By Andy O’Connor
Editor’s note: This article was originally published December 12, 2013
Wednesday night was a rough night to be a singer.
Dave Mustaine, vocalist and guitarist for metal veterans Megadeth, sounded a bit hoarse at the band’s show at ACL Live. For songs like "Symphony of Destruction" and "Wake Up Dead," which emphasize the lower range of his voice, that wasn’t so much an issue. Austin didn’t get much of the nasally voice that’s distinctly his. It took the power out of a song like "In My Darkest Hour," a brooding stomper written as a reaction to the death of Metallica bassist Cliff Burton in 1986. "Sweating Bullets" also suffered from Mustaine’s reduced vocal abilities, as his snarl gives the song a humorous snark not often seen in metal on a line such as "Nice story – tell it to Readers’ Digest!" Still, Megadeth pounded through a hit-laden set, and the rest of the band looked pretty healthy.
And even if Mustaine’s voice wasn’t in tip-top shape, his guitar playing was still on point. Seeing him and Chris Broderick trade off leads during "Hanger 18" was exhilarating, the sort of guitar acrobatics that define metal. "Holy Wars" closed out the night, and it remains one of the band’s most compositionally impressive songs. Mustaine didn’t speak much to the crowd, giving the show an oddly family-friendly vibe despite visuals of drugs on "Kingmaker" (the only song they played from new album "Supercollider," and a bit of a reminder that Metallica in the ’80s thought, "Yeah, Dave, you party too much. We’re kicking you out of the band."), political uprest in "Peace Sells," and religious warfare in "Holy." Most of the father-son duos, some with matching tour shirts, probably weren’t all that concerned about Mustaine’s voice. The dads probably were just glad their kids aren’t listening to Five Finger Death Punch.
Fear Factory didn’t fare as badly in the vocal department – Burton C. Bell’s screams still matched the mechanical rage the band pioneered with records like "Demanufacture" and "Obsolete." His clean vocals, however, left a lot to be desired. On record, they’re oddly angelic, harmonious yet carrying a distance. Live, they sound like bad radio rock. Their syncopation, from guitarist and founding member Dino Cazares’ tight riffing and drummer Mike Heller, remained unmatched. Fear Factory has history with Megadeth – they opened for them in 1995, which Bell pointed out to the crowd, and also played Gigantour, Megadeth’s attempt at creating an Ozzfest rival, in 2005. They were once upstarts bringing a fresh sound to move past the thrash of Megadeth, but now they’re both grizzled road warriors. Funny how time changes things. Not surprisingly, they left off material from "Archetype" and "Transgression," albums recorded when Cazares was not in the band. "Damaged" from "Digimortal" made the setlist, a surprise given how panned that record was when it came out in 2001.