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The Final Word | Thursday, 23 November 2017
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METALLICA / KVERLERTAK - London o2 Arena 24 Oct 2017   Print  E-mail 
Written by Graham Reed  
Tuesday, 14 November 2017


Are You Alive? Are Your ready for the whole gamut of endless Metalli-cliches?Are you ready for James (sorry, JAYMZ) Hetfield's endless references to the "Metallica Family"? The Patented Lars Leap? A bass player who stomps around like he is sitting on an invisible chair that keeps on being pulled out from behind him? Then..Welcome Home !

On the other hand, if you are from Norway - You are a long LONG way from home. Also, you are probably in the support band. Straight Outta Stvanger,Kverlertak are many things - Norwegian, and extremely surprising. From their name, and typefaces, you might expect your standard issue dull as dishwater black metal band. Nope, Thats not Kverlertak. Instead you get a tight, compact, ultra refined 40 minute set of solid, if unexceptional, Rock n' Roll. Though it is best described as Shock N' Roll - the influences are a myriad of rather unexpected sources,

At times, its Husker Du, at times it is pure Pop-Punk - and at other times, it is nothing more than full on gorno-metal. At some points it is straight ahead, balls to the wall metal - and then, two minutes later it is little more than a punk-metal cross over, hich seems to be a particularly Scandi-metal trait.. Whilst most of the songs sounds the same, it is also hugely entertaining. I can't sell the songs apart, but this is because the band are so ultratight they seemingly play one long 40 minute song, merging from one song to another seemlessly. In fact, at one pooint there is a half second gap between songs, and that is as long as it ever gets. Despite the often metallic screaming of their tattooed, bearded, barechested vocalist Erlend Hjelvik who (from this distance) looks like Aquaman but more - .just more everything, really - and then strolls around brandishing the band's logo as a flag.Whilst simultaneously sound like a cross between Neil Fallon of clutch and Donald Duck.

Slick precise, tight and firing on all cylinders, Kverlertak go down a storm - for the first five rows of the standing area, anyway. Anything behind that, and the effect are severly diminished - devoid of video screens, with a minimal light show, Kverlertak instead seems to wash over the audience and , whilst obviously very good at what they do, its just that what they do seems derivative and unoriginal. In a far smaller club environment, they would absolute slay the room. But in the largest arena in Europe, both their personality, sound, precision and individuality are swept aside for being just a exceptionally competant band in an arena that dwarfs them.

Metallica, on the other hand. seem to dwarf the arena. They are old hands at this arena / stadium rock thing - the last time they toured in theatres was three decades ago. Ever since then they've been in arenas, and then stadiums. And now the stadiums seem too small most of the time. Its been a long time since Metallica have been indoors in the UK - in the past 21 years, they've only done one arena tour of the UK , in 2009, so seeing them anywhere smaller than a muddy field in Hertfordshire is a rare treat. Lets face it - with 9 outdoor or stadium shows since the last album came out, it is pretty certain that every bloody summer they turn up somewhere without a roof ; they have for 7 out the previous 10 years, having headined Knebworth 3 times alone, and Donington 3 times too.

This tour also sees them attempting to "reinvent" the arena rock show, though not as radically as U2's attempt to place the stage sideways. Like before, the stage set is placed middle and centre of the arena - reducing the space betwen the band and the fan at the back. Similarly, this liberates vast quantities of seats to be made available and sold on, increasing profit. So its a win / win.So much so that tonight, Metallica break the all time attendance record for the o2 arena - a record they themselves set two days earlier.

Like the last time they toured indoors, tonight is in support of their new album. In this case, the no sellout, hard and fast "Hardwired... to Self Destruct". The album itself shows little evolution, but a lot in terms of refinement - of gradually getting better and better at sounding how they think they used to. It is also a backwards step, a step away from the hard rock megastar formula you saw in "load" and "Reload" to a more modern, There's little room for subtlety, and a lot of room for bludgeon, riffs, and bludgeonous riffing. But once the lights go down and the traditional Intro tape (complete with digitally added, fake VHS drop out) of "The Ectascy of Gold" pipes up, you need to know one thing.

