On 27 November 2023 the hard rock band Metallica made a surprise announcement on their website: “We’re not done with 2023 just yet, as an amazing opportunity has just come our way to perform at a major festival that we have never played in a part of the world we rarely get to visit. We’re excited to announce that on Thursday, December 14 we’ll be the first hard rock band to ever play at the Soundstorm Festival in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.”
This will be a truly historic event. Until a few years ago, live music before mixed audiences was banned in Saudi Arabia, and rock music was a complete no-no. There was a lively underground music scene at private venues, but both performers and audiences risked getting arrested if they were caught. I have acquaintances who spent the night in jail and had their instruments confiscated, and in the 1990s it was not even allowed to wear Metallica t-shirts!
Having Metallica play Riyadh is a clear sign of the massive change that has taken place in Saudi Arabia. They are the biggest selling metal band of all time by a long margin, and among the top five rock acts who perform today, alongside the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, U2 and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Formed in Los Angeles in 1981 by drummer Lars Ulrich and singer-guitarist James Hetfield, Metallica were joined in 1983 by lead guitarist Kirk Hammett for the recording of their debut album Kill ‘Em All. Bassist Rob Trujillo is the most recent member to join, in 2003, and the line-up has been steady ever since. Their WorldWired Tour from 2016 to 2019 grossed US$ 430 million, placing it among the biggest of all time.
The big question is whether the Riyadh audience will be ready for Metallica. Acts that have featured at Soundstorm have typically been techno and R&B. This year, David Guetta and Black Eyed Peas are in the line-up, which is not exactly headbanging fare. However, if anyone can break the ice, it has to be Metallica, the Formula 1 equivalent of heavy rock. If you plan to go, don’t forget to take earplugs. It will be loud’n heavy, InshAllah.