Metal heads show their soft side
The UAE's metal community were out in full force last night for Metallica's debut Middle Eastern performance at Abu Dhabi's Yas Arena.
Judging by the huge roar greeting the band when they stepped on stage, the long wait has been worth it and they did not disappoint.
Beginning with the opening salvo of Creeping Death and For Whom the Bell Tolls, Metallica ripped through a blistering greatest hits set touching on all aspects of Metallica's three-decade career, from its thrash metal beginnings to the increasingly polished - yet equally powerful - sounds of later years.
Fans competed with each other with their metal apparel by donning vintage shirts, studs, black lipstick and in some cases a few dog collars.
The long dark metal procession certainly made an impression on traffic policeman Saleh Darwish who stood monitoring the intersection near the VIP Gates.
"To be honest it is one of the most strangest things I have ever seen," he exclaimed.
"The people here are in all shapes and sizes. The thing is they are very friendly but the music itself ... well, it sounds like an epic wrestling match."
They used pyrotechnics to light up the stage, with flames shooting during Kirk Hammett's guitar solo in Fuel.
Unbeknown to the fans converging on the fan pit, the headlining act had only just arrived in the country.
In a quiet room backstage, with a pot of coffee percolating in the background, Metallica bassist Rob Trujillo said while the band were jet lagged, they were already impressed by what they had seen of Abu Dhabi.
"A lot of us just stared out of the window in the plane and to just see this stretch of desert, followed by a strip of water and then this body of land is just amazing," he said.
"It's really great to be doing things for the first time, to come here and then go to India after this for the first time also, it keeps thing fresh."
Trujillo said the band experienced the first pangs of excitement before boarding the plane when guitarist Hammett showed the group an aerial map of Yas Arena.
"We were amazed by it," he says.
"And coming here and seeing it ... it is surprising because the architecture, the colours, the whole place looks pretty futuristic."
Trujillo said the band often tried to spend a few days in each new tour stop sampling the local culture.
With Abu Dhabi being a two-day stay, he said the band were planning to hit the tourist trail.
"Well, I am looking forward to going to the desert," he grins.
"And off course, we are also making a point of trying the local cuisine so that is definitely something we are looking forward to."
The nearly sold-out audience who attended reflected the group's longevity and eclecticism, from grey-haired rockers sporting Black Sabbath T-shirts to the neatly dressed in business outfits.
"I know I don't look like a Metallica fan," says the bespectacled Adam Jayswal wearing a crisp purple shirt and designer jeans.
"But they are the reason they got me into music. The way they write it and deliver it, it really touches the nerves."
Mohammed Kheir left no doubt regarding his affection for the band, carrying a crudely written poster that stated: "I Will Be Your Slave for a Metallica Ticket ... Anything for Metallica Because Nothing Else Matters."
While the afro-haired Kheir did have a ticket, he said the poster was just a cheeky way to challenge the much maligned image of metal heads.
"We are a friendly crowd, not just these devil worshipping people with long hair that some people think," he says.
"We come here for the music and to appreciate the talent."
Trujillo said it was the inclusive nature of Metallica shows that band members most cherish.
"I travelled many places and to see people from different cultures together in unity, having fun and singing the exact same words at the exact same time is a really beautiful feeling," he says.
"It is things like this that keeps us going."