"We're starting off on the last leg, man. It's unbelievable," states Metallica's bass player Jason Newsted from his hotel room in Hanover, Germany.
After so long out on the road is he looking forward with excitement to the culmination of the tour or has the mental torture been so great that he'd prefer it over with as soon as possible?
"I think it's going to be really cool 'cos this one is outdoors, in summertime, and that's a good vibe. When we played in Europe the last time the places we played were indoors to between 10,000 and 15,000 people. This time we're playing the big places which means a lot of new people will get to see Metallica which is always a boost. To have extra voices and plenty of fresh faces does help a lot, believe me."
The production is suitably fitting for Metallica's biggest European shows to date. Without giving anything away Newsted reasons that, "it has to be big. This is a really important step for us."
Having so many albums sold, does this relate directly to a wider cross-section of punters at the gigs?
"Definitely, there's no question of that at all," comes the affirmative reply.
Recently the band have experienced the Latin countries. Are they as crazy as we are led to believe?
Jason laughs, "Yeah, that's an understatement. There are a few places that are absolutely nuts. We've just got back from South America. We did Chile and Brazil, and those places are completely out of control. There was between 50 and 200 kids outside our hotel 24 hours a day. Argentina was a really good place to finish the last leg down there. These were places Metallica have never been to and they welcomed us with open arms."
The dedication of the fans in South America has never been in question. What has been queried is the, er, 'hospitality' afforded by political forces out there.
"It's getting more controlled as far as the security and police go. The more bands go there the more they understand what is meant to take place and what isn't as far as breaking kids heads and that shit, so it's definitely getting better."
LAVA IN JAVA
A different story can be told of Metallica's visit to Jakarta, the principal city of the Indonesian island of Java. Trouble ensued while the band were performing the first of two gigs at the 25,000 capacity Lebak Bulus stadium as Jason describes.
"There's a serious poverty problem there, therefore a lot of kids couldn't afford tickets to the show. On the first night the 10,000 or so that could afford tickets were inside but there were another 30,000 outside who were told by somebody that when we started they would be let in. When they were told that they weren't getting in, they started fighting. So there's 30,000 kids against 1,500 police. They burned the police station, looted houses and shops, overturned and burnt cars. This is all going on while we're playing and we have no idea what was going on. All we saw were fires outside. We just came to play our show so we didn't know what to expect. After about an hour and a quarter of the show, the crowd inside the stadium just swelled from 10,000 to 40,000, like 'Boom!' The crowd outside had just torn down the gates and stormed the place. It was incredible!"
Indeed, but it still wasn't enough to faze the Metalliboys as Jason continues almost nonchalently.
"We just played on and did our usual 2 hour 45 minute show, just like any other day. We just took care of business."
Putting all this behind them, the European leg of their tour featured many diverse support acts, but the late cancellation by Alice in Chains to undertake the tour must have upset the band especially as their decision to jump ship came so close to the start of the final leg.
"Yeah, it was pretty shitty. Disappointed is the word we like to use."
As Newsted explains, this disappointment is far more on a musical level.
"We're all really into Alice in Chains right now and we were looking to them to give us some inspiration for the this last bit of the tour. We really were. We were into watching them each day so we could have got fired up to do our own show."
He does hold some resentment at their decision though.
"I guess they've got problems with substances and shit so they pulled out. The contracts were signed months ago and with ten days until the start they told us that they weren't doing it so it put us in a bit of a spot trying to find someone else to fill the gap. We weren't happy about that."
Another of the support acts are Diamond Head. My suggestion that this choice was down to that great lover of British heavy metal, Metallica's drummer Lars Ulrich elicits much laughter during which Jason manages a mere "Yeah, just a little bit."
Most surprising of the supporting cast are Megadeth. Surprising because 'Deth mainman Dave Mustaine has had a very long, bitter and public feud with Metallica's James Hetfield and the aforementioned Ulrich since he left the band in the early '80s.
"Megadeth being on the bill just kinda came about. They said that they'd like to play so we took a vote on it as we always do and decided to take them out. The feud thing was blown up far bigger than it actually was. It was actually completely silly. Dave was only in the band for 6 months in 1982 so he's been out of the band for over 10 years."
Jason himself was looking forward to seeing Megadeth again.
"When I was in Flotsam & Jetsam we played with them many times and got to be pretty good friends so I've got no problem with them."
Another inter-band feud is blowing up over Axl Rose's recent onstage rant during which the vocalist allegedly branded Metallica's Lars Ulrich "a little faggot." Things looked like getting ugly between the two groups but Jason dilutes any suggestion of any Get In the Ring style confrontations.
"Well, at first we were like 'This guy's really sick. He's in really bad shape.' We all know he's a little disturbed and shit but now it's become a joke around our camp. We've even printed up his speech and put it in the programme. We take it as a joke 'cos we know that saying these things is gonna come back on him ten fold. The guy, I don't know how to explain it, man, he's always looking for trouble. I don't see any future in that kind of behaviour in this day and age."
It's quite rare that you get to speak to the bassist. The spokesmen are usually James Hetfield or Mr. Ulrich. Does Jason feel at long last that h's become an integral component of the machine?
"It took 4 or 5 years for everyone to settle in with each other. I've now been in the band for 7 years and it's cool. It's so much better for me now because there's a mutual respect. They listen to what I have to say and that really makes me feel a part of things."
And as he said earlier, he gets a vote!
With the tour over, you'd expect the four to take a protracted sabbatical. You'd be wrong.
"We plan on taking about a fortnight off and then we'll start editing stuff for a live package," begins the workaholic. "We have a huge package of live stuff planned, CDs and videos, which will feature stuff from the And Justice tour and recordings from the beginning right through to the last date of this tour. It's a huge smattering of music."
Only when this project is finished will Metallica take a break.
"We aim to have this live stuff finished by October and then we'll take about eight months off to figure out who we are again. We may play some dates in America next summer before we start a new record. We hope that the live stuff will keep everyone going until we get the next record done."
Metallica... Still taking care of business.