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The Metal Tour of the Year kicks off in Vegas

It’s the first night of the second leg to the Metal Tour of the Year at the Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. My wife and photographer Courtney Ware and I started the night off zig zagging across the pavement like a game of snake in a line for parking for at least thirty minutes only to get turned away. 

Then with the construction happening on Las Vegas Blvd and road closures we end up having to park at the Excalibur. Given the lackluster directions to the tram; we instead threw our hands up and sped walked our way through three casino properties to reach our destination with twenty minutes to spare. 

Fuck K-pop man. 

That being said this is the second live concert I’ve attended since March 2019. - In part because of the pandemic and also because I’ve been working my ass off at the old day job and now having a son. This kid - this fucking kid - as much trouble and headache as he’s caused has been endlessly entertaining. Why in the blue hell would I even need to go out anyway!?

All joking aside, I've been looking forward to this show since its announcement; but holy shit was that parking snafu symbolic of how the evening would go? Yes - but not at the arena itself. Now with the exception of Trivium I’ve covered all of these bands in previous live show reviews; so please forgive me if I accidentally cover old ground if you’ve happened across those articles. 

In Flames

Case in point the opening band - one of Sweden’s melo death pioneers In Flames. Courtney and I have covered them before pre-pandemic and thankfully they managed to get their work visa situation situated in time. This has been a problem that had been vexing European acts even after the worst of the pandemic. Though my wife would have certainly been just as pleased; Hatebreed wouldn’t need to fill in as they did on the first leg of this tour. 

As In Flames took the stage we the audience were shown that they had not only the budget but also the coordination to bring their own lighting. Not all that surprised really; as in previous times I’ve seen them they were able to bring the full production out onto the road and do so to great effect on stages in venues of various sizes. 

The set itself was a welcome surprise; as the set list they put together was by large a heavier assortment of songs then their previous visit. 

Case in point; they started off the night with “Cloud Connected”; a popular track from their middle period when the electronic instrumentation was an important aspect to their sound in the early aughts. They immediately followed that up with “Space Behind”; which dates back to 1994’s ‘Lunar Strain’ and predates vocalist Anders’ involvement in the band. Though they’d go on to re-record this diddy in the future. Twice. 

Some real quick background on myself. I’m a massive fan of their album ‘Come Clarity’. At fifteen I walked to Tower Records from my highschool the day of its release off the back of the music video for “Take This Life”  being featured on MTV2’s Headbanger’s Ball. That album and that song had such an impact on teenage Ethan that I still remember that its release date was February 7th, 2006.

I didn’t even need to look that up - and if you don’t believe me feel free to fact check me here. Go on, I'll wait. 

I was right - wasn’t I?

I tell you that to set up one of my few serious critiques of possibly this whole show.

I don’t think I’ve witnessed a completely satisfying vocal performance of ‘Take This Life’  since 2006.

Does anybody else have that experience of singing/screaming along with a performer; during a song you know well and right at the part your going to let it all out; you stop and in astonishment and your first thought is “Oh, he just said it…” That’s not to say I don’t think Anders can’t hang. I know he can. He’s still the great vocalist I’ve known him to be; but when it comes to that song, I’m waiting to hear “TAKE THIS LIFE!” during the chorus and what I get instead is “take this life” in lowercase when I swore Caps Lock was on and ready to go! You’re left feeling like you’ve got your hand up for the most epic high five; but your hand is up above your head and inching slowly down to your side; and your supposed bud stares at you in confusion and wondering what the fuck made you take this so seriously. 

Trivium

Trivium is yet another important band from my youth. Spoiler alert all these bands fucking are. 

All that aside I will wax poetically about my love Trivium’s early records or mention bits and pieces of news Matt Heafy had been dropping about his black metal project for the last nine fucking years that my wife seems to think that means I’m obsessed. 

I know she’s reading this and it’s not an obsession! I’ve admired and looked up to a musician who put out one of my favorite records ‘Ascendancy’ and was touring the world as a teenager - when I myself was a teenager. 

Where was I? Right. Trivium. 

The Orlando based four piece (and at one time three piece); is at this point ten full length records into an illustrious musical journey with many twists and turns. Right around album number five; I’d solidified the long standing opinion I’d held that most people into heavy music could find at least one album in their discography to fit their taste.

By then I myself felt ‘The Crusade’ was their weakest effort; but I’ve known others that held that record up as a modern classic that was a throwback to metal music of the 1980’s. 

Then the David Draiman ‘Vengeance Falls’ was released and that was a massive blow to my fandom. My thoughts of that record were quite unflattering at the time. Draiman had supposedly helped Matt Heafy with extending his vocal range and assisted in writing ‘better’ melodies. Or at least that was what was said in the interviews.

What I heard on the record was the singer who’d write melodies that were unique as the ‘Ascendancy’ title track’s chorus being handed a “Sing Like Disturbed” cheat sheet and writing the new songs with that instead. 

I didn’t need to be told David Draiman had anything at all to do with that record. One listen would be enough for me to say no fucking shit. 

It was a while before I’d sit down and listen to a new Trivium album front to back after that. A long while. 

It had been a while since I’d seen Trivium live as well. Twelve years actually since the Baton Rouge show they were headlining; and I bought tickets for, was cancelled an hour and a half into the two hour drive there. 

