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Guitar god: a title thrown around by many guitar players and fans of the rock and metal world. While this clearly comes across as fandom, it also brings up heavy expectations, especially from a fellow guitarist like myself.
For a long time, Dave Mustaine, frontman of the legendary band Megadeth, had already had a place in my own personal pantheon of music heroes. Many of these deified individuals are inclusive in other pantheons as well, and for good reason. These men and women have blazed the trail for new territories and have shown us new facets of creative expression. Their actions reverberate throughout the years, leaving enduring impressions which art excels so well at.
So I shook Mustaine’s hand about an hour before the opening act, and thus a night of pyrotechnic performances began.
Butcher Babies set the stage first. Having never seen or heard them before, I was impressed with their energy and onstage demeanor. If two young women screaming/singing over the grinding, extended low-range riffs and manic rhythms of extreme metal sounds like a good time, then you should check them out. Although the crowd was fairly small that early in the show, they didn’t hold anything back.
Second up was Metal Church. The only knowledge I had of this band was that former guitarist John Marshall filled in for James Hetfield on rhythm guitar after the Metallica frontman stepped too close to the pyro in 1992. Metal Church paired old-school thrash with a singer who knew how to work a crowd. Seeing one of the formative bands of the thrash movement was one of the many high points of the night.
Suicidal Tendencies. Their punk origins in 1980 and thrash adoption in the late eighties place ST on a continuum that promises a powerful performance. The fusion of hardcore punk and thrash demands a vocalist who can keep the energy going, and Mike Muir, the only remaining founder of ST, delivered. Throughout the set, Muir addressed the crowd with calls for perseverance and determination within the systems that do not always work in our favor. Metal-infused Tony Robbins. Excellent.
All but one of the bands were formed in California: Amon Amarth. Hailing from Sweden, this band imbeds itself within the legends and themes of the Vikings. Not ones for subtlety, the bowsprit and foremast of a Viking raiding ship was erected on the stage with multiple banners depicting epic battles draped in the background. One of the first things I noticed when the lights illuminated the band was the drinking horn holstered on vocalist Johann Hegg’s side. It turned out not to be a mere prop when the band raised their drinking horns towards the end of the set, proclaimed “Skol,” and downed what I can only imagine to be mead, or perhaps ale. The theatricality of the whole thing raised the bar for me in terms of metal performance. If epic death metal exploring the legends of Thor Odinson and Ragnarok sound like your kind of thing, give them a listen. And see them live for the full experience.
After the Viking ship was disassembled, the black curtain shadowing the rest of the stage remained. Being the longest interim of the night, the anticipation to see one of the most legendary metal bands of all time was excruciating. Then the curtain came down, revealing a giant screen displaying bombastic animations. The intro to “Prince of Darkness” began, increasing the tension. Then the band appeared and broke into “Hangar 18.” Between songs, Mustaine addressed the crowd in two notable instances. The first was when he called out a guy up front who was supposedly disrespecting his girlfriend. The second was an amusing anecdote about the origins of the songs “She-Wolf” in which he introduced us to the term “gopher tits.” The setlist consisted of songs new and classic delivered through masterful musicianship. Guitarist Kiko Loureiro, although a new addition to the band along with drummer Dirk Verbeuren, proved to be an amazing complement to Mustaine. Twice, Megadeth’s mascot Vic Rattlehead ambled onto the stage, walking amongst the band and leering at the crowd. The only factor that somewhat marred their set was the audio. Metal and high volume go hand in hand, but excessive volume can diminish the clarity and intricacy of the songs themselves.
So I got to see Megadeth do what they do best, as well as other bands that ran the gamut of murderous cheerleaders from Hell to Viking raiders praising Valhalla.
It was a night of metal and a night enjoyed by many.