What happened when Metallica headlined Download 2023… again!

They’re just showing off now: the biggest band in the history of heavy metal ensure their 10th appearance on Donington’s hallowed turf is a night none of us will ever forget…

What happened when Metallica headlined Download 2023… again!
Sam Law
Nat Wood

If Metallica's Thursday night masterclass on the main stage at Download 2023 felt like something of a steely surprise, Saturday's strident return comes loaded with far more of the weight of expectation. There will be no snatching victory from the jaws of traffic-chaos defeat here. No-one has the excuse to take it easy that they're skiving off work on a weeknight. And, although a simple process of elimination means tonight's setlist is inherently more predictable, they manage to keep a few surprises up their sleeves.

The first arrives straight out of the gate. Where logic and, momentarily, the artwork on their gargantuan video-screens, suggest that Set Two should begin with the concussive, time-tested ring of For Whom The Bell Tolls, they instead handbrake-turn into the classic, 100mph thrash madness of Whiplash. It's a pulse-quickening swerve that immediately spikes the adrenaline. Then the bells toll. After that? The emphatically high-voltage jolt of Ride The Lightning.

"Are you guys having fun?" teases frontman James Hetfield, with an increasingly practiced twinkle in his eye. "Well, knock it off, because this is supposed to be all about doom and gloom…"

A first UK run-out in decades for Load's moody, southern rock lead-single Until It Sleeps kinda meets that billing, but there's a far brighter sense of celebration as the title-track from new album 72 Seasons and its fist-pumping highlight If Darkness Had A Son tear through. Welcome Home (Sanitarium) ramps up the emotion. Then You Must Burn! proves that, with the volume cranked, San Francisco's Four Horsemen can still stomp it out with heavy music's very best.

Remarkably, this is Metallica's 10th time hammering into Donington's hallowed turf. It's a history that includes landmark showings like the gloriously ragged 1991 marathon, 2003's hotter-than-hell secret set, the 2004 Lars no-show and those unforgettable 20th anniversary run-throughs of Master Of Puppets and the Black album in 2006 and 2012 respectively. In truth, there's nothing as dramatic as that this evening. Instead, we get a procession of charmingly understated moments, like James puffing a cigar side-by-side with Lars as they power through instrumental epic The Call Of Ktulu, or the drummer inadvertently reducing a small child to tears as soon as she's hoisted onstage (James: "Oh, Lars makes all the girls cry…")

For anyone who's been paying attention this tour, the run-in doesn't surprise. Moth Into Flame is the other trigger to let loose pyro stacks impressive enough to require fire-marshalls lined up side-stage. Battery incites a barrage of bloody-knuckled pits. Their now-trademark cover of Whiskey In The Jar delights the legion of Irish in attendance just slightly more than their Great British compatriots. And One and Enter Sandman? Well, we all know that those uber-classics never disappoint.

We could complain. On the week of the 20th anniversary of the release of St Anger, even its harshest detractors would've hardly begrudged Lars getting out the old bin-lids for a smash (although Papa Het does joke about it as Lars replaces a drum). And dropping only two tracks from Kill ’Em All over both nights – one more than any other tour stop so far, in fairness – still feels unreasonably tight-fisted given 72 Seasons' retro theme.

Ultimately, though, this is a celebration of where Metallica stand in 2023, and their ability to keep mixing it with bands they've inspired, decades their junior. And, as the drumsticks, sweatbands and cups full of plectrums are doled out to an insatiable legion of the Metallica Family, it's obvious that none will be treasured quite as much as the God-tier riffs still ringing in their ears.

Read this: The big review: Download Festival 2023

Metallica’s M72 World Tour, live from AT&T Stadium in Arlington TX, comes to cinemas worldwide on August 18 and 20 via Trafalgar Releasing. Tickets on sale now at

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