This year has been such a promising one when it comes to live music events. All our favorite bands are awakening from their covid induced slumbers and hitting the road to wreak havoc upon the masses. There have been record breaking shows, massive turnouts, and wave after wave of tour and festival announcements that have had a lot of us on the edge of our seats wondering how it could possibly get any better than this. Some of the largest names in music history have been making appearances all over the globe, and the metal scene is no exception. Due to the success of their 2021 co-headlined tour, metal-titans Megadeth and Lamb of God have decided to give the people what they want and team up once again to bring us the Metal Tour of The Year which boasted a phenomenal lineup including supporting acts from In Flames and Trivium.
The Metal Tour of The Year kicked off on April 9th, 2022, in Las Vegas, Nevada, and I was lucky enough to have been there to photograph the event. The concert was being held at the Michelob Ultra arena in the Mandalay Bay resort. There was a merch table set up outside the venue which had a line of at least 200 people, and it was still at least 2 hours till showtime. I waited through the line which went surprisingly quick, bought my tour shirt, and went on the hunt for the rep that I was supposed to be meeting with to pick up my ticket and credentials. I hadn’t attended an event this size for years, so I was excited to say the least. This was a true collection of metalheads. There was studded leather, battle jackets plastered with patches, bondage belts, doc martins, black lipstick, long hair, and lots of tattoos. What else would you expect from the fans of some of the biggest and most widely known and respected metal bands on the planet? The energy was palpable. The anticipation tangible. You could sense the buzz of excitement in the air from the opening of the front gate all the way to the final cymbal hit of the encore. That’s enough teasing though, lets get on with the show!
The venue itself holds 15,000 people and it was well on its way to being filled when In Flames took the stage. They kicked off the night with the song “Cloud Connected” off their 2002 album Reroute to Remain. This was a great choice to get the crowds blood pumping and ready for the intense ride of a show that would follow. In Flames has been in this game for quite a while, it is always a little bit of a shock to realize just how long they have been players in the metal game. Starting in 1990 in Gothenburg, Sweden, this heavy metal band has had an upward trajectory ever since. Their first LP, titled Lunar Strain, was released in 1994 and that is exactly where they took us next with the brutal yet melodic track “Beyond Space”. After reminding the crowd where this band had come from, they spent the rest of their set absolutely shredding faces with hits from their 5 post 2011 albums. They played thrash songs, they played melodic metal ballads, they played downright dirty guitar riffs and sent it home with the unbelievable drum stylings Andrew Wayne, who has previously played bands for bands like Scary Kids Scaring Kids, Underoath, and Chiodos. The energy this band exuded was so perfect for the opener. In Flames is heavy but have always had some slower songs that edge on hard rock. With a metal show like this you really need to pace yourself or you’ll end up burning out far too quickly and you won’t have nearly enough energy to carry you thorough to the end. They closed out their set with one of the heaviest bangers in their repertoire…the 2006 hit song “Take This Life” off the album Come Clarity.
We went into intermission and the crowd dispersed to recoup, smoke, grab another beer, and do what they needed to prepare themselves for the Orlando Based veterans of prog metal, Trivium. These guys really knew how to get everyone up and on their feet. Even though vocalist Matt Heafy also plays the guitar he was somehow all over that stage. The entire band swapped mic stands numerous times throughout their set which I found refreshing considering most bands take their positions on stage and then hold that position throughout the entire set. They opened with two songs, “In The Court of The Dragon” and “Like a Sword Over Damocles”, off their 2021 album In The Court of The Dragon. Trivium was engaged with the crowd and egged them on from beginning to end. They stuck to mostly newer tracks and played only 7 songs, but if you know this band then you know that their songs are usually between 3 and 6 minutes long, which means you still get a damn good piece of Trivium to store in the memory banks. They closed out with the 2006 djent-fest, “In Waves”, off their album bearing the same name. As they thanked the crowd, I couldn’t help but marvel at how flawless these bands had been so far, the last time I had seen either of them had been almost 20 years ago and they still packed the same amount of energy and ferocity into their set as they did back then.
At this point I really assumed that I knew what I was in for. I expected more of the same face melting guitar riffs, power poses, and just overall more metal greatness. I was so wrong…I was far from prepared for the whirling torrent of dreadlocked energy that was about to take the stage. During the intermission they had raised a massive black curtain in front of the stage and used a projector to cast the “Lamb of God’ logo onto it. As the lights went dark a slow melody played accompanied by deep, slow, vocals. Then a large BANG rang out as the intro ended, the curtain was released, and the song “Momento Mori” kicked into overdrive. This set was un-fucking-believable. Every member was not only on point but all over the place. The energy that these guys had, especially vocalist Randy Blythe, was off the charts. Randy was running back and forth, jumping off the drum platform, standing on the speakers in front of the stage, he was an absolute livewire! During their 3rd song, “Walk with Me in Hell” off their 2006 album Sacrament, things really got intense with some awesome pyrotechnics. After slaying the crowd with 9 phenomenal songs, they came back out for a 3-song encore that included the songs “Vigil” off As the Palaces Burn, “Laid to Rest” from Ashes of the Wake, and finally closed with their most popular song “Redneck” off if the 2006 album Sacrament. I was completely blown away by their performance and still get chills when I think about that opening scene. Before I knew it, they had left the stage and we were at intermission yet again.