Warning: There will be air guitar.

The opening twenty, twenty five minutes is a blast of fast, heavy numbers, that sees Metallica , and also a rewriting of the traditional setlist predictability tonight. The opening one-two double suckerpunch of new songs is almost an equal to the killer opening of "That was your life" / "The End of The Line" in 2009. The material that seemed savage but occasionally flat on the new record comes alive. As alive as it can be. As alive as any of us are, in a arena of metal moshing madness. The opening "Hardwired" is uncompromising, and absolutely resolutely not designed to be a radio-friendly hit single, all stacatto beats and big atonal hooks. Their "big" comeback single? Its' over and done in 192 seconds - their shortest song in decades. And It has the chorus of "We're SO Fucked".

So much for the mainstream, then.

"Atlas Rise", So Far So Good, SO VERY Metal . Metallica may not have that many mainstream "hits" (and certainly not from the last couple of albums, where the tracklengths have often nudged those of Prog-rock keyboard solos), but "Atlas Rise" shows that the title track isn't a one off - riffs the size of houses, and almost as good as their classic material. Almost. It also almost makes you think waiting 8 years between albums isn't a band thing if they come up with songs this good every time.

For a long time, a game of "guess what comes next" has been getting increasingly predictable. But not tonight. - For next is something that the band have used, for seemingly eons, as their set closer - the major-key yodelling singalong that is the thrashterpiece (TM) entitled "Seek And Destroy". . Tonight it is rotated to song 3. Not song 23. And thats a good thing. It breaks the mould. A mould long needed to be broken. Not to mention the rarely played "Leper Messiah" that follows it - or that it is followed by the now-rotated out into once a month rarity status of "Fade to Black". Oh good lord yes - "Fade To Black" is not just a classic, but pretty much the invention of the power-ballad. Yes, that influential. Not many bands can claim to have invented an entire genre - Metallica invented two (Power ballads, and Thrash metal). And pretty much on the same album to boot.

Tonight sees Metallica not just reinventing themselve,s but reinventing how to present the arena rock show. Unlike the traditional set up, everything here is up for grabs. The light show is nothing as barren as a set of lights - it is a collection of 48 video screen cubes suspended over the band, each side a separate video screen. U2 might have the biggest video screen in the world (at 200ft) - but they only have one. Metallica have the most. And its not that they stay static either - suspended from the the ceiling as they are, they MOVE. Its an entirely dynamic, movable stage. You never ever know where they will be from one moment to next - and with full screen, hi def colour projection. Sometimes it is specially shot footage for a song (ie the lamentable and dull jingostic pro-war plod that is "Confusion" ; a song so tediously dull it makes "2x4" sound like "Battery".), sometimes it is live footage , sometimes footage from the past and scanned memorabilia. And thats not where the stage show ends - Later on, there is a song that includes drones in the stage show. DRONES.

It's not just that though, that surprises. Drum Solo? OK, so Lars isn't known for his drum solos... but what about four drum solos'? With ALL four members of the band playing drums. During "Now We're Dead".Every member of the band having a massive drum duel kind of thing. And it works, not just in the context of the song, but is still captivating.

Its' about this point though, that things go a little downhill. If any of you have seen Metallica - not neccessarily live, but on one of their multitude of concert DVDs (of which there were FIVE since the last studio album came out "Death Magnetic" and subsequent tour) - you'll hear the same old tired cliche stage raps. Old. Worn out.

"are you feeling ALIVE out there?"

yes, Jaymz. We are. Unless all 22,221 people in the building have simultaneously had a horror-movie style simultaneous end-of-life experience - we are. ALL. quite possibly. STILL ALIVE.

By the way, I've already copyrighed this for the plot of Final Destination 6. Well - Final Destination 666, that is.

