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Metallica Go Full Circle at Second 40th-Anniversary Concert

The thrash pioneers even got a little sentimental as they took the San Francisco audience back to songs from their first-ever concert

Metallica perform on the second night of their 40th Anniversary Concert at the Chase Center on December 19, 2021 in San Francisco, California.

Chris Tuite for Rolling Stone

The energy bouncing around San Francisco’s Chase Center for Metallica’s second 40th anniversary concert felt electric even before the band took the stage Sunday night. The first concert on Friday was all about anticipation — how could the thrash-metal pioneers commemorate their legacy in a fresh, exciting way? Well, that night they played a career-spanning set list in chronological order, blending big hits (“One,” “Nothing Else Matters”) with deep cuts (“Trapped Under Ice,” “Fixxxer”). Now that the group’s fans knew what to expect, Sunday night’s concert was all about catharsis.

Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello captured what brought the audience together perfectly in a prerecorded video before the concert began. The band’s fans, he said, were “a worldwide community of nonconformity who came together from every corner of the world,” as Ennio Morricone’s “The Ecstasy of Gold” played underneath his voice. And true to his word, fans, who flew in to witness what the band had planned as a San Francisco “takeover,” held up flags for Mexico, Ukraine, Chile, and many other countries. “We are family, we are legion,” Morello said, “we are global, we are Metallica.”

Sunday night’s concert was a journey back in time, as the quartet played songs from each of their records in reverse chronological order beginning with 2016’s raging “Hardwired.” From the opening notes, something felt different as the audience, no longer trying to figure out what was happening, surrendered to the moment.

Looking around the arena, heads banged harder than usual, fists pumped lustily and voices trumpeted louder during the many sing-along moments. When the arena belted out Marianne Faithfull’s witchy refrain in “The Memory Remains” a cappella, frontman James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich took it all in and then hugged and smiled. “It’s taken us only 40 years to get right here,” Hetfield told the crowd after the jagged thrasher “End of the Line.” “And it still feels so, so, so good.”

After two rarely performed tracks (St. Anger’s “Dirty Window,” and that song you downloaded from Napster, “I Disappear”), the group pulled out a tune it had performed at its first-ever concert in 1982: a cover of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal band Diamond Head’s “Am I Evil?” At their first gig, they famously tried to pass the tune off coolly as a Metallica original, something they did until a roadie for another British band, Saxon, called them out for it. But on Sunday, the song was a celebration of Metallica’s legacy; 20,000 fans sang along to the tune they likely never would have known were it not for the group proselytizing Diamond Head’s music for 40 years.

From Rolling Stone US