You can criticise Metallica all you want, get angry at them for making Load/Reload and Lulu, watch in plain disbelief that Lars Ulrich is sad that he has to sell his paintings for millions, but one thing that you can’t dispute is their willingness to push the boundary. Who else would think of making an 18 million-dollar concert film named Metallica Through the Never with an interwoven storyline but the Bay Area thrashers?
Directed by Nimrod Antal, the concert film consists of Metallica playing live at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta and Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia (although the opening scene shows BC Place Arena for some reason) interspersed with a parallel storyline. Young roadie Trip is sent on an urgent errand to deliver fuel to a stranded truck and recover a bag that is important to the band. The band meanwhile starts off the concert with “The Ecstasy of Gold”. Trip is seen taking a pill before setting off, leaving the viewers to wonder whether the events of the rest of the movie are real or the result of a psychedelic dream (colloquially known as a trip incidentally). The rest of the movie shows Trip’s trip (pun intended) as the band continues performing their songs at the concert. He encounters some surreal happenings, rioters, possibly one of the four horsemen and eventually battles through it all to retrieve the bag. Frustratingly, it is never shown what the bag holds, leaving you slightly dissatisfied and miffed by the end.
Musically, Metallica are extremely tight throughout the concert(s). Recent years have seen them lose some of their anger and ferociousness but they blaze through their set here. Surprisingly, the songs where they do stumble a bit are the slow ballad “Nothing Else Matters” and the clean section in “One.” James Hetfield has lost the snarl in his voice and sings more from heart rather than by sticking to the notes. His rhythm playing is absolutely spot on. Kirk Hammett nails the solos and the only thing missing is some of the extended solos that he has played live recently. I have never been a fan of Lars Ulrich’s drumming but he keeps up with the band admirably. The real star however is bassist Robert Trujillo. He is an absolute beast on stage and thankfully the bass is turned up in the mix so that you can hear him showing his skills. His bass playing is driving and very tight and he offers the band something that they have missed since the untimely death of Cliff Burton. The highlights of the show are “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “Enter Sandman” and “Battery.”
The stage production in the concert is extravagant to say the least. The whole floor of the stage is covered in screens which show various graphics throughout the show. The smokes and pyrotechnics are limited but well done. There are 4 Tesla coils surrounding an electric chair, all of which hangs in the air surrounded by a perimeter of coffins with screens. The whole show is well executed from the start, including an impromptu installation of the blindfolded Lady Justice. Metallica come off as true rockstars with this lavishly produced stage show and their ability to back it up musically. There comes a point in the story when their electronics malfunction but the band decides to go the old school way and plug in their guitars directly to the amps and perform. It is equal parts cheesy and commendable. The concerts must have been a spectacle to everybody who was fortunate enough to attend them.
The movie part of the concert is not the strongest aspect of the film. The film has been directed and edited very well and there are no dialogues in it, except for a manager speaking 2 lines to Trip. The VFX is realistic enough and the story scenes have been shot beautifully. Credit must go to director Nimrod Antal for having a vision and executing it perfectly. However, the scenes seem to be slightly arbitrary as sometimes they are forced to adapt to the songs that the band plays. As mentioned earlier, the ending leaves you slightly disappointed, although the band has said that that leaves the door open for potentially more movies in the future.
The band relies on their natural charisma and playing ability to deliver a brilliant concert, rather than relying on gimmicks. Metallica Through the Never may be an indulgent project by the members of Metallica, but it is a thoroughly enjoyable one. The performances are good, the production is great, and the storyline has enough weirdness in it to maintain your attention. The film may not have done very well in theatres, but is a must watch for Metallica fans.