Being loud isn’t nearly enough in heavy metal. A bad attitude helps, but for the bands collected under Megadeth’s touring mini-festival Gigantour, some distinctive style and vision made all the difference Friday at the Gibson Amphitheatre.
Though each of the three top-billed acts — Megadeth, Motorhead and Volbeat — were dependably loud, confrontational and contained elements of classic metal and punk, each delivered something vastly different from the next.
While headliner Megadeth stood in front of a big wall of Marshall amplifiers, the real power was less in volume than in the details of the band’s dense sound. There were guitar eruptions over God-of-Thunder drumbeats, and songs were layered and stretched out, forceful one moment, swinging the next. It could be heard in more complex material like “Foreclosure,” which unfolded in subtle shifts in raging sound and direction.
Crowd-surfers rolled endlessly toward the stage, pumping their fists in the air during songs like “Headcrusher,” music designed less for radio airplay than for maximum impact. An early highlight was "À Tout le Monde (Set Me Free),” a hard-rocking duet with Cristina Scabbia of opener Lacuna Coil, with a quick squealing solo from guitarist Chris Broderick. It worked so well, it’s too bad Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine hasn’t recorded with a singing partner more often.
For years, Mustaine was famously aggrieved at being fired from Metallica early in his career, but his exit from that original thrash unit freed the guitarist to explore his own creative whims, becoming a platinum-selling artist along the way. A new song, “Public Enemy No. 1" (from the album “Thirteen”), was just as intense as anything else in the band’s set, while on “Holy Wars” he sprinted through a dizzying thrash solo.
Mustaine didn’t say a lot between songs, but did offer some election-year advice before leaving the stage. He recently denied media reports that he’d explicitly endorsed former Sen. Rick Santorum for president, but criticized the current Oval Office resident with a snarling, “Look back at the last three years….” He didn’t get the ovation he might have in other parts of the country (including his home state of Arizona), but Mustaine has never shied away from an awkward moment.
Earlier, Motorhead played to a full house of fans, offering fast-paced hard rock from a career of more than 20 albums since 1975. From the band’s newest release, “The World Is Yours,” Motorhead bashed through the churning riffs of “I Know How to Die,” as iconic frontman Lemmy Kilmister tilted back his head and wailed, “Rotten to the core, hang me out to dry . . . Stay on the right track, you can’t live a lie.”
A finely aged rock ‘n’ roll specimen, Kilmister still enjoys an important place on the hard-rock landscape (expanded further with last year’s release of the documentary “Lemmy”). And there was a display of some genuine family values from the hard-rock pirate when his adult son, Paul, joined the band for “Killed by Death.”
The Danish band Volbeat has found a meaningful connection to the roots of hard rock, linking thrash to Sun Records. Singer-guitarist Michael Poulsen stood center stage with a Social Distortion tattoo along his forearm and sporting a jet-black pompadour, which he quickly shook loose during a head-banging set.
Volbeat’s take on Johnny Cash’s “Sad Man’s Tongue” had fans shouting along and swirling in the mosh pit, before the quartet brought things back around for a thrashing goodbye blast of Slayer’s “Raining Blood.” It was noisy and nasty, and another welcome shift from the loud and predictable.