“We’ll never stop, we’ll never quit, 'cause we’re Metallica!”
Since the early ’80s, this has been Metallica’s rallying cry, and truly, no introduction is needed for a band whose severe guitarwork, melodic interludes, prolific lyrics and thrash pacing have made them pioneers in the heavy metal space. And for 40 years, Metallica’s fanbase has faithfully followed, bringing new generations into the fold; a testament to the band’s ability to resonate with fans through a brand of emotive music that creates excitement, camaraderie, solace and release.
During the 2023 tour, Metallica play a different setlist between the two weekend shows, but the band’s catalog can hardly be covered in that span of a collective six or so hours. The concert, from openers to end, is roughly 5 1/2 hours. As a result, this list is speculative and based on some of the band’s most popular and performed live songs.
The shows at State Farm Stadium are Friday and Sunday. Here's a guide to everything you need to know.
One of the classics from Metallica’s power ballad arsenal, there’s nothing quite like the twangs of acoustic guitar, gentle keyboards, mournful vocals and lyrical nod to Hetfield’s childhood, a story arc ranging from his parents’ stout Christianity, anger over his father’s departure, alienation and life’s regrets — the guitar solo gives all the feels. It’s fitting that “The Unforgiven” was inspired by the 1960 John Huston film of the same name; this song never fails to feel like you’re watching some epic movie scene take place, specifically in some scorched desert stand-off setting. What better place than Arizona to see that unfold on stage?
'For Whom the Bell Tolls'
The energy of “For Whom the Bell Tolls” takes on another level when you envision the inspiration from Hemingway’s 1940 book of the same name: The lyrics are influenced by the scene where Spanish-American War soldiers are gunned down on a hill. Combine that with it being an absolute proclamation of late bassist Cliff Burton’s talent, a quaking, grooving showcase that melts into a wah-wah pedal oblivion. It spurs visions of "Zombieland" and raucous NFL crowds — it just might be the Metallica song that brings forth the most air guitar, drums and fist-pumping.
'My Friend of Misery'
While this track was overshadowed by the ’91 album’s biggest hits, the fiery “My Friend of Misery” is a two-part force alternating between distress and swagger. It’s an absolute slaying of riffs, formulated with bluesy twangs, grungy grooves, some of the most impressive album harmonies and a sprinkling of unusual instruments. It was played live for the first time in 2012, and we hope to see it again.
There might not be anything more synonymous with Metallica (or metal) than the opening rugged bluesy riff to “Enter Sandman” — and the wall of guitars that ensues. The sinister lead single (while it was the first on the album to be written, it was the last to get lyrics) off Metallica's ground-breaking fifth album helped shift the path of rock and metal as we know it today. We can’t wait to hear 50,000 people chanting this to the stadium rooftop.
'Seek and Destroy'
“Seek and Destroy” has been a constant on Metallica’s set list since its creation — back when Dave Mustaine was a member — and it’s rumored the band has performed it over 1,500 times. If you’ve ever seen them perform it, you know that no two live versions are the same: sometimes the nearly seven-minute jam lasts twice as long, other times you can expect multiple insane guitar solos, and of course, the call-and-response of Hetfield screaming “Searching!” and the crowd response of “Seek and destroy!” Headbangers, get ready to revel.
On the obscure side, the hope is always that there will be some surprises thrown into a set, right? While ’97’s "Reload" was seen as divisive among hardcore fans, this song is a Metallica gem. The rolling guitar chords and licks, ominous bassline, commanding drum beats and Ulrich’s vocal work calls a full-blown assault and brings to mind rollicking Sabbath vibes. It wasn’t played for the first time live until late 2021, so here's hoping the band will let it rise up.
“Creeping Death” pays homage to Metallica’s thrash roots, particularly the British New Wavers like Motörhead; it’s easy to picture Lemmy doing a little headbanging. Inspired by the viewpoint of the Angel of Death and packed with biblical references, the track was hammered out by the band in one day — and is still excruciatingly heavy 30 years later. There was nothing like it upon release, so it feels truly timeless. It pulls you in from the beginning, another one of those Metallica jams that translate like a cinematic scene, the rapid-fire rhythm and squealing guitar like a wildfire wreaking havoc across some apocalyptic land.
'Fade to Black'
When this first ballad was released in ’84, the grumbling began that Metallica was a sell-out. On the contrary, the track kicked off the band’s later exploration of slower songs with deeper themes. It would be great to hear it in the middle of this show as a reset. It may be a heavy track about depression and death — ironically, in 1992 Hetfield was blasted by flames while performing it live and couldn’t play guitar for weeks from third-degree burns, but it still lights up with a hopeful demeanor that, I don’t care who you are, can sway and dance to.
'Master of Puppets'
This aggressive musicianship bookending a melodic interlude, if not played live, would seem like blasphemy. The song has always been one of the band’s biggest hits (and its album hailed as one of the most influential in heavy metal of all time), but also hallmarks the last appearance of Cliff Burton before he was lost to a bus crash shortly after the album release. Recently it also opened up to a whole new generation by being the go-to slaying fight method for "Stranger Things’" Eddie Munson against demon bats; it was almost comical hearing 20-somethings gush about the track. But hey, it launched the 1986 album back onto the Billboard 100 charts.
This list wouldn’t be complete with a track off the band’s most recent 2023 album, which we don’t hate. Frenetic energy gets the blood pumping and doesn’t relent: gun drums, spiraling guitar solos, rollicking bass and Ulrich’s staccato stanza builds for more than seven minutes of pit stomping. Although the title track refers to the first 18 years of one’s life that Pitchfork says form “true or false selves ... and breaking free of those bondages we carry," it’s also cathartic as a song written through the COVID pandemic.
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Lauren Wise has worked as a rock/heavy metal journalist for 15 years. She contributes to Noisey and LA Weekly, edits books, and drinks whiskey.