Metallica shake the castle walls at Slane

It’s not the journey, but finally arriving at your destination that matters at a Slane gig.

Busses offloading their cargo - the gothic crowd spilling into the natural amphitheatre outside the castle walls like an invading army.

As the skies darkened, the Metallica stage glowed, more like the engine of a crashed spaceship that a theatrical platform. And when James Hetfield and his band hit the ignition switch, the 75,000-strong crowd was lost in the deafening rumble of lift off and exhaust flames.

This year Slane was all about that beautiful heavy metal noise - aggressive, strong repeated rhythms and distorted high register guitar solos.

The anti-establishment lyrics and general frenetic craziness of it was very appealing to me in my teens. I last saw Metallica live 22 years ago in a stadium outside San Francisco. I was struck then by the virtuosity of their playing. Like U2, they could unplug and the songs seemed to lose nothing in the absence of amplification.

Check out their cover of Ennio Morricone’s ‘The Ecstasy of Gold’ to get an appreciation of the sensibility and musicianship of this band.

Dublin band Fangclub opened the show shortly after 3pm, their catchy tune ‘Bullet Head’ is still running around mine. Followed by ‘Bokassa’ categorised as Norwegian stoner punks. Stiff Little Fingers - still on the go since 1977 - owned the stage as the crowds steadily grew.

The huge stage screens flickered on for Ghost - the headline warm-up. A Swedish occultist band consisting of eight costumed members, their performance was more like a rigorous unholy ritual, rippling with decadent pageantry and provocation.

The screens helped, the audience all the way up the hill were stunned into appreciation, mosh pits broke out sporadically. Always a good sign.

Metallica, have over 38 years, chiselled out their very own extreme subgenre from the ferrous edifice of heavy metal. By upping the aggression and the tempo of the drumming and repetitive abrasive low register cords, they invented a new stable launching pad for ripping guitar solos and vocals, so distinctive that ‘Trash’ Metal was born.

Truth be told, I feel spiritually indebted to Metallica for sharing with me, and everyone else, their movie ‘Some Kind of Monster’ in 2004. The happiness that, car crash, fly on the wall, masterpiece gifted me, lingers to this day.

However, all this talk of aggression is misleading, on stage the band is a warm and gracious host - the music an energy release valve for millions. That softer image is also visible off stage with Metallica conscientious sponsors of the www.allwithinmyhands.org charity organization.

Hard and soft too musically - from jamming sessions with symphony orchestras, tender ballads to iconic hardcore rock.

Armed with all this sonic texture, they take the audience on a skillfully paced audio and emotional journey - shaking the castle walls one minute and lulling the sentries to sleep the next.

Throughout, James Hetfield snarled and roared, talking with the audience between and during songs, building a rapport that leads to a union between audience and stage.

He is an impossible guy not to like. Gardai, young and old, male and female bobbing heads and shouting along - one Metallica family.

It was an invigorating power surge of a performance, pyrotechnics, video mixing, laser beams and very loud rock.

Metallica, with the sign of the horns, we salute you.

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