Our next performance both needs no introduction and deserves a proper introduction all at once. Megadeth was formed in Los Angeles in 1983 after vocalist and lead guitarist, Dave Mustaine, was kicked out of Metallica over allegations of alcoholism, drug abuse, and aggressive behavior. Mustaine went on to form Megadeth and ended up creating a heavy metal band that would go on to rival his former band in both size and influence within the metal world. Megadeth has become an absolute titan over the last 4 decades. They have sold over 50 million records worldwide, earned themselves 6 platinum records, 12 Grammy nominations (winning one for Best Metal Performance of the Year for the song “Dystopia” in 2017), and have been dubbed one of the most successful American heavy metal bands of all time. Now, back to our scheduled programming…
While we were having a nice little break, they had set up another curtain and completely changed the stage set up. The curtain was dropped before the band made their way onto the stage. There was a wall of mock Marshall cabinets stacked 4 high which was dropped to 2 in the center to accommodate the drum platform. In between each column of Marshall cabs there was an LED screen, 4 in total, that played computer animated graphics depicting scenes of fire and destruction along with Vic Rattlehead, Megadeth’s undead mascot. With a flash of light, the band made their way on stage while playing the intro to “Hangar 18” off their 1990 album Rust in Peace. Watching Dave Mustaine and Kiko Louriero shred only a couple feet away from me was one of the coolest fucking moments of my life. I couldn’t help but pause and stare in amazement as these legends performed with face melting perfection, I almost forgot why I was there in the first place. After Hangar, they dove right into another brain rattler by the name of “Dread and the Fugitive State of Mind” from 2001’s The World Needs a Hero. I personally think it is fair to say that this song, like many other Megadeth songs really popularized the chugging, djenting, guitar riffs that we have all come to love in today’s metal. Megadeth plowed on with one of my personal favorites “Sweating Bullets”, a song about the dark alter ego that lives within us all. Followed by “She-Wolf” and “Trust” off the 1997 banger of an album Cryptic Writings.
The best part of the set for me was during the song “Conquer or Die” from 2016’s Dystopia. This song, as you may or may not know, is an instrumental for the most part that begins with a lilting Spanish sounding classical guitar. Kiko was on stage with a stool and his acoustic as a futuristic peace officer began to walk the dark stage with a flashlight behind him. Occasionally the officer would shine his flashlight into the crowd almost as if he was searching the masses for dissidents to apprehend. Out of nowhere appears the Dystopia album version of Vic Rattlehead. Vic is portrayed in this version as a hulking juggernaut of about 7-feet clad in body armor, part undead human, part cyborg. Vic wonders the stage before confronting the peace officer, here they meet center stage with Louriero as he wails out a defiant and epic guitar solo. After the song Vic and his counterpart exit the stage and the rest of the band rejoins Kiko for the rest of the set. I think showmanship is something that has been greatly lacking in today’s music performances. Most bands these days come out and perform their songs and leave. There is no story line, no special effects, nothing.
Megadeth finished off their set with three of their most well-known songs, “Symphony of Dstruction”, “Peace Sells…But Whos Buying?”, and their encore, “Holy Wars…The Punishment Due”. The band bid the crowd farewell and the lights came on. I sat there for a few moments contemplating all that I had witnessed that evening. It seemed like such a journey. I was transported through time and space on the back of a fire breathing dragon. We experienced so much together. After a show like this you almost feel like those sitting or standing near you have become some odd little family. it never ceases to amaze me what the power of live-music is capable of. For a few hours all different walks of life came together; republican and democrat, Christian and satanist, grunge and clean-cut, rich and poor, it didn’t matter. For those few hours we were one. We were one big heavy metal family. we helped those who fell in the pit, we patted each other on the back, we sang arm in arm…its these moments that always have me wishing that it would never end. Why should we return to the hate and division? Why should we go back to being at one another’s throats when we are looking for the same things? These shows aren’t just about the music. They’re about the energy, the camaraderie, the way this music touches us each individually and as a collective, THAT is what it’s about. You can’t get much more immersive and intimate than that. This tour has quite a few more stops across the nation and I highly recommend making the trek to your nearest date and letting go of everything for just a few hours. Let yourself heal. Drown in the melody, lose yourself in the beat, become one with your fellow show goers, remind yourself what it is to be part of something greater than yourself and your superfluous nuances. Most importantly…Rock. The. Fuck. Out.