All is not so doom and gloom though - even on their worst day Trivium is still a kick-ass live act. Even when watching them just before the release of ‘The Crusade’ when Heafy wasn’t screaming at all you still had a kick ass live set despite not hearing the vocals you were used to from their previous records. That said vocals had been a glaring flaw of theirs; not helped at all by bad practices and statements that they wanted to step away from the screaming vocals. 

That being said; a couple years later I saw them twice in Chicago in support of ‘Shogun’ once Matt was able to confidently scream and sing again. I feel as if at that point Trivium had reached their true potential as live performers. 

Now more than a decade later seeing them again I feel as if Trivium has only improved on that front. New tracks and old hitting just as hard; admittedly I was hoping to hear some old favorites which were delivered in the form of “Rain” and “Throes of Perdition”. As much as I like their closer “In Waves”; personally it’s not close to being my favorite track of that album. “Dusk Dismantled” and “Caustic Are The Ties That Bind” would have been deeper cuts I would have overjoyed to hear; though I’m aware of that being a bit of a pipe dream in the amount of time afforded to the second of four bands performing. 

All in all I was largely in good spirits. But it was unfortunate that half of the lights they brought on stage weren’t working. Eventually they were all turned off. That's a pretty shit thing to happen to a band on the first night of being back on the road. Hopefully it’s an easy enough fix that it doesn’t happen again on the tour. 

Lamb of God

Lamb of God might never have been my favorite band. But I’ve found them to be a constant in my life for almost as long as I’ve been listening to metal. The dichotomy of Mark Morton and Willie Adler’s guitar playing stood out to me early on. They managed to blend southern swagger with frantic fretboard acrobatics in their riffs; paired with John Campbell managing to double up on bass as well as Chris Adler’s rather unique approach to percussion; all laying the groundwork for Randy Blythe’s vocal delivery. 

No one sounds like Lamb of God. No one would dare try. 

In the past Lamb of God has performed on bills of some of my all time favorite shows. Particularly when in direct support of Slayer, or possibly my all time favorite concert memory, the Gigantour 2 Las Vegas stop in support of Megadeth. As many times as I’ve seen Lamb of God; I’ve never once come close to being disappointed.

Their set is always stacked with signature sing along bangers. Such as “Now You’ve Got Something To Die For”, and the obligatory drinking song “11th Hour”.

Over the course of this hour-long roller coaster I was ecstatic to hear some of my other personal favorites such as “Walk With Me In Hell”, “Ruin” and “Vigil” as well as the song that introduced me to the band “Laid to Rest”.

My only critique was that they chose to close with “Redneck”, a track that has for some reason lost its luster for me. I can’t even express why I’m finding myself over it but what the fuck… 

Lamb of God has had such a perfect closer for as long as they’ve gone by the name. Taking the wall of death out of the equation “Black Label” has such a build up that’s going to whip a crowd into a frenzy regardless. The subtle touches such as power chords during the bridge riff that hold on in such a way it’s haunting. The breakdown that brings to mind a goddamn dog mauling your face. Normally I can’t stand most breakdowns. Finally the final minute and a half that brings to mind having to drag your mangled carcass back home after the lights come on. 

Megadeth

The final headliner Megadeth rolls out the start of their show with the monologue intro of “Prince of Darkness”. We are then treated to the best of Vic Rattlehead’s varied past professions. From a real estate agent, U.S. Army General, Symphonic orchestra conductor, and most recently a dystopian street samurai. 

All said the band’s varied choice in Megadeth classics to perform is commendable as I’ve continued to buy each new Megadeth studio album as well as their back catalogue. 

That said I only really continue to get excited to put on their first five records, ‘The System Has Failed’ and their most recent release ‘Dystopia’ as time goes on. My opinion of the likes of ‘Cryptic Writings’ or ‘The World Needs A Hero’ has cooled off after all these years. But I’m not about to say they should simply ignore their number one single ‘Trust’. Also I’m sure “Dread…” and “Shewolf” are still some fan’s favorites. Arguably some of my own stand out favorites such as “Hook In Mouth” wouldn’t have been the popular choice either. 

The only obvious omission we were all expecting during the night was “Wake Up Dead”. Lamb of God’s cover of the track premiered on YouTube on April 1st after all and featured members of Megadeth. 

I might not have expected something akin to the Big Four performing “Am I Evil?”, but maybe Randy coming back on stage to sing or for one of the two bands to perform it at all. The only real critique I have of the performance is how little energy the band displayed during the songs. Though Kiko and James were still more energetic than Dave Mustaine. 

Tom Araya of Slayer had long stopped headbanging but was still cognizant of the need to perform to his audience. In comparison Mustaine had his hair covering his face for most of the hour. I’ve never heard Dave stating having health problems affecting his performances except the arm injury that changed how he would hold his guitar but that was roughly twenty years ago. Whatever it is... I’m overall extremely pleased with the evening. And I would happily see repeat performances from any act from the night. What I hope to never repeat was the hour-long journey back to the car. The time wasted waiting on the tram to Excalibur might have saved us time on our feet but had I been by myself I might have walked the whole way again.

ALL PHOTOS BY COURTNEY WARE FOR ZROCKR MAGAZINE 2022. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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