Skulls, burning skulls, carousels of skulls—these are the primary imagery of thrash metal pioneers, Megadeth. With a phonetic spelling of death in their name, you could say they’re pretty metal. Alongside Metallica, Slayer, and Anthrax, they have long been a quadrant of the head-banging circle referred to as the “Big Four.” People thirsting for aggression and blistering tempos have long strained their necks to heavy hits like Megadeth’s “Symphony of Destruction.” Having released their 15th studio album Dystopia earlier this year, Megadeth stopped by the House of Blues in Boston last Monday to reinstate the draft for long-haired legions with a penchant for hammer-on guitar notes.
They rolled in hard immediately, starting their set with “Hangar 18,” the encore-worthy track from the 1992 genre crusher Countdown to Extinction. Poised atop a corroded base of steel resembling a war tank, the band’s riffs rattled and rumbled through the venue, shaking perineums and rushing endorphins. Fans of all ages growled their name like orcs from Lord of the Rings. Lead singer Dave Mustaine is known for a throat-scathing voice to deliver horrific dystopian scenarios, so these battle-mode grunts were quite appropriate. With extended guitar solos that reminisce dragons slaying fantasy films, each barabaric sound crushed into place with one another.
With all of the grim narratives and imagery of demise, Mustaine is actually a warmer character than one might anticipate. Halfway through the set he recollected a story from earlier in the day—stopping by the Berklee School of Music to jam with a dedicated group calling themselves the Megadeth Ensemble. It had been a fulfilling session for the pupils and mentor. Spotting one of the budding musicians in the crowd, he focused in saying, “You are really talented young man, you’ll go far. God bless you,” and provided a serious Dad thumbs up. Then the band got back into shredding with a backdrop of flaming skulls. It was an interesting juxtaposition of moments. With a career longer than my life, the whole set was a dreamscape of technical riffage to be admired.
The openers were nothing to nap on either. Havok began the evening with their new wave of thrash metal followed by melodic death metal warriors, Children of Bodom. Aside from the sport of wife-carrying, they are of the most well-known exports of their country Finland, and successfully warmed up a circle pit for the next icons: Suicidal Tendencies. Led by the brash, militant order-style vocals of Mike Muir, “S.T.” are a wonder fit for the Guinness Book of World Records. The bandmates are huge dudes—powerful refrigerator-sized characters. Every time they hit the stage, they run back and forth, planting themselves to slamdance periodically. It’s an intense form of cardio that matches their skateboard-fueled concoction of punk/metal music. With brain-rattling classics from the Dog Town skate-era like “Institutionalized” their mayhem never ceases to rile up a crowd.
With all the skulls and rising heartbeats, the lineup of metal had throats sore from screaming and necks tired from thrashing come Tuesday morning. Success.