Concert review: Metallica at Conseco, Sept. 17

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Parts of Metallica are gone.

The wild antics that earned them the nickname "Alcoholica." The eyeliner phase of their career, during which intensity was sacrificed for accessibility. It helped earn them some of their largest sales, but at the expense of their core audience.

What's left is the hardened soul of a band that revolutionized thrash metal and brought it to the masses. More than a quarter-century since the beginning, Metallica still fills arenas.

Thursday's appearance at Conseco Fieldhouse, their first here in six years, was no different. In 2003 Metallica were still in the midst of an era of sonic experimentation. Though the album they released that year, St. Anger, was a return to form, as far as their legendary ferocious style of playing is concerned, fans never quite warmed up to its brittle production values.

With the follow-up, last year's Death Magnetic, Metallica have come full circle. They know it too, and thus played several selections from the new album during this tour, including two up front. "The End of the Line" may be the best bridge to their career - a full-throttle onslaught that retains the groove they perfected in the '90s.

But aside from four numbers off the self-titled 1991 album, that decade was nonexistent at this performance. Instead, fans were treated to killer '80s classics like "Master of Puppets" and "Damage, Inc.," and even lesser-known but still superior rage-fests like "Motorbreath."

With renewed focus on music and health, the members of Metallica appear to be in the best shape they've ever been. Lars Ulrich did his customary cheerleading from his drum kit. Even with a gray goatee, singer/guitarist James Hetfield still looks like a menacing biker.

Their stage setup is rather austere for a group inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It's in-the-round shape in the middle of the floor is still somewhat of an oddity. But other than pyro, lasers and coffin-shaped lighting grids, Metallica relied solely on their imposing presence and brute musical force.

It's enough. Early in the show, Hetfield tried to poll the capacity audience on how many were seeing their first Metallica show. A surprising number raised their hands. That befits a band like Metallica, one of those rare commodities that remains popular 28 years after first hitting the market.

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