Before Megadeth seize the stage to headline Bloodstock 2023, the US thrashers’ video backdrops play a compilation of Vic Rattleheads gone by. The skeletal mascot’s appearances on a host of artworks fade in and out, covering everything from signature single Holy Wars…The Punishment Due to last year’s The Sick, The Dying… And The Dead! album. It’s the perfect introduction for a set that, over the next 90 minutes, will blast out classic tracks from every era of this band’s four-decade history.
Opener Hangar 18 does plenty to explain how Megadeth have endured this long. The 1990 Rust In Peace favourite is emblematic of the band’s early golden age, imbuing finger-shredding technicality with genuine hooks and melody. First you’re moshing to those rallying chords and crying out that hook of “Hangar 18! I know too much!”, then you’re spending the next three minutes asking how Mustaine and co-guitarist Kiko Loureiro aren’t soloing their calluses off.
Megadeth’s more straightforward mid-’90s arena-metal days also enjoy pride of place in the setlist. Sweating Bullets – which sees Mustaine interrupt his own ranting verses with just three chords – rocks up early to unite the crowd in singalong. An evocative À Tout Le Monde and bouncing Symphony Of Destruction achieve similar interactivity, especially when the latter gets everyone chanting “Megadeth!” in time with its easy-as-pie riff.
Sadly, although the selection of songs is iron-clad, Megadeth aren’t bulletproof performers. They’re technically spotless; Loureiro’s all smiles, and drummer Dirk Verbeuren and bassist James LoMenzo are both high-energy, but Mustaine’s vocals never match the savagery of his riffs. It’s an issue that’s been well documented lately, further exacerbated by the low mix on his microphone, turning tonight more into heavy metal karaoke than a statement of continuing intensity.
MegaDave seems in high spirits, though. Despite one bizarre diatribe about a blow-up unicorn in the crowd (“I’m sorry you spent the whole afternoon blowing that thing up – and that you probably enjoyed it”), Megadeth’s architect of aggression seems genuinely humbled by the occasion. He even states that the sole new song in the set, 2022’s We’ll Be Back, is hardly “the national anthem” – a rare self-deprecating statement given its slicing guitars and breakneck pace encapsulate many of this band’s best aspects.
The usual series of thrash metal oldies finish the set, with Peace Sells marching into Mechanix and a climactic Holy Wars…. The escalating speed and proficiency of the trio build the evening to an apex of excitement. Even if much of this crowd is better at singing these songs than Mustaine is, it doesn’t damper the joy shared by these 20,000 onlookers as they filter out into the Midlands.
Megadeth Bloodstock Open Air 2023 setlist
Dread And The Fugitive Mind
Wake Up Dead
In My Darkest Hour
We’ll Be Back
Conquer Or Die
À Tout Le Monde
Tornado Of Souls
Symphony Of Destruction
Holy Wars...The Punishment Due