It’s unclear if there really needed to be a champion of “The Battle of San Bernardino” last weekend, but each of the metal heavyweights that participated in the all-star concert certainly went for the title belt.
A warm September evening set the tone for the mighty Iron Maiden, Megadeth, Anthrax and Testament to converge at the San Manuel Amphitheater, drawing fans of aggressive shredding to the desert.
As the sun dipped down on the horizon, Testament’s Bay Area thrash acted like a beacon to the pit in front of the main stage, as black- and denim-clad fans filed in from the dusty parking lots.
It didn’t take long for the audience to get roiling, as the first big circle pit of the day was instigated with Testament’s “Rise Up.”
That provided a solid foundation for Anthrax, who came on next. The New York City stalwarts were on point with a show that had seen its share of practice, considering that their latest album Worship Music had come out two years ago to the day. A constant touring schedule in support of that record didn’t tire out Anthrax at all, however.
Guitarist Scott Ian jumped all over the stage with ebullient energy, pounding on his collection of Jackson signature guitars and a few custom pieces, as well. He was matched by singer Joey Belladonna, who belted out gems like “Caught in a Mosh” and “Indians” with boyish fervor.
Anthrax also delighted the crowd with a version of AC/DC’s “T.N.T.” that gave the classic rock song a harder twist. Then Ian teased “Back in Black” as a follow-up, inciting even more cheers. “I Am the Law” and “Anti-Social” marked the perfect way to signal an end to the Worship Music tour, and when Ian brought his son Revel out for a final bow, it sent the band out triumphantly.
Up next was Megadeth, who not only celebrated their long history with Iron Maiden, but also the birthday of frontman Dave Mustaine with darkness finally falling.
Megadeth is another band that had been touring diligently off a recent album, this one called Super Collider. But with an abbreviated time allotment, they ran through a veritable hit list, opening with “Hangar 18” that featured Mustaine and guitarist Chris Broderick trading solos with face-melting speed.
The new “Kingmaker” was a definite hit and featured a trembling bottom-end from bassist David Ellefson and drummer Shawn Drover, while everything came together in a perfect Megadeth symphony with a powerful closer in “Peace Sells.”
Megadeth took a short break before coming back out for an encore of “Holy Wars… The Punishment Due.” Mustaine was first serenaded with “Happy Birthday,” which added to the celebration of metal.
At that point, it was a phenomenal show, but Iron Maiden took things to the next level.
Their stage was set to resemble a frozen tundra, and the band emerged to a video of melting glaciers before launching into a staggeringly-frenetic “Moonchild.”
Singer Bruce Dickinson couldn’t have been more on point, expertly hitting all the high notes he has been doing for 40 years. Dickinson used every part of the stage, too, dipping behind a curtain only to emerge on a riser waving the Union Jack for “The Trooper” or eerily mesmerizing the crowd during “Afraid to Shoot Strangers.”
Other highlights included “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Wasted Years” and “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son,” all of which challenged even the most dedicated of head-bangers through Steve Harris’ relentless basswork, Nicko McBrain’s impossible drumming, and the three-headed assault of guitarists Adrian Smith, Janick Gers and Dave Murray.
Iron Maiden even brought out their mascot Eddie, the zombie-like monster that adorns their album covers and t-shirts, for “Run to the Hills.” Eddie appeared as a giant soldier resembling Custer, and the 12-foot beast even beat on McBrain’s kit and held a saber to Gers’ throat.
Maiden nearly blew the top off the venue with a frenetic “Fear of the Dark,” a song that Dickinson eases into with a spooky Dracula laugh before the axemen go to town, and they closed out with a strong encore that included “The Evil That Men Do” and “Running Free.”
In all, “The Battle of San Bernardino” proved to be one that should go down in the history books as a clash of epic proportions.