Metallica win by a knockout in Round 2 at Download

Metallica make history with their second headline slot of the Download 2023 weekend

As AC/DC’s ‘It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)\ fades out and Ennio Morricone’s ‘The Ecstasy of Gold’ rings in, Donnington Park knows what time it is.

Making their second headline appearance of the weekend, Metallica are back for round two, with the promise of no repeat songs from Thursday’s mammoth career-spanning set. Bounding out onto the stage, the thrash legends swiftly tear into a ripping tour debut of 1983 track ‘Whiplash’ before the opening notes of ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’ reverberate through the field. A roar cuts the crowd as the bassline echoes in unison with Lars Ulrich’s thunderous drums, a sea of voices merging with James Hetfield’s commanding vocals. 

Transitioning seamlessly into the lightning-fast riffage of ‘Ride The Lightning’, the famed Snake Pit stage setup is in full swing for lucky pass holders, with the band utilising the Apex Stage’s six towered screens to display stunning visuals and live footage. Ensuring everyone from front to back is part of the action, the energy is palpable, with tens of thousands thrashing and headbanging in unison to Kirk Hammett’s scorching guitar solos. 

Pulling together two unique setlists to impress a sold-out festival crowd would be a mammoth test for most bands, but Metallica make it seem like a breeze. Showcasing tracks from their newly released album, 72 Seasons, its brooding title track and the ferocious ‘You Must Burn!’ get the most favourable response of the night.

“It’s crazy out there!” Hetfield yells after an electrified performance of ‘Master Of Puppets’ hit ‘Welcome Home (Sanitarium)’, “The fans at Download are intense! Well, some of you are in tents, some of you are in campervans, right?” Laughing at his joke as a groan echoes through the crowd, the frontman shrugs off the response and leads his band through the intricate instrumental passages of ‘The Call Of Ktulu’, for which the frontman dons a guitar with a giant squid plastered across its body.

With the emotionally charged ‘The Unforgiven’ and ‘Wherever I May Roam’ bringing some of the biggest singalongs of the night, Hetfield pauses once more to address the audience. “We’ve played two nights here this weekend, but this is our tenth time here, which is fabulous,” he smiles. “This one is dedicated to everybody who has ever played here and everyone who comes here to celebrate live music and get their charge out of heavy metal!”

As the opening riff of ‘Moth Into Flame’ sets the crowd alight, the band barrel into a series of classic hits with unparalleled ferocity. Reaching new heights of intensity, ‘Battery’ is a tour de force of speed and aggression with its blistering guitar solos, igniting mosh pits and sending shockwaves of energy throughout the crowd before the band’s cover of ‘Whiskey In The Jar’ sparks a joyous singalong.

With the night drawing to a close, screens around the stage cut to visuals of war as the sounds of explosions ring out and pyro blazes. A thunderous rendition of the anthemic ‘One’ follows, before the night concludes with the quintessential ‘Enter Sandman’. With the crowd erupting into a unified roar, singing along with every word, it’s a triumphant culmination of an incredible weekend dominated by The Four Hoursemen, and one that signals their enduring legacy. A band which unites heavy music fans of all kinds, there’s something uniquely special about the community spirit conjured up within the hour and a half they spend onstage, and as fireworks light up the sky to close out the evening, Hetfield says it better than anyone – “We are Metallica, and so are you.”

Earlybird tickets for Download 2024 are on sale now here.

Photo credit: Marie Ladisch