Metal-headed Hongkongers showed up in force last night to welcome thrash legends Megadeth to Star Hall at Kitec. It was the second major metal act to play in the city this year – as well as the second of the “Big Four” thrash bands – after Metallica’s thunderous appearance at the AsiaWorld-Expo in January.
It was a solid move by the promoters to book Mongolian folk metallers Ego Fall to open the show. In a city where it’s actually pretty rare for international touring acts to have a support act, it was great to see some of the pricey entry fee going towards nurturing the Asian scene. They triumphantly paved the way for Megadeth with an epic, symphonic storm.
There was lots to talk about, so let’s get The Bad out of the way first:
In a night of explosive rhythms and immaculate, wild-haired solos, the main issue was Star Hall itself. While Metallica completely owned the enormous Expo arena with a huge sound that filled every corner of the room, Megadeth’s sound struggled to project past the sound desk. Those who’d paid a bit more to be closer to the stage wouldn’t have noticed, but standing towards the back made it feel like the action was happening very far away.
The bass was far too heavy in almost every song, creating a constant low-end vibration and cutting out the higher frequencies. Dirk Verbeuren’s bass drumming pummelled the ears like a helicopter taking off, but his cymbals sounded like quiet and dull, like he was hitting tin cans.
Kiko Loureiro’s shredding and solos only just broke through Dave Mustaine and David Ellefson’s rhythms. Mustaine has never exactly been famed for his live singing, but he struggled to compete with the heavy onslaught of the music and it was often impossible to make out the lyrics.
Now for The Good … and there was so much good.
Without the fanfare, MTR ads and sponsored Facebook posts we’ve become used to anytime a big act comes to town these days, the promotion for Megadeth’s show was pretty low key. Even when they were stood onstage, it was hard to believe the gig was actually happening. It’s not often that bands of this size get to experience playing a completely new city, and they seized the opportunity to woo Hong Kong with a high energy set.
The band had opened almost all of their Asian shows with Prince of Darkness but opted for the classic crunch of Hangar 18 in Hong Kong. The crowd’s jumping created an earthquake-like rumble – the floor actually popped up and down as frenzied moshing broke out and fans at the barrier clamoured to be closer to their heroes.
Songs from new album Dystopia blended well with older hits from the late 80s and early 90s, Mustaine’s distinctive, fried snarl sounding every bit as grizzled and derisory. Three huge screens, cool visuals, a powerful lighting rig and plenty of smoke brought the power of one of the world’s biggest-selling metal acts to the Hong Kong stage.
Trust was one of the high points of the set, opening with an instantly recognisable tribal drum march over synthesised strings, giving a cinematic feel. Loureiro’s shrieking melody pierced through and then the familiar thrash rhythm kicked in. “Let’s be friends,” Mustaine snarled over eerie, UFO synths and clonging, ominous guitar, before an explosive, blazing solo.
Fan favourite A Tout Le Monde drew one of the loudest cheers and had everyone singing along. The band played up to the song’s cheesy 80s theatrics with lots of hair thrashing and piercing solos. Lit by a single white spotlight, Loureiro’s stark, wailing scales closed the song.
The mania stepped up another notch for Tornado of Souls. In keeping with the song’s name, vicious maelstroms broke out across the room to the sound of the crisp, punchy riff. Mustaine’s voice sounded strained, as if he was fighting against a gale, while Ellefson’s bass revved like a racecar at the starting line.
Of the newer tracks, Fatal Illusion and Dystopia stood out. The former, a mid-tempo, sprawling stomp-fest, had a funky bass solo, almost verging into Rage Against The Machine territory in its groove and drum patterns. The other was played against a backdrop of the music video, which depicts Megadeth’s cyborg mascot Vic Rattlehead going on a killing spree in post-apocalyptic New York City. A furious metal breakdown accompanied the final, climactic scene.
After the rip-start of Peace Sells, a guy dressed as Rattlehead appeared on stage to dance and hype the crowd into headbanging even harder to the tortured guitar squeals and iconic bassline. “Whaddaya mean I hurt your feelings?” Mustaine spat alongside the marching stomp.
Sensing the finale was nearing, fans began chanting for Holy Wars. “I got a feeling some of you have seen us before,” smirked Mustaine as he caught his breath. “Great country, like it here, we’ll be back!” he said, before telling the story of how his controversial comments at a gig in Northern Ireland during the early 90s saw the band driven away from the venue in a bulletproof van. After that incident, he was inspired to write Holy Wars … The Punishment Due, the set’s big closer.
The song’s brutally heavy riff and lyrics delivered with venom swept everyone into a last-ditch fevered oscillation of fists, horns and stomping. Loureiro held his guitar aloft for the final triumphant crashes and the band took a bow.
As the dry ice cleared and the vague ringing in our ears began to fade, the night left us wondering … when will Anthrax and Slayer get here?