*clicks stopwatch*

Ah, only 26 minutes before the first of the "are you alive?" stage raps.Practically a world record. Short of listening to all of the 400 or so official live albums released since 2004, I can't be sure, but this is probably the longest Jaymz has ever gone without asking if his audience has had a massive, unexpected sudden death experience. Surely this comes after the massive "die die" chant In Creeping DEATH, right? Well, obviously not.

Jaymz (TM) does this so often, I have to say, I'm not sure how Jaymz copes when not on tour. Does he wake up every 26 minutes from his deep REM Sleep and shout "DO you feel alive?" at himself in the mirror before going back to bed? Does he set an alarm? Perhaps Big Mick, the sound engineer, feeds into his in-ear monitors a click track that prompts him. "Alive stage rap, James 1-2, 1-2-3-4"

I hope I never find out to be honest.

Anyway setlist junkies - Its' time for a new song. Another new song. 9 songs in, and five of them are from the new album. "Halo On Fire".. Sadly, one of the worse tracks off the new album. But it is in its predictable setlist space.But at least its better than the meaningless plod that is "Confusion"

It is about this point where I start to get a little weary and start wondering if the phrase "This is a song off the new album" really is code for "toilet break and a pint". (The answer is, yes. It is)

The solo part of the set is unique and different every night - usually tailored to tribute to local bands which have influenced Metallica. Which means a very unexpected "Phantom of The Opera" (from Iron Maiden - and for those of you with long memories, Lucozade is not available within the venue) and Motorhead's "Ace of Spades". .Both are not just unexpected. but also specially learned for the night. And then its the bass solo.

Now, we're English. Remember that, because we don't get scared at gigs until we hear the words "Bass solo".

But then if I were to say "Cliff Burton", you might change your mind. And we get a rare rendition of his piece "Anathesia", which practically rewrote the book on what you can do with a bass solo ; much like Jaco Pastorius, but with a distortion pedal and a love of the Misfits. Rob Trujillo's tribute to Cliff is not just heartfelt, but honest.

Now, the next two songs - they take the roof off. "Last Caress" (for only the second time since 2013), is not just a long retired one-time staple, it is also short, sweet and over in 91 seconds.

But half a second later, comes the one time staple, one time predictable, now a rarity but always, ALWAYS guaranteed to made the crowd go into overdive...The response of the crowd is instant, immediate, and elated.

Creeping. Death.

It is impossible to underestimate how loved this song is by Metallica fans. Its like going to see Kylie and not hearing "Can't Get You Out of My Head". Its a metal masterpiece. thrashterpiece.And down the pit, there's people thrashing themselves into a fury, moshing. It is, after all, The riff that invented thrash metal. And thats not where it ends. Thats where it begins. And then it goes into the chant along bit.The one that every fan knows. The one that happens everytime. When twenty two thousand, two hundred and twenty one voice (including my own) shout out the chorus. The one word chorus.

And you know what? Now we *DO* feel alive. Its' been twenty five years since I last saw Metallica sing this. It lasts eight long minutes, and it is all too short. The mood in the entire building - from the floor to the roof - lifts.

The rest of the set shows, one song excepted, a rather predictable setlist. "Moth Into Flame" is a song which is played live seeming for the sole purpose of showing off drones being used as part of the lighting rig, circling over the band. The highlight of that is quite simple and unexpected - when one drone goes rogue, and flies off into the fans before crashing into the crowd. It is a rare moment of the slickness of the show falling apart - and oddly endearing as such

And We all know we are going to get "One" and then "Master Of Puppets". Still - both of which are absolute classics, but they get played in the same position, every bloody time. It makes it predictable. Stock. .

Almost as predictable as the number times Jaymz mentioned all the "Members of the Metallica Family in the house tonight!". Both me and my gig buddy have seen enough Metallica live DVDs to know that jaymz saying that is inevitable.

*clicks stopwatch*.

