Megadeth, Testament, and Exodus at Town Ballroom (2010)


Heavy Metal fans are a resilient bunch.

They attend the shows, buy/download the albums and wholeheartedly embrace the preservationist philosophy that makes the genre so alluring. Mainstream society has labeled them barbaric man-children searching for an excuse to be violent, but they have channeled their marginalized status into a rallying cry hell-bent on furthering the “us vs. them” mentality.

They’ve endured deaths, congressional hearings and the arrival of Grunge only to emerge stronger and more aware of just how threatened the public is by an alternative worldview. If Rock and Roll is about sticking it to the “man,” then metal is about sticking it not only to the man, but anyone who has ever told you to keep your mouth shut.

For those of you out there who still look down upon Heavy Metal as nothing more than noxiously feral clamor with little social significance, allow me to present last Saturday’s concert featuring Megadeth, Testament and Exodus as exhibit A for how off-base general perceptions have become. Few bands would’ve been able to keep up with the physically demanding tempo of the evening’s material and the fact that most of the members are closing in on 50 makes it that much easier to applaud. It was a fan’s paradise and the bands rewarded them in every way imaginable.

First up was Exodus and they proceeded to filter out any lingering notions that it was going to be a tranquil event when singer Rob Dukes refused to get started until the pits were open for business. The crowd was up to the challenge, so the set was marked by screeching vocals and a “Gangs of New York”-esque wall of death in which the audience charges into each other hoping to achieve the ultimate metal high.

I’ll admit that I didn’t know too much about Exodus other than they were Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett’s original group, so the music didn’t quite resonate with me the way I’d hoped. They seemed content to cater to the die-hards while ignoring any potential converts and, if I were to assign an epitaph to this portion of the show, it would read “I survived the circle pit and all I got was this mildly engaging set form Exodus.”

After about 45 minutes of rising energy levels, Testament took the stage to perform their 1987 debut “Legacy” in its entirety and reminded me of why I love this music in the first place.

Vocalist Chuck Billy is such a killer showman that, at times, it felt as if they had three guitar players, because he was using the microphone stand to echo whatever frenetic solo lead guitarist Eric Peterson happened to be busting out at the time. His voice was fresh, controlled and primal to the point that his 2001 cancer scare is but a distant memory as every breath injected just the right amount of passion into each song.

Classics such as “Do or Die,” “Alone in the Dark” and “Apocalyptic City” displayed exemplary execution and, judging from the raucous ovation, still sound as menacing as they did 23 years ago. I was curious about how the absence of virtuoso Alex Skolnick (currently touring with Trans-Siberian Orchestra) would affect the album’s punch, but the rest of the guys compensated nicely and delivered it with the rebellious flair we’ve come to expect.

As for the main attraction, if you consider Metallica to be The Beatles of thrash metal, then Megadeth is undoubtedly The Rolling Stones. They have the speed, intelligence, versatility and all-around adversarial attitude to keep churning out tunes as long as Dave Mustaine’s ego will let them.

From the opening note of “Holy Wars…The Punishment Due,” Dave Mustaine, David Ellefson, Chris Broderick and Shawn Drover exploded onto the Town Ballroom stage determined to silence the naysayers once and for all.

I like to think of Megadeth’s oeuvre as a classically-based hybrid that emphasizes intricate arrangements and staccato notes the same way a symphony from Beethoven or Mozart would which, to me, speaks to how complex their material really is. Watching them tackle songs such as “Take No Prisoners” and “Tornado of Souls” in a live setting is an adrenaline rush unlike any I’ve experienced at a concert and the fluidity with which Mustaine and Broderick tear through the riffs is metal at its finest. Having Ellefson reunite with the band a little over a month ago only added to the excitement, so any fan that missed out on this one should make an attempt to catch them in Toronto on July 29 to see “Rust in Peace” the way it was meant to be. You won’t be disappointed.

Not that it means anything, but I overheard some guys on the subway talking about how Megadeth’s 90-minute set was beyond what Metallica brought to HSBC Arena back in October 2009.

I’m just saying…

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