As the clock outside ticked down to one of the most momentous and divisive moments in the history of the country, inside North West London’s Wembley Arena there was nothing but love. Whether it be the support raised for the children of a fallen singer, a legend’s beating a vicious and unforgiving disease or the conquering of personal demons, every one of the 12,500 there cheered with a heartfelt passion that wasn’t just reserved for the music. With three of the best bands on the scene, you’d expect the visceral excitement of the sound and fury accompanied by eyeball melting visuals but above all else, the lasting thing that was taken away was the sense of family.
Openers, L.A. five-piece Bad Wolves displayed exactly why they’re so hotly tipped, having not just the attitude but, more importantly, the songs to back up the hype. Any nerves at playing such a large venue seemed to evaporate the moment they hit the opening chords of ‘No Messiah’, the track huge and heavy.
Amongst the muscular brutality there is an edge of Nu Metal swing to their material and they seem to have a real knack of writing huge hooks, surely another key factor to their rise. ‘I’ll be There’ and ‘Killing Me Slowly’ rocked hard but it was when they showed their lighter side on the acoustic ‘Sober’ that they really impressed, its naked and brave arrangement showing the depth of their skills.
The set closed with their emotion stirring cover of The Cranberries ‘Zombie’, a track which, as singer Tommy Vext explained, raised over a quarter of a million dollars for the children of the late Dolores O’Riordan. It’s a fine way to bring things to a climax for the band and you can be assured that they’ll just keep on growing.
On the other end of the scale with regards to years in the business, Megadeth are seasoned troopers. Accompanied by a collection of screens showing dystopian animated films featuring ‘deth mascot Vic Rattlehead, the band packed their hour long set with classics and fan pleasers that was all that could have been hoped for and more.
Kicking off with ‘Hangar 18’, the trash titans took no prisoners and it was eviscerating riff and riff that pummeled the audience into submission from the off. The current line-up is incredibly tight and the band sounded so much better than their last arena show in the capital during the Stone Free festival at the 02 two years previously.
In the interim period Dave Mustaine was diagnosed with cancer and, in one of the highlights of the night, declared himself totally free of the disease after a rigorous treatment program.
‘The Threat is Real’ and ‘Wake Up Dead’ with played with machine gun rapidity before ‘Sweating Bullets’ went from it’s menacing intro into its delicious groove and the slightly unhinged and playful spoken vocals, the mainman having fun.
With its monstrous riff and scything solo ‘Trust’ was akin to a full-on attack and ‘Tornado of Souls’ had moments of Thin Lizzy’ish harmonies in the twin guitar work between Mustaine and Kiko Loureiro.
It was with a mix of pride and amusement that ‘Dystopia’ was announced as ‘deth’s first Grammy win and the version played here certainly lived up to the accolade and it was with the Dave Ellefsons’ driving bass and the pounding drums of Dirk Verbeuren powering along two classics in the form of ‘Peace Sells’ and encore ‘Holy Wars – The Punishment Due’ that Megadeth left the stage. They came, they saw, they conquered.
It takes a band with huge balls to have bonafide legends as special guests on tour but Five Finger Death Punch seem on course to conquer most of the known universe at the moment. In a maelstrom of lasers and pyro the Las Vegas metallers hit the stage and there was absolutely no let up for the next hour and a half as they ripped the roof off in a display worthy of any festival headliner act.
As the huge curtain dropped and the band tore into ‘Lift Me Up’ with the force of a hurricane, adrenaline surged through the already pumped audience. Ivan Moody is the consummate and perfect frontman for the band, a cheerleader who sells each song, he has the voice and heart to win over the stoniest of critics.
A constantly moving blur, he dominated the huge stage and truly made it his own as his four bandmates got into irresistible grooves and proved that they themselves were certainly not passengers on this freight train, each putting 110% into their performance. To see the band onstage was both exhausting and exhilarating as they brought their own kind of magic to an already outstanding evening.
It would be a huge mistake to think they are just about lacerating riffs and crushing rhythms because there is so much craft to what they do and both the writing and the variety of paces showed a band that is truly built to last.
‘Trouble’ screamed pure rock ‘n’ roll fury and the heat from the onstage pyrotechnics could be felt half–way down the arena during that and the anthemic ‘Wash It All Away’ matched the temperature of those frantically moshing in front of the stage. There’s obviously a huge amount of emotional attachment and history with the venue and when Moody says ‘’Wembley, it’s amazing to be home’’ you know that it’s sincere and not just a line. Throughout, there are moments where a very tangible love between band and audience is plain to see and it obviously deepens the bond between both , possibly more so when the, two years sober, singer talks about his struggles with alcohol and is hugely encouraging of those in the crowd who are sharing the same journey. All ego left aside,this is a moment of soul to soul connection.
With red lights blazing from the huge skull that hangs above the stage, ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ brings the first of many changes of clothes for the singer as he gets into character, stalking the stage full of menace and edge.
The atmosphere is then lightened by the massively catchy ‘Sham Pain’ as cannons fire huge showers of gold confetti over the audience and a sea of arms wave in time with ringmaster Moody’s instructions before the band go into the first of two covers of the evening, a scorching version of Bad Company’s titular evergreen.
‘Burn it Down’ is like being hit repeatedly by a truck and ‘Got Your Six’ was equally, thrown into a meat grinder heavy, guitarist Zoltan Bathory, bassist Chris Kael and drummer Charlie Engen a whirling mass of hair and limbs.
Jason Hook emerged clutching an acoustic guitar and it was time for the audience to get involved in the full voiced singalong of ‘Wrong Side of Heaven’ before a fully acoustic ‘Battle Born’ saw Moody bring a very young girl from the audience gently onto the stage in a wonderful display of tender thoughtfulness as he made it plain that the band were so grateful for every single person who have supported them over the years.
Another cover in the shape of Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s ‘Blue on Black’ was pure Southern Rock before Hook took to the skies on a small elevated platform that lifted him thirty feet as, just under the lighting rig, to play a solo. ‘Never Enough’ shredded and with a hall full of people chanting along with ‘Burn MF’ the band concluded a set that proved they’re on the edge of megastar status.
Coming back onstage with a triple hit of the kinetic ‘Inside Out’, irresistible ‘Under and Over It’ and a soaring and vicious ‘The Bleeding’ the night drew to a close, the band staying onstage long after the lights came up to shake hands and throw plectrums, drumsticks and set lists into the audience.
When, earlier in the evening, Moody says that the band plans to headline Download you know, without any doubt, that they mean it and on the strength of this performance it won’t be very long before that happens. All hail the new Kings!
Review by Paul Monkhouse
Photography by Jon Theobald