Despite a relatively early start and The O2’s curiously persistent policy of massively understaffing all entrances at all times, Kvelertak take the stage at a prompt 7:20 to a healthy, if not overwhelming crowd, and are granted a modest welcome. With four guitarists and a roaming singer, the band are perfectly poised to take advantage of Metallica’s proclivity for playing in the round, but after assuming their positions, there is little movement during the 45-minute set, meaning most of the audience must pick a corner and settle for a single band member for the vast majority of the show. For MonkHammer, this equates to a whole lot of guitarist Bjarte Lund Rolland, who endears himself hugely by gurning cheerily throughout like the lovechild of Dewey Finn and the dude in Type-O Negative’s ‘I Don’t Wanna Be Me’ video. Although vocalist Erlend Hjelvik spends much of his time in front of the drumkit with bassist Marvin Nygaard, he does occasionally commit to a lap of the stage, but that calculated, messianic menace with which he commands clubs so well seems disconnected in such short bursts, and his presence comes across markedly less intense than usual. That said, Kvelertak are not the type to play half-measures, and a set culled largely from their first two albums hits the mark repeatedly, climaxing with a thunderous rendition of Manelyst that finally blows the cobwebs out of a slightly woolly PA, likely caused by the half-full arena. The band certainly have the tunes and the performing chops to slay a venue of this size, but their inability to work a stage of this kind robs tonight’s performance of its power, which is a shame because there is not a cylinder left to fire as the final notes of Kvelertak ring out. If the band can work out how to command a stage like this, they will be unstoppable.
Dominating a round stage is not a problem for the headliners, who are so at home in this format it’s a wonder they don’t have comfy chairs and a kettle up there with them. Appearing to the traditional tune of ‘Ecstasy of Gold’ a non-traditional 30 minutes late (due to some unspecified backstage drama if promoter Andy Copping’s Instagram is to be believed), the Four Horsemen launch straight into the first of the night’s seven songs from new album ‘Hardwired…To Self Destruct’, and proceed to do exactly what Metallica should do at this point in their career: play some hits, promote the new album, and offer a gigantic middle finger to anyone who dares call them a heritage act. As usual there is a structure to the set that allows for certain points to be opened up to surprises, and tonight’s elected deep cuts are arguably better than most, with fans treated to renditions of ‘Leper Messiah’, ‘Last Caress’, ‘Creeping Death’ and ‘Fade To Black’, the last of which is almost drowned out by the crowd, plus the frantic live debut of ‘Spit Out The Bone’ which delights a vast number of fans who have been calling out for it all evening. The new album fits surprisingly well into the set, perhaps better than ‘Death Magnetic’ did in 2009, although the all-band drum circle during ‘Now That We’re Dead’ was always going to be hard sell with a cynical British crowd, especially when the giant kettle drums seen on the U.S. stadium tour have been replaced by what look like Ikea storage boxes. Said boxes, however, form a large part of the show’s biggest success, namely the production. Hung high above the stage are several cubes which rise and fall throughout the show, screening the past, present and future of Metallica and tributes to Cliff Burton and London. On paper, and in photos, that maybe doesn’t sound all that great, but the reality is magnificently effective and at times as entertaining as watching the band itself as the cubes create weird and wonderful geometric patterns in the sky. Add to that a squadron of drones that float above the band during ‘Moth Into Flame’, making delicate formations like a tiny flock of radioactive starlings, and you’ve got yourself one of the most effortlessly cool stage shows in years.
Which brings us to the band, who are on absolute fire tonight, all four members putting in a perfect 10 performance. The success of the new album has clearly given them a boost, and although there are more grey hairs on stage than a Dame Vera Lynn convention and Kirk can be seen massaging his arm on occasion to get the blood flowing, the energy and dedication can’t be faulted. Taking full advantage of the tiny stage, which makes the show feel more intimate than your nan’s kitchen, the band are constantly on the move, playing to specific pockets of the crowd, swapping microphones and huddling round the drumkit with the passion of a unit half their age. To set an attendance record at The O2 in 2017 is no mean feat, to break your own record two days later is phenomenal, and based on tonight’s show, it is entirely justified. Before this tour started, the biggest talking point was the ticket prices. Now that it’s finished, we can only ask when it’s coming back.