Megadeth in Dubai
October 18, 2012
By Aaron Noah M.
Location: Dubai, UAE

One day back in 1983 the lead guitarist for Metallica was abruptly ousted from the band, and a legendary heavy metal rivalry was born.  Drinking, drugs, and violent behavior were all cited for Dave Mustaine’s expulsion, and the man who was too much to handle for Metallica went on to form his own metal brigade: Megadeth.

Upset from his untimely dismissal, Mustaine teamed up with bassist Dave Ellefson in Los Angeles, California to seek out talent and to form a rival band.  Unable to find a suitable singer, Dave took charge of vocals as well as playing lead guitar.   A band was formed and ever since then they have been hell-bent on being faster, heavier, and more aggressive than Metallica.

I think many metalheads would agree that, in this respect, Megadeth has succeeded.  However, in terms of overall popularity, the band has always followed one step behind their arch rivals.  Whenever Megadeth hit it big, it seemed Metallica always came along and hit it bigger.

For metal fans like me this is no reason to dismiss the legacy of Megadeth, as they are still one of the most influential bands in metal, especially within the thrash genre, of which they are one of the cornerstones of the so-called “Big Four of Thrash”, including Slayer, Anthrax, and Metallica.  One must also remember that the glory days of Metallica (the first three albums) borrowed heavily, if not directly, from Mustaine’s guitar riffs.  And if die-hard Megadeth followers want even more to smile about, all they have to do is recall that when Metallica floundered through a decade of mediocrity (ReLoad and St. Anger, anyone?) and inane Napster disputes, Megadeth challenged for the kings of metal.

A year ago I had witnessed an astonishing revival of Metallica in Abu Dhabi, so I was curious if Megadeth could match such a performance here in Dubai.  Here’s how it went, sorted by category:

Promoter: Live Nation (on behalf of the Gulf Bike Festival)

Live Nation Entertainment is a huge global enterprise (which includes Ticketmaster) that has been putting on concerts in the UAE for the last four years; they should know what they’re doing.  Should.  My friends and I were not impressed when we discovered our AED 400 (USD 109) Rock Zone Tickets (nearest the stage) were being sold at half the price just days before the concert.  Either someone at Live Nation messed up on the pricepoint-to-demand ratio, or Live Nation had deliberately milked the market at both ends to squeeze every last dirham out of the gig.  Either way, it left many of us fans with a sour taste in our mouth.  Sorry, no refunds, no upgrades.

For other elements, the concert setup was fairly smooth.  Ticket entry went quick and the Food & Beverage booths were thoughtfully placed.  Unlike the Metallica concert, t-shirt merchandise was easy to obtain.  The only hassle was the long haul from the stage area to the bathrooms, separated by the entire length of the venue.

Venue: Festival Park, Festival City

Concerts at Festival City used to be held in one of their large parking lots, and although this was wasn’t aesthetically pleasing, the central location made it quite easy to enter and exit the show.  Now concerts and festivals have been shifted to a nearby park area with more pleasant surroundings, but a few more difficulties.  Once we arrived at Festival City Mall, it was fairly simple to catch a shuttle bus to the venue, although there was about a 1km walk through the Gulf Bike Festival exhibits to the ticket entrance.  The bigger headache was leaving the venue, with the entire concert crowd hiking alongside the road, a desperate bunch searching for shuttle buses and taxis that were conspicuously absent.

The Show: Megadeth

So I paid full price for my tickets.  Fine.  At least I was getting the opportunity to see one of heavy metal’s great bands.  The concert was on a work night, so unfortunately I missed the local opening acts Absolace and Sandwash (sorry guys, I heard you both did well), but for me, this was all about catching Megadeth for the first time.

Megadeth in Dubai

Heavy metal!

The immediate surprise upon entering was the lack of metalheads about.  I got there just before Megadeth got on stage and I estimate there were only a few thousand fans in the venue.  Where did the regional metalheads go?  A year ago thirty thousand people assembled for Metallica (yes, I know most of these folks were not metalheads) and Korn, Iron Maiden, Scorpions and the retired Desert Rock Festival (including Megadeth in 2006) all brought in decent numbers.  Where was the metal fanbase?

Was this a troubling sign of the state of the regional metal scene or a sign of the global status of Megadeth?  I’m suspecting a bit of both.  As a heavy metal fan who desperately wants the return of a Desert Rock inspired festival, the first indication is cause for despair.  As for the latter, I understand the mainstream following of a user-friendly Metallica and I don’t mind a more personal encounter with the grittier Megadeth.

