easy” and “Bat Country.”
These guys are headliners in their own right – evidenced by the nearly full stadium during their performance – but what band would pass up the opportunity to open for Metallica?
Volbeat also offered a robust set of melodic metal featuring serrated guitars on songs “The Devil’s Bleeding Crown” and “Seal the Deal.”
Frontman Michael Poulsen is a friendly chap who chatted frequently with fans and expressed his gratitude toward Metallica. The band rewarded early arrivers with meaty renditions of “Sad Man’s Tongue” (including an impressive snippet of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire”) and “Still Counting.”