It remains as shunned as ever by the mainstream, but metal is fighting fit and ready to mount a summer takeover of some of Europe’s biggest festivals. So what’s the deal with Ireland, asks
Love them or hate them – and the band don’t care one way or another – Metallica have earned the right to headline Glastonbury next week. If commercial success is the arbiter, in the first instance, of what makes a headliner, Metallica’s album sales are far in excess of the weekend’s other two headliners, Arcade Fire and Kasabian. The Black Album is the biggest-selling album of the past 25 years on SoundScan, surpassing 16 million sales in the US last month, and it’s not even their best.
In critical terms, Metallica have two albums in Rolling Stone’s list of the top 500 of all time. They’ve played with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and the pianist Lang Lang – who know what great music sounds like.
That their brilliance has somewhat waned in recent decades should not be a disqualification – nobody begrudged The Rolling Stones or Paul McCartney their Glastonbury headline slot, even though they had been stinking the place out creatively for years.
The hostility towards Metallica is indicative of a bunker-music mentality as reflected in the ill-advised comments made about them. They will be clashing with Scottish instrumentalists Mogwai who dismissed Metallica as “shite”. This from a band named after a Gremlin.
The musical apartheid which deems it odd that Metallica should headline a mainstream festival only seems to be practised in Britain and Ireland – where heavy metal is treated like the bold stepchild who should be heard and never seen. Other mainstream European festivals, such as Roskilde in Denmark, will happily mix Metallica with Sigur Rós, as they did last year, while Rock Am Ring in Germany has had Metallica, The Killers and Kaiser Chiefs on the same bill.
Metallica are also the headliners for this year’s Sonisphere, Europe’s biggest travelling festival. It travels to seven countries this year – Norway, Finland, Switzerland, Poland, Italy, Germany, and the UK, the only place where it is a multi-day event. It will play to more than 300,000 fans in total.
Sonisphere was founded five years ago by music promoter Stuart Galbraith as a touring hard rock festival.
Hard rock struggles everywhere for mainstream exposure and radio airplay, but balanced against that, he says, is the “massive loyalty and sense of community” that does not exist in any other music genre.
Galbraith is particularly scathing about the BBC. “It is telling that the BBC has only one rock programme across its whole public broadcasting network which broadcasts for a couple of hours late at night with Dan Carter.” (BBC Radio 1, Tuesday at midnight.)
At Knebworth, Metallica are one of three headliners along with Iron Maiden and The Prodigy for Sonisphere UK which takes place