By the way, The same stage rap about the Metallica Family gets recycled three times. It is almost as predictable as the unavoidable, patented Larz Leap (TM), when he jumps off his drum stool at the end of every song and then stalks around the stage like the frontman he always saw himself as. He's not.

As for inevitable - you know what the encore is going to involve - the same two ending songs they have used for well over a decade. The dull, tedious, uninteresting but inexplicably mega-hit "Nothing Else Matters", and the all too drearily predictable "Enter Sandman". Two songs I could quite happily never see live again. Even if they both go down gangbusters.Its' moments like this,whet the mass euphoria of 22,000 souls in unison go off as one, that makes their hug success suddenly explicable.

But nope, the highlight of the last twenty minutes is the song that opens the encore. The live debut of "Spit Out The Bone", a balls to the wall, lightning fast fury of razor sharp riffs and guitars. This is the Metallica we've missed in the nineties when they went all slow stadium sludge. Not many bands can say they got heavier as they got older, but Metallica are one of the few.It shows all the fire sadly missing from the last two songs of the gig otherwise. Especially as the curfew was eleven oclock... and that hour has already passed by the time "Spit Out the bone" starts.With two more songs after that to go. The less said about "Nothing else Matters" and "Enter Sandman" , the better. you've heard them each a thousand times and know them inside out.

Twenty five minutes after eleven, and there's a tube somewhere with my name on it, and a twnety minute walk to the coach station and then a four hour journey by road because I won't be walking through my front door until it is gone five in the morning. Gigs like this make it all worth it

Yet even when they are on autopilot, it seems like Metallica deliver.The show is slick, vast, and unpredictable in its staging - with a constantly moving stage display - lasers, pyro, and drones. There's little doubting that it is a highly impressive, slick, utlra-tight band hard at work, and a stunningly precise show. And when it clicks - like it does with the opening salvo of songs, like it does during "Last Caress" and "Creeping Death" the band feel energized like they truly haven't in years.Many lesser bands have fallen by the wayside, lost in alcohol middle age or drugs or infighting. But despite their attempts to keep relevant with innovative staging, the air of staleness creeps in everytime an old classic is brought out seemingly perfunctatorily, or yet another stage rap is predictably recycled. The new material shows a savage bite - unlike many of their contemporaries now doggedly ploughing on with a new album of midpaced songs every other year. it seems the band only truly comes alive during the newer, faster material. Even if, sadly,. some of that new material (the utterly unexceptional "Confusion", which is a fast contender for the worst Metallica song since "Fixxxer") drags.And on the way out, I'm reminded of heard that old joke - The One that asks A:"Why did the chicken cross the road?" A:"Because A Metal fan will buy any old shit with a skull on it". Well, Take a look at the merch stall, and tell me it ain't true. Because it is.....

Legends they might be, 36 years into their career they might be - but they are still going full throttle, full out, no half measures. Metallica? are a finely tuned, finely oiled machine running, able to knock it out of park. Throw all the plaudits you have - they still deliver. anmd then some. If you get the chance - don't miss it. For all their flaws - the setlists are sometimes predictable, as are the stage raps - . and occasional lapses into less than brilliance and inconsistentency, Metallica will rock your socks off. Unmissable.

Setlists: Kervlatak: Åpenbaring - Bruane Brenn - Mjød - 1985 - Berserkr - Evig Vandrar -Ulvetid - Blodtørst - Månelyst -Kvelertak

Metallica: The Ectascy of Gold - Hardwired - Atlas Rise! - Seek And Destroy- Leper Messiah - Fade To Black - Now We're Dead - For Whome The Bell Tolls... - Confusion - Halo On Fire - Solos: Phantom Of The Opera / Ace of Spades / Bass Solo (Aneathesia ) - Last Caress - Creeping Death - Moth Into Flame - One - Master Of Puppets

Encore:Spit Out The Bone - Nothing Else Matters - Enter Sandman / Frayed Ends Of Sanity (Outro)

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