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Concert review: Metallica in the UAE

Metallica crashed through three decades of material, testing Middle East's metal fans

  • Metallica concert in Abu Dhabi
    Kirk Hammett performs for the crowd on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.Image Credit: Abdel-Krim Kallouche/Gulf News
  • Metallica concert in Abu Dhabi
    The Yas Arena was packed on Tuesday as crowds of heavy metal fans gathered for the Metallica concert. Image Credit: Abdel-Krim Kallouche/Gulf News
  • Metallica concert in Abu Dhabi
    James Hetfield, during the Metallica concert on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.Image Credit: Abdel-Krim Kallouche/Gulf News
Gulf News

It is not an easy task to reduce a horde of sweaty, bearded heavy metal fans to tears, but I would wager that at the sight of James Hetfield, stood against a wall of speakers, cranking out the solo to Nothing Else Matters, there wasn't a dry eye in the house last night at the Yas Arena.

The gig was special, and not only because it was one of the greatest heavy metal bands in the world, at their best, playing a set that could have been forged in set-list heaven.

The songs grew in intensity as Metallica crashed through three decades of material, For Whom the Bell Tolls, the Memory Remains, One, Sad but True, Master of Puppets...

The show could have ended there, but, as if testing the Middle East's metal fans as to how far they could go, the songs kept coming.
Nothing Else Matters gave way to Enter Sandman, through to Seek and Destroy, a nod to the old school and a fitting closer. Early on, James Hetfield had promised old material and although a few new songs made their way into the set, Metallica delivered.

At which point a nod has to be given to Nervecell, who more than fulfilled in a support slot that has been occupied by some of the world's best metal acts over the past decades.

The band's brand of brutal death metal was delivered with a gravitas that proves they are much more than just a metal band from Dubai, but a solid group of musicians who play with as much passion and talent as their European or American peers in the scene.

It is a special time to be in the Middle East, a fact that certainly hadn't escaped either band. Nervecell were clearly emotional as they posed for photos against a sea of devil horns.

Metallica - who spent ten minutes distributing picks and drum sticks and doing their best to converse with the crowd - looked genuinely humbled as they left the stage.

"I want to celebrate the performance and embrace the power of the audience, and I want to be on stage and look at their faces and see their happiness," bassist Robert Trujillo told Gulf News. "And that's the most important thing, because it really moves us — the fans' happiness is the fuel to the show." 

It is a fitting coincidence that almost exactly 20 years before the show in Abu Dhabi - Metallica's first in the Middle East - the band played in Moscow, at the beginning of the opening up of the former Soviet Union and, reputedly, at the personal request of Russian leader Michael Gorbachev.

Metallica have come to Abu Dhabi at no less of an epochal moment for this region, and as the crowd dispersed and black band t-shirts mixed with Egyptian revolutionary flags, it was impossible not to feel that we had just been part of something very important.

Metal has always been here, from Saudi Arabia to Iran to Egypt, in privately hired halls, hidden away. Last night - for the first time - the Middle East metal scene was able to make some noise. Long may it last.