Aftermath: Metallica at Toyota Center

Photos by Craig Hlavaty / Click here for more

Fandom is a funny thing. It can make the stodgiest businessman a KISS makeup wearing teenager from 1975. It can turn your Mom into a wannabe groupie when she gets a little too close to Steven Tyler. You yourself may wake up one tragic morn and grasp that you have seven different Pantera shirts which you alternate on Tuesdays, but never on Wednesdays because that was the day of the week that Dimebag was shot. And all of this is not for naught. Fandom keeps us young at heart and keeps that sense of awe always renewed.

Abandon all hope ye who enter here, expecting a review trashing Metallica.

As Aftermath walked into Toyota Center, there was a palpable radiation of fan. People would walk down the sidewalk in a group and suddenly scream Metallica! apropos of not one damn thing. Metal geezers were seen trudging in for the tenth one of these, wearing the shirt they picked up on the ...And Justice for All Tour. Then there were the eight-year olds with proud fathers, in a scene that would no doubt be held right up there with their first fishing trip and the day of The Talk. The glammed-out groupies huddled in corners, chain-smoking and comparing black leather stiletto-heeled boots and waiting for that mythical arm to take them to some far-flung backstage destination.

I began the show in the photo pit, waiting to put the new fancy rent-money-draining Nikon to good use. The venue floor was almost all taken up by a rectangular stage, with a good dozen or some mikes set up in strategic areas for the guys to jump on when needed. Lars Ulrich's drum set was placed directly in the middle on a sort of lazy-susan turntable.

This set up allowed every one in the crowd to have at least a good few songs in the presence of a Hetfield, a Trujillo, or a Kirk Hammett. It makes the average fan feel part of something, not a nuisance to be held at bay by a stage and six barriers.

The band comes onstage to the strains of some epic orchestral piece, the kind of thing you hear in a gladiator movie. They launch directly into the lead tracks from the new Death Magnetic, "That Was Just Your Life" and "The End of the Line." This makes for a 15-minute long manic jam of jangled nerves and sweat. "For Whom the Bell Tolls" comes on like a veritable freight train, knocking flat anyone who sat arms crossed in petulant indifference during the two new songs.

Bassist Rob Trujillo stays close to Ulrich's kit, seemingly having their own private session. They chase bass lines with drum fills like a bunch of jazz dudes. Four large metal coffins descend down from the rafters to bring on more lighting, mimicking the coffin-motif on the new album artwork. As "One" barrels in after "Wherever I May Roam" were blasted by a pyrotechnic blaze that warms all our faces. "One" almost sounds stately all these years on, and the band plays it with abject servitude to the riff and rumbles that it deserves.

All these classic tracks mesh well with the new material, very good and rare thing. Nothing is heard off St. Anger or Load. Those albums were jerked and prodded in the studio until they lost any semblance of what Metallica should rightfully own. If Pulp Fiction was John Travolta's comeback role, I honestly don't see how Magnetic can't be theirs.

A bearded James Hetfield sings in his deepened crouch, looking like some sort of evil Amish minister raised by Hells Angels. Kirk Hammett looks as if the nineties never happened, with the only thing not surviving being a small bald spot on his crown. Ulrich may be a diminutive and cantankerous terror to some, but he is still laying down the gravel for all these songs three decades on. He's so agile that he could well do away with the pesky drum throne if not for his double-bass antics. Rob Trujillo comes on like a metalhead Tarzan who came from the rainforest to help invent skate thrash and to rawk you.

This is not the same bratty, existentially sad group from the doc Some Kind of Monster. "Sad But True" starts, and I look down and see that I am playing air guitar with a pen in one hand a tiny notebook in the other. This song is the one that every hack-ass Buckcherry or Shinedown wishes they could have recorded and spend countless hours trying to replicate the recipe we see tonight. During eight punishing of "Master of Puppets," I begin to think about all the sore necks that will be lining up at the St. Luke's ER after the final encore.

During the show, I keep seeing the whole band grinning like kids on a playground. At one point Ulrich and Hetfield are playing "Enter Sandman" inches away from one other, both gandering out at the throng before them in the way a parent gazes at a child. Its as if they have given birth to 19,000 of us black-shirted babies making devil-horns simultaneously.

Then I realize that maybe they are much bigger fans of us than we will ever be of them. But then they start in on "Seek and Destroy" and I bang all the wistfulness out of my head like stubborn ketchup out a bottle. It's a metal show after all, dude. - Craig Hlavaty

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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray