Moments before Metallica took the darkened stage, the sound of a heartbeat, deep and thumping, pulsated throughout the TD Banknorth Garden last night. Then a murky, sinister guitar line rippled out of the speakers before exploding in synch with a web of darting green laser beams.
That heartbeat is how the band's new album starts, with the song "That Was Just Your Life," and it was a fitting forecast of what awaited: more than two hours of thrilling, cathartic metal complete with pyrotechnics, masterful showmanship, and, yes, heart and soul at the relentless music's core.
Riding high from last week's news that the band was voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Metallica sold out the 18,000-seat Garden. The deafening screams - for "Enter Sandman," "Seek and Destroy," and one woman's undying love for drummer Lars Ulrich - were the kind you usually hear when the Bruins and Celtics play here.
Metallica is touring behind "Death Magnetic," an album that has returned the band to its leaner, thrashing roots. But fan favorites, not to mention generational anthems, were also given their due. "Sandman," "Nothing Else Matters," and "One" no doubt took many, including this critic, back to their childhood.
Proof that the band still picks up new fans, singer and guitarist James Hetfield addressed a young man at the edge of the stage and marveled that he was 13 and in the front row of a Metallica concert. "You got some cool parents," Hetfield said and made sure the teen got the guitar pick he had tossed him earlier.
Working the massive stage that was placed in the center of the Garden, for a clever surround-sound experience, each band member roved to a different section, with Ulrich's kit making quarter-turns. Robert Trujillo, his bass slung low, stalked about as if wading through a swamp. The spotlight narrowed on lead guitarist Kirk Hammett every time he launched into a dizzying solo that prompted countless men to unleash their inner (air) guitar hero.
The spectacle wasn't just limited to the music. Stage lights blared from giant, coffin-shaped fixtures overhead, a salute to the cover of "Death Magnetic," and inflated balls emblazoned with "Metallica" rained down on the audience during the closing "Seek and Destroy."
The night began with two openers that represented polar opposites of metal's spectrum. Machine Head played almost comically self-aware metal, from lead singer Robb Flynn's screeching squall to his insistence that, "We want to see everybody in here head-banging like it was 1986."
Meanwhile, the Sword offered clean, straight-ahead metal reminiscent of early Black Sabbath. It gave the crowd something Metallica could not: the sight of three young men thrusting their shoulder-length hair in unison.