Metallica, Sonisphere UK Main Stage, July 8 2011

The pressure is on.  For any headliner, on any main stage, at any festival, expectation levels on the first day are lifted to such a tier that any mere sniff of fear or complacency can potentially crumple a band into the abysmal abyss.

It’s a fine balancing act dominated by practice and charisma.  But try imagining three of your most competitive peers ruling the stage previously with the majority of your audience hungry for a finale that highlights the pinnacle of festival performances.

Welcome Metallica to the stage. 

It’s not like the odds were ever against them beforehand. After all, Metallica had the pyrotechnics, the camera angles on the big screen set up for them perfectly and enough time to blast through a wide selection of material.  But after Slayer’s incredible performance it would be difficult to not comprehend the possibility – no matter how small – that Metallica would fail to up the stakes.

The four-piece started their two hour-plus campaign with the usual theme from The Good, The Bad & The Ugly and followed with Hit The Lights before unleashing fan favourite Master Of Puppets – a conservative yet wise move. This epitomised Metallica’s set.  It was a performance punctuated with safe choices but when you have a discography that pierces many mainstream ears it’s simply about making the right choices.  Of course you weren’t going to hear any St Anger.

Seek And Destroy continued Metallica’s sentiment to involve as many people as possible with their easy singalongs as early as possible.  But the true gems of the set lay with Memory Remains for Hetfield’s sublime vocal fluctuations, Sad But True and the comparatively stunning For Whom The Bell Tolls.

Enter Sandman obviously turned the place upside-down, but it was the encore after this, that made a true emotional and musical impact.  Joined by Brian Tatler of Diamond Head and every member of the Big Four – including stand-ins Andreas Kisser and Exodus’ Gary Holt (who was playing earlier with Slayer) – the interlinked talents reunited.  Mustaine briefly embraced Hetfield with a hug and a forced grin before retiring to his own corner of the stage while they collectively performed Diamond Head’s Am I Evil? to cherish the occasion.  With quick roadies clearing the stage – and an even swifter applause for them –  Metallica finished their set with Battery and Creeping Death.

Despite all talk of competition, it was ultimately a community-type representation that epitomised the finality of the Big Four’s appearances, imprinting every name of each member into UK music history on the day – Friday 8 July 2011.

Calum Robson