When Metallica hit the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday night, it wasn't just another date on the four head bangers' WorldWired tour. This sold-out event was the grand finale of Philly rock station WMMR's 50th anniversary, a months-long celebration that commenced with a Bon Jovi gig in the spring and a private alumni party at the Fillmore in September.
WMMR brought out former Saturday Night Live comedian Jim Breuer and held a screechy metal karaoke jam for the entire Wells Fargo crowd before welcoming Metallica to the stage.
Clad in black, filling their role as doom-trash metal avatars, singer-guitarist James Hetfield and company are better equipped for a speed metal funeral than a birthday party. Dig deep into the quartet's haunting, provocative sound, however — especially latter-day albums such as 2016's Hardwired… to Self-Destruct — and you find lustrous, subtle melodies that used the towering crush of volume and speed to build their complexly structured compositions. Their lyrics didn't remain solely in the dark vein of 1983's Kill 'Em All, with its ultraviolence and despair, either. Their thoughts are more nuanced, even if Hardwired is filled with images of revenge, murder, and savagery.
Entering to the heavenly sounds of Ennio Morricone's "The Ecstasy of Gold," Metallica immediately kicked into jackhammerers "Hardwired" and "Atlas, Rise!," both marked by low, growling vocals to match Hetfield's rhythms and driven by guitarist Kirk Hammett's swift, cutting leads. Hammett was the night's guiding light, as his inventive riffs and expressive leads lifted the slow, ringing "The Day That Never Comes" and "Now That We're Dead" beyond their buzz saw roots.
When they got to the rough, punkish "Seek & Destroy" from 1982's No Life 'Til Leather, Metallica dove into nostalgia. A set of floating cubes fell from the rafters with projections of vintage, black-and-white Metallica performances and photos of Philly memorabilia, such as ticket stubs from 1989 shows. Not long after this torrid track, they presented an ominous take on "Phantom Lord" — a rarity in the quartet's live canon — also from the same Leather album. A blistering version of 1985's "Master of Puppets" and bits of 1988's crushing "The Frayed Ends of Sanity" spliced onto an already spooky "Enter Sandman" brought the days of devil horns roaring back.
Not a band to traffic in saccharine reminiscence, these decades-old cuts signaled Metallica's merry-morbid way of paying tribute to old fans, and the smart FM stations (such as WMMR) that still play their records.