Hard rock legends Metallica treat fans in the UAE to a two-hour performance at the du Arena on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi on April 19, 2013. Image Credit: Abdul Rahman/Gulf News

It was the big night every die-hard metal fan was anticipating since it was announced at the beginning of the year. And finally, Metallica made its welcome return to the UAE this weekend. The US foursome — frontman James Hetfield, guitarist Kirk Hammett, drummer Lars Ulrich and bassist Robert Trujillo — returned to du Arena, Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, on Friday following their sold-out gig at the same venue in October 2011. And let me tell you, it was definitely worth the wait.

Having only done five live shows in 2013 — all of which were in Australia — it was going to be interesting to see whether the quartet was going to use a similar set-list here, stick to the previous Abu Dhabi format, or change it up completely. After all, this is only Metallica’s second time in the UAE in 30-plus years, so it was hard to predict what direction they’d take.

The set-list did turn out to be a little different, with fans being treated to over two hours of music from six of Metallica’s albums. Opening with the powerful ‘Hit the Lights’, Hetfield and co blasted onto stage, whipping concertgoers into a frenzy. Following up with ‘Master of Puppets’ and ‘The Shortest Straw’, Hetfield then paused before ‘Harvester of Sorrow’ to greet the crowd: “Abu Dhabiiiiiiiiii!” You could really tell they were happy to be back.

One of the biggest surprises of the night — and perhaps the most appreciated — was the band playing ‘The Unforgiven’, since they had left it out in 2011, much to the disappointment of fans. So it was good to see the guys mix it up a little. Interestingly Metallica’s 18-track set-list didn’t include any songs from 1996’s ‘Load’, 1997’s ‘Reload’ or 2003’s ‘St. Anger’. While it would have been immense to have seen ‘Fuel’ and ‘The Memory Remains’ again, for example, it was really good to hear ‘Battery’, ‘Harvester of Sorrow’, and ‘Orion’.

With the concert taking place in an outdoor arena in April, there were concerns that the weather was going to be hot and uncomfortable for attendees, but fans were more than happy to bear the 30-odd degree Celsius temperature. Even Metallica were not immune to the UAE’s humidity — guitarist Hammett had to re-start the intro for ‘Nothing Else Matters’ after slipping on one of the strings.

“My hands are really sweaty,” he said to the crowd with an embarrassed smile, after he stopped and walked over to a microphone to explain. But no one minded; in fact, this so-called glitch probably received one of the biggest applause of the night, as it demonstrated that, at the end of the day, even one of the greatest guitarists of all time is human, and a rather endearing one at that.

If there’s one thing to be said about Metallica, it’s that these guys still rock harder than any other band that’s half their age. Hetfield is looking better than ever, they sound tight as a unit, and the fire is still definitely there. I have hopes that one day they will play a show where they will run through their singles catalogue – from 1983’s ‘Whiplash’ to 2009’s ‘Broken, Beat & Scarred’.

It was nearing the end of the show, and with an encore of ‘Creeping Death’, ‘Fight Fire with Fire’ and ‘Seek & Destroy’, it was time to bid farewell.

And with drummer Ulrich declaring that the Abu Dhabi crowd sounded “twice as loud as back in 2011”, here’s hoping that’s enough for the guys to make their third appearance in the UAE by 2015. And maybe then, they’ll come up with that singles set-list.