When the idea to have a ‘pit’ of fans in the middle of Metallica’s stage was first used for the band’s ‘Black Album’ tours in the early 90s, opportunities for tickets were through fan club lotteries only. This meant that for decades, the fabled Metallica ‘Snake Pit’ was the dwelling solely of the devoted and extremely lucky.
Today, things have changed. Money gets you in. Combined with a much larger Snake Pit, thousands of Metallica fans are about to experience it for the first time. So what’s it like?
On Friday August 11th and Sunday August 13th 2023, I had the pleasure of being inside the Snake Pit for two consecutive Metallica shows. How was it? Was it worth the money (about $1000 USD)? Would I do it again?
My take away is that, everything Metallica could control was amazing. Their show was incredible, and from that stand point alone it was worth every digital cent. On the other hand, there were a few things I wish I knew ahead of time that, oddly, were not communicated in the multitude of pre-show emails I received.
I wrote this article to share my experiences in the hope that fellow members of the Metallica family will have a smoother experience than I did. As indicated above, this is the first time that access to the Snake Pit was made for sale, and likely the first time that a new generation of fans will have access to it. I myself was one of those people experiencing it for the first time.
But as I was preparing for the show I didn’t find a ton of helpful info on what to expect. Admittedly, I’m not a Reddit or Metallica Forums guy and being largely unfamiliar with the users, I didn’t want to scroll through forums. I wanted one concise article answering a few basic questions.
So for others looking for an article clearly articulating what to expect from the Snake Pit experience, and answering some questions, here you are (you’ll have to excuse a brief ‘tangent city’ about the security staff in Montreal).
If you have a Snake Pit Pass, it came either with a “Nothing Else Matters Experience” or “Moth Into Flame Experience” package. Everything I talk about is included in the Nothing Else Matters Package, so it will be of some help to those package holders even if most Snake Pit entrants are Moth Into Flame ticket holders. There are also useful tidbits for those with general floor tickets.
Question 1: How does the ‘priority merch stand access’ work?
It’s a nice idea for a perk with the Snake Pit pass, but it ain’t much really. At least not in Montreal. It’s a line to the side of the regular merch stand. In theory, it is helpful, but I don’t think there was anyone checking for passes, so it was the same wait time. Overall, not a big deal.
However, one of the shirts I got is hilariously misprinted with the logo off center. I didn’t notice until I got home Friday night. At Sunday’s show I noticed that some people had the misprint, others didn’t. Oops.
Question 2: What’s the deal with the ‘Pre-Show Black Box Lounge’?
The lounge is pretty cool. It’s a draped-off section of the arena basement with catering, Metallica memorabilia, some old instruments you can play (the best part), two bars, and a bathroom. In Montreal there was sushi, some pasta salad, lots of desserts, and cool album cover mini-cupcakes. Two ladies who seemed like they had no idea what they were doing ran a short trivia contest. I won a hat for knowing which song had Flamenco as it’s working title.
What I found odd about the lounge was the absence of staff, information, and overall customer service of any kind. Whatever staff were there only wore plain black with no indication of whether they worked for either Metallica or the venue. At first, some people didn’t know if you could touch the instruments as no one was around to provide background or instructions.
Ideally, there should probably be an info booth (there is plenty of room) or, at the very least, staff shirts. I know it seems kinda lame, but honestly it was weird. I probably could have went the entire two shows without interacting with any staff had I not sought them out to ask how to get to the Snake Pit. Speaking of which.
Question 3: How do you actually get into the Snake Pit?
Great question, I thought this would be included in every pre-show email I got, but alas, it wasn’t. Worse, everyone at the show seemed to have no idea either. When I asked staff in the black box lounge, it turned out they weren’t Metallica staff, they were local, and they just said “you go to the floor, it’s on the floor”….thanks.
I went to the floor, did two laps around the stage (as Pantera came out) and found nothing but a sea of people all the way around. When I asked security working the floor, most of them had no idea what I was talking about (yes it was Montreal, but I speak fluent French and English). I found one guy who knew what the Snake Pit was, but he became very angry that I was asking him about it. He walked me over to one section and exasperatedly pointed to the mass of people watching Pantera and said “it’s in there, you go there”…cool. It was a mass of people, 100 or more thick.
This shit sandwich continued through all of Pantera, as me and several other Snake Pit fans began asking more security staff how to actually get into the Snake Pit. We all reasoned that if we had to fight through a 100-person-deep floor crowd, it would kind of defeat the purpose….so something must be fucked up.
This lasted for an hour…people were mad, I was no exception. Eventually Pantera finished and security cleared a path using a big tall fence so that the band could leave. After some arguing, and the support of one of the security team members working the Pit itself, we were let in via that fenced path. The only causality being not getting to watch Pantera (my second favourite band).
So what the fuck happened? Well it turns out that security is supposed to keep a path to the Snake Pit entrance clear, through the crowd, at all times. As Buzz McCallister might say, les incompitents who worked the show did not know this on night 1 and just let the crowd fill-out the floor around the stage.
So, how do you actually get into the Snake Pit when things are working as they are supposed to? Here is what I would have put in a pre-show email that whichever company Metallica hired to run show logistics did not.
- Access to the Snake Pit is directly from the general admission floor, there is no separate or secluded entrance from elsewhere in the stadium.
- On the general admission floor, there are two entrances to the Snake Pit, across form one another, under the highest points of the circular stage.
