Metallica returns, does not suck

“You wanna see Metallica at the Fillmore? I got an extra ticket,” said my good buddy from 98 Rock.

“Uhhh … let me think [pause for one millisecond]. Yes!” I exclaimed, realizing this was an invitation no self-respecting metalhead could refuse.

After a lengthy hiatus from music, Metallica made a triumphant return with a sold-out, four-night stand at San Francisco’s hallowed Fillmore Auditorium. The only way to get tickets was through the band’s fan club, by winning tickets on the air or by having a friend who worked in the music business.

Although rumors had run amok that Metallica traded its earlier sound (along with its onetime long manes) during the ReLoad era, the band proved otherwise, returning with a renewed vigor along with a slew of old-school classics and some blazin’ new material.

St. Anger, the band’s first recorded output of all-new material in several years, will be released on June 10. Though Metallica’s longtime label, Elektra, is keeping the album securely under wraps so it won’t be booted all over the Internet, the band managed to slip a couple of new tunes—“Frantic” and “St. Anger”—into its mostly vintage set list.

From the opening song, “Battery,” to “Master of Puppets,” the title track of the band’s third album from 1986, Metallica showed no signs of slowing down the pace. Singer-guitarist James Hetfield and guitarist Kirk Hammett worked the crowd into a frenzy during “Ride the Lightning” with their rhythm-guitar onslaught, while new bassist Rob Trujillo (the ex-member of Ozzy Osbourne’s band and Infectious Grooves who replaces Jason Newsted) pushed drummer Lars Ulrich to new extremes.

This night’s set list, unlike the previous three nights, showcased the band’s speed-metal agility and musical dexterity. On such slower, more subdued moments as “One” and the intro to “Welcome Home (Sanitarium),” both fans and band could catch a quick breather before being cast headlong into the thrash-metal fray of the first encore, “No Remorse,” and the fan-favorite second encore, “Breadfan,” the latter an obscure Budgie cover.

Because these shows were dubbed “rehearsals,” errors and mistakes were commonplace, and fans were encouraged by Hetfield to tell each individual band member when he messed up. Even the encore, “Breadfan,” was forced to a false start three times because of “tuning” problems while Ulrich jokingly berated the band.

Unlike the upcoming “Summer Sanitarium 2003” stadium-tour package—which features Linkin Park, Deftones, Mudvayne and Limp Bizkit—planned for July and August, these shows gave some hard-core fans a chance to experience the band up close and personal.