We loaded up on beverages and staked out comfortable sites within the Rock Zone.  Despite the price cuts there were still more folks on the back half of the central barricade, which made the stage area fairly roomy with great visibility from all angles.  We sat back and waited anxiously like kids eager to open our Christmas presents.

Then rolling drum toms kicked up and filled the air, the opening beats to “Trust” from the Cryptic Writings album.  The crowd quickly condensed around the stage to see the band and the undisputed star of the group, Dave Mustaine, up close.  Throughout the years there have been twenty different musicians in Megadeth, with Dave as the only perpetual band member and the main source for songwriting.  The current lineup also includes Dave Ellefson (bass guitar & backing vocals. 1983-2002, 2010-present), Shawn Drover (percussion. 2004-present), and Chris Broderick (guitar & backing vocals. 2008-present).

Dave Mustaine set loose

Dave Mustaine set loose

The opening track was spirited, but I got the feeling the band was still warming up their chops.  One song down was all they needed though, and then “Hangar 18” exploded on stage and lit up the audience.  Megadeth delivered high-voltage pace and intensity, and the crowd ate up every furious note.  As always seems to be the case in the UAE, the mosh pit was a bit schizophrenic and confused, but the vibe was right on target.  For me, this remained one of the highlights of the entire night.

From there the velocity tempered down for awhile but was resurrected again in the mid-section of the concert with a rousing rendition of “Public Enemy No. 1” (from their latest release TH1RT3EN) and a fistful of tracks off the Countdown to Extinction album, which celebrates its twentieth anniversary this year.  Giant screens behind the band also added to the atmosphere, with corresponding video clips to match the on-stage thrashing.

Most of the songs were pulled off with great dexterity, but sometimes I felt the band could have played tighter.  Mustaine seemed to drift from absolute focus and brilliance into patches of indifference and boredom.  At most times I was mezmorized by the flurry of guitars, and then sometimes I knew Megadeth could have seized more from the music.  This was especially true of the concert finale, “Peace Sells”, which took me half the song to recognize it (although my frequent treks to the beverage counter might actually be to blame for this!).  Overall I think the band still managed to showcase their great talent.

Noticeably absent was their usual finale “Holy Wars…The Punishment Due”, which shouldn’t be a surprise due to regional sensitivities.  However, after “Peace Sells” wrapped up and the crowd chanted for more, Megadeth declined to return to the stage for an encore number.  I realize that such a gesture is merely showmanship, but for the fans it can really cap off an evening in good spirits.  Instead, a slightly somber crowd retreated back into the night, searching for lost taxis and wondering…what could have been?

Unofficial set list:

1. Trust
2. Hangar 18
3. A Tout Le Monde
4. Whose Life (Is It Anyways?)
5. Public Enemy No. 1
6. Skin o’ My Teeth
7. Symphony of Destruction
8. Architecture of Aggression
9. Foreclosure of a Dream
10. Sweating Bullets
11. This Was My Life
12. Countdown to Extinction
13. High Speed Dirt
14. Psychotron
15. Ashes in Your Mouth
16. Peace Sells

Megadeth 101

Dave Mustaine and Dave Ellefson form the band in Los Angeles, California in 1983.  The band designation of “Megadeth” reportedly symbolizes the annihilation of power, with the name itself a distortion of the term “Megadeath” which is an actual unit of measurement for nuclear war planners (literally a unit of one million deaths via nuclear explosion).  Politics would remain a central theme in Mustaine’s lyrics.  By 1984 the band was putting out demos and preparing for their first album.

Killing Is My Business… and Business Is Good! (1985)

Legend has it that Megadeth received $8,000 by Combat Records to produce their first album.  After spending half of their total budget on drugs and alcohol, the band was forced to axe the initial producer and produce the album themselves.  The result was a bit dodgy in production, but the aggressive sound was a big hit with fans (and my personal favorite).  Listen to “Mechanix”.  Yes, that’s the same riff Metallica use in “Four Horseman.”

Peace Sells… but Who’s Buying? (1986)

Another small budget allocation by Combat Records, and this time the band was not happy with the results.  They soon signed up with Capitol Records, who also bought up the rights to the album.  Peace Sells was released by the end of 1986 and was a critical and commercial success.  The album is still considered one of their best efforts.  Behind the scenes, Megadeth struggled through bouts of drug and alcohol addiction, and thus the carousel of band members coming and going started in earnest.