- Security at the venue has been instructed to maintain a path through the crowd to at least one of the entrances throughout the opening acts and until Metallica takes the stage.
- The Snake Pit can be accessed in-between acts after equipment has been removed, but the departure of the previous act, removal of equipment, and security of the performers is primary. You may have to wait until these are complete until you can enter the Snake Pit in-between acts.
Question 4: What is in the Snake Pit? Bar? Bathroom?
There is nothing in the Snake Pit, it’s just a circle. But if access is cleared as it should be, it’s not a problem. You can come and go for drinks and bathroom as you need during the openers. Not sure how it works during Metallica, I never left at that point.
Question 5: Is it hard to get to the front of the crowd? Do you have to line up hours ahead of time?
Of note, the height of the stage from the Snake Pit varies. At two points it is about waist high, at other parts it is about 4–6 feet high. Above the entrances it is about 7 feet high (the guys tended to stand above the entrances for pyro songs, I suspect James was being extra careful during Fade, given the city…).
What’s nice about the Snake Pit is that there is no gap between the front of the crowd and the stage. If you’ve been near the stage at more recent arena and stadium concerts, the trend has been an increasing distance from the crowd to the stage (COVID?). These days, at a typical major show, there is almost always a 4–6 feet gap between the rail and the stage. Not so in the Snake Pit. So you if you do end up at the front, the guys are right on top of you, like a small venue.
On Sunday I was lucky enough to be right at the stage where it is waist high. This cemented that the cost was worth it, but even if I hadn’t gotten to the front, the Snake Pit experience (assuming all logistics go well) would have still been well worth it.
To get to the front I didn’t line up early or anything, I arrived in the pit after the last opener (Five Finger Death Punch) and still ended up along the stage through the normal movement of people. I never needed to be physically aggressive or anything like that, I was polite and simply took whatever space was given to me. If people left for the bathroom and came back I recognized them and gave them back their space. This may not be the case everywhere, but we had a good group in Montreal.
Question 6: How does the circular stage work for Viewing?
If you are in the Snake Pit, or on the general floor, I believe the best spots are near Lars’ drum kits. The band tend to gather around him rather frequently. Lars’ drums move throughout the show to four equidistant portions of the circle. Some people in the Snake Pit chose to follow a mix of either Lars or James. The way people moved in the Snake Pit was like water being tilted in a shallow container (well…with some sticking to the sides). I did a bit of this on night 1, but once I found myself at the front on night 2, I stuck to my spot.
When you’re right at the front, the circular stage is a bit of feast and famine. Though ‘famine’ is a strong word. There were only a few instances where no band members came to our section for a song or two. It’s certainly not a problem because you’ll be looking left at James and Rob, then turn right and all of a sudden Kirk is ripping a solo 5 inches from your face. With the circle stage, they can just sneak up on you sometimes.
The best part of the Snake Pit is that when the band isn’t 3–4 feet (or inches) from you, they are, at worst, maybe 50 feet away? When I stayed on one edge of the Snake Pit and watched someone at the furthest point from me it was as if I was on the general floor and maybe 30 or so people back. So worst case scenario in the Snake Pit, you’re always much closer than most people on the floor.
Question 7: Does the band face away from you all concert?
Nope. If anything, I would say they look disproportionality into the Snake Pit given that 95% of the crowd is on the outside. There were entire songs where James sung towards the Pit. Ultimately, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. The band has had this arrangement, on and off, for over 30 years, so they’ve got their movements down.
Question 8: How crowded is the Snake Pit? Is it Rowdy?
So rumor has it that the current Snake Pit holds between 1000 and 1200 people. I would say even at it’s fullest it was not overly crowded. However, watching some videos from the European leg of the M72 Tour, it looked a lot more full over there. Maybe Montreal was just light? As far as I know it was sold out? So all I can say is that in my experience, as someone who hates large crowds and being cramped, I never felt uncomfortable.
As with any concert experience, individual experience will vary. Sometimes there are those aggressive dudes imposing themselves on others via force, sometimes you luck out and get a good orderly group around you (as I mostly had).
Metallica is no exception when it comes to asshole fans who are reckless or aggressive on the floor. I’m sure they have the same proportion of jackass fans as any other major act (don’t get me started on the over-zealous collectors who will dive with reckless abandon for a guitar pick).
All this to say, the Pit was quite comfortable. There were also a fair amount of kids. Overall a safe environment and a good time had by all.
Question 9: What is the Sound Like?
The sound in the Snake Pit is no different than the sound on the general floor. I suspect sound will vary on the M72 tour depending on the stadium. At the Olympic Stadium in Montreal, the bass echo was at times overpowering. For Pantera, it largely overwhelmed the higher tones. For Metallica is was better, but I would be curious what more casual fans might have thought of the sound. The brains on us diehards know the songs so well our ears probably seek out the familiar higher tones, even if faint. I don’t know, just a guess as to why I didn’t really mind the sound. I am, however, in no way an unbiased observer in this matter.
Conclusion: Is the Snake Pit Worth It?
Despite the useless staff in Montreal, the Snake Pit was absolutely worth it. While there are things the Metallica team should adjust to make the experience better for everyone, I would absolutely do the Snake Pit again (note: I am not wealthy).
As far as everything the band controls, it couldn’t be any better. Lots of Metallica’s recent business decisions can be criticized, but there is no doubting that when they are in control, they do everything they can do to show they care about their fans. The Snake Pit experience is no different.
Also, when else could you do this with one of Rob’s old bases?