So how exactly, in the wake of the horrors of Charlottesville, would Metallica recognize the need to make a statement without pouring a bucket load of comedown on a night of entertainment for thousands? The answer came two songs into last night’s concert at Vancouver’s BC Place, as frontman James Hetfield, the only right-leaning member of the band, made a call for unity.

“Hey Vancouver,” he snarled. “Let’s make one thing clear. Metallica don’t give a shit. We don’t give a shit about your differences… We don’t care who you voted for or the colour of your skin or who you want to marry… We’re here to celebrate life together with live music!”

Not quite the Letter from Birmingham Jail, but for a band who have consistently avoided messages in their music, at least they’re paying attention.

Relentlessly professional rather than political throughout their never-ending reign atop the hard rock throne, Metallica remain the metal band all other metal bands aspire to be. Eternally beloved, time does not wither their abilities or appeal.

That was clear from the beginning, as the band opened with the one-two punch of new tracks “Hardwired” and “Atlas, Rise,” both lightning-fast blasts of 1980s-flavoured thrash hostility.

Despite the immense musical dexterity of this opening, people don’t tend to attend Metallica concerts to hear the new ones. Which meant the energy in the not-quite-packed stadium picked up noticeably upon the welcome arrival of “For Whom The Bell Tolls.”

That atmosphere would dip throughout the course of the evening, as Metallica’s normally rabid fans appeared oddly restrained. The outro to “The Memory Remains,” traditionally sung by the crowd until instructed otherwise, faded out ignominiously. “Now That We’re Dead” finished with all four members of Metallica hammering away at giant Japanese Taiko drums, Hetfield imploring everyone to join in with chants of “Hey!” Everyone politely declined to participate.

It’s understandable. Because no matter how good the tracks on last year’s “Hardwired to Self-Destruct” album sound live (“Moth Into Flame” was particularly banging) they’re competing against songs that have soundtracked entire lives. Two of them, “Wherever I May Roam” and “Sad But True,” the latter playfully dedicated to “the next generation of metal-heads,” breathed fresh spirit into the stadium.

But even these were only hors d’oeuvres for an epic finale that began with a beyond-rousing rendition of “One.” For the first time all night, the band gathered together in the middle on the colossal stage to deliver one of the masterpieces of 20th Century music. Circle pits burst into life on the stadium floor for “Master of Puppets,” although the ever-excellent “Fade To Black” failed to provoke the same levels of enthusiasm. The ultra-violent HD riot footage, filmed in Vancouver for Metallica’s ‘Through The Never’ concert movie, accompanying the latter provided an unwelcome reminder of recent reality.

The band upped the speed and the energy by gathering together on the satellite stage to rip through “Seek and Destroy.” A rare outing for “Fight Fire With Fire” proved that they still have the skills and endurance to unleash perhaps the fastest and most ferocious song in their arsenal after over two hours of punishing heaviness.

A concert of ups and downs? Sure. But Metallica can handle the occasional misfire and still come up with a finish to send thousands home with souls happy and ears ringing. Rocking stadiums is what they do for a living.