Sold-out heavy metal shows create a palpable energy like no other genre. The testosterone is billowing, the smell of sweat and dirt is nearly edible, and they both grow in intensity for every second the headliner sits backstage. In Pomona on Friday night, that band was Megadeth and the thousands in attendance were ready for three decades worth of material, including an entire recreation of 1992’s now-classic Countdown to Extinction. The crowd chanted “MEGA-DETH” between each song that delayed their eventual reality, stopping only to howl during Iron Maiden’s “The Trooper.” With a clear set of expectations and a legion of fans, creator and frontman Dave Mustaine took to the stage and unleashed a barrage of manically meticulous metal for one and all.
Before an entire album was performed, the band opened with other beloved tracks like “Hangar 18” and finished by playing “Holy Wars” and “Peace Sells.” They did so faithfully, as to fail in that task is to ensure a metal mutiny. Adding “She Wolf” was perplexing, as the lyrics taped in front of the microphone stands showed how rarely they play that track. Those tracks were the proverbial bread and butter, while the real meat lies within the dozen amazing tracks that make up Countdown.
Any visible wear and tear flies off as soon as Dave Mustaine’s flying V kicks on. To say that he has a unique vocal style would be an understatement, and his ability to squeeze those vocals through his teeth while shredding is nearly more impressive than nearly any other singer/guitarist in metal. Chris Broderick is a modern artisan, able to play original or classic riffs with an eerie ease. While ten years younger than Mustaine, he keeps his brother in arms fresh on stage and keeps Mustaine looking glorious when he shreds faster than the hired gun. Mustaine always surrounds himself with a talented live brigade, but this might be his most impressive post 90’s lineup. Shawn Drover is a time-keeping beast on the kit, and bassist David Ellefson does more than justice to his own material.
Countdown to Extinction might not be the diehard album Megadeth fans crave (that would be Holy Wars or Rust in Peace), but this less self-serious, more diverse album is the audible growing point for a band that needed to create a path for themselves. When the choir kicks on and the crowd feels “Symphony of Destruction” rumbling, a blitzkrieg of headbangs begin. Vivid screens bring a lot of the comic book lyrics to life, with motion art like blood splatters during “Countdown to Extinction”, a track condemning owners and enjoyers of canned hunting ranges. A song like “High Speed Dirt” is impossible to fake, as the speed and accuracy needed to faithfully perform it are astronomically engaging.
Dave Mustaine spoke rarely between songs, but he did call the Pomona show a “hometown” show, a demarcation that often leads to more exciting performances. The crowd responded in unison, grateful for their ringleader. The front row filled with both longtime fans and children who barely reached the top of the security gate. And while cell phones have made recent concerts a distracting activity, the constant mosh-pit and moving mass of humanity kept the attention of nearly everyone. This was a work of art by a monolith of metal, standing tall after years of turmoil and adversity. When the final song ended, the audible appreciation from the fans was just as powerful as the most technical guitar solo.