So Far, So Good… So What! (1988)

The recording budgets got bigger, but it couldn’t help with internal problems.  Between substance abuse and fights with the producers, Mustaine and the band struggled through production.  The released album was not as adored as the previous attempt, but the popularity of Megadeth was still on the rise.  During this time Dave was arrested for drunk driving and possession of narcotics; a subsequent rehab sentence got him sobered up for the first time in years, and good things were to follow.

Rust in Peace (1990)

The making of this album was an interesting time for the band.  They were touring with big names such as Slayer, Judas Priest, Alice in Chains, and Anthrax.  Slash (from Guns n’ Roses) and the late great “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott both auditioned for Megadeth. Dave was sober, and for the first time ever, the entire band stayed clean during record production.  The result was an incredible album that managed to be explosive and yet was also a tighter sound than Megadeth had achieved thus far.  Rust in Peace was a great success at the time and seemed to be when the band began to hit the pinnacle of their craft.

Countdown to Extinction (1992)

If you’ve never heard a single Megadeth song before, then this album might be the place to start.  Many mainstream listeners were introduced to the band after Countdown to Extinction was released in 1992.  Dave and the producers made a concerted effort to create a compilation of radio friendly songs, and it worked.  Songs like “Sweating Bullets” and “Symphony of Destruction” were popular hits, and Countdown to Extinction became Megadeth’s most commercially successful album to date.  After a decade of public animosity, Metallica and Dave Mustaine called a truce and played together at the Milton Keynes Bowl in 1993.

Youthanasia (1994)

Following the sensation of Countdown, the producers continued to push the stylistic trends of the band towards a slower mainstream sound.  The core of metal was still there, but now Megadeth had stronger vocal melodies and was more accessible to a wider audience.  Youthanasia rode that popular wave started two years earlier and was a sign of things to come.  On tour Megadeth co-headlined the Monsters of Rock Festival (in Brazil) with Alice Cooper and Ozzy Osbourne.

Cryptic Writings (1997)

The next album was an eclectic mix of sounds, deliberately divided into three song types: aggressive, melodic, and radio-friendly.  Cryptic Writings was a mainstream listener success and one of the tracks, “Trust,” became Megadeth’s highest charted single to date.  The band toured with the Misfits, Life of Agony, and Coal Chamber.

Risk (1999)

Metallica has St. Anger and Megadeth has Risk.  Neither album is worth mentioning.  This is what happens when the studio producers start writing the tracks instead of the musicians.

The World Needs a Hero (2001)

Megadeth parted ways with Capitol Records and signed on with Sanctuary Records.  Dave Mustaine also attempted to steer Megadeth back on course to its core musical elements.  In this respect the new album was a step in the right direction but it was released to mixed reviews.  The World Needs a Hero was a definite improvement though, so maybe folks were still fuming over Risk.

The System Has Failed (2004)

In 2002 Dave suffered a relapse into drug addiction as well as nerve injury to his left arm which left him unable to play guitar.  Megadeth was officially disbanded, but after a year of mental and physical rehabilitation, Mustaine was able to resurrect the band and start work on a new album.  The resulting effort was just what the doctor ordered and Megadeth was back to form.  Tracks like “Back in the Day” signaled a return to metal potency, while critics and fans at the time heralded The System Has Failed as the band’s rebirth.  Following the album’s success, Dave organized a heavy metal tour, Gigantour, which included support from bands like Dream Theater, Nevermore, Anthrax, Fear Factory, Dillinger Escape Plan, Life of Agony, Symphony X, Dry Kill Logic, and Bobaflex.

United Abominations (2007)

The good vibes continued.  Despite multiple band member changes, Megadeth stormed ahead with Dave still leading the charge.  At position eight in the US charts, United Abominations became the band’s highest charted album since Youthanasia back in 1994.

Endgame (2009)

Led by tracks like “Head Crusher”, Endgame again reaffirmed the resurgence of the band.  They also toured in good company, with such greats as Judas Priest, Testament, and Slayer.  After eight years away from Megadeth, original bassist Dave Ellefson rejoined the lineup to complement the “Rust in Peace 20th Anniversary Tour.”

TH1RT3EN (2011)

Dave was born on September 13th, he first picked up a guitar at age 13, and now this is his 13th album.  What else do you call it, right?  Mustaine claims the entire musical legacy of Megadeth is packed into this new release and believes it will rival the status of Countdown to Extinction.  I haven’t heard the new material yet, with the exception of “Public Enemy No.1”, which was ferociously impressive played live in Dubai.  If that is anything to go by, he may be right.