@ Newcastle o2 Academy, February 18 2009

After two weeks wrestling with blocked sinuses I had two options. Stay at home and fester or let two of metal’s noisier crews fix me in a way no medication ever could.

Sure enough Testament and Megadeth did the trick as my passages were unblocked and my ear drums given the kind of going over you’d only get from lying next a pneumatic drill. Or from your missus after one Guinness too many.

This was a blast from the past, a fierce taste of the future and a knowing glance at the present – a time when rock in all its various guises is experiencing a glorious renaissance. Who needs a main course of Priest when the 2009 Feast boasts apperitifs as tasty as Dave Mustaine’s Megadeth and the utterly damaging Testament?

Chuck Billy is a big lad with an even bigger voice and this Bay Area veteran shows no signs of slowing down 25 years after matching the likes of Anthrax and Metallica step for step in a US thrash scene bursting with life. Whether driving forward a sensational set with Alone In The Dark – from 1987’s debut The Legacy – or wrapping up one of the shows of the year with The Formation Of Damnation – the title track from last year’s blistering return to form there was barely a note out of place or an extra breath taken.

When you’re talking sheer stage presence Billy is without peers and tonight he was helped by the perfect sound. Too many great thrash singers find themselves lost in a fuzzy mix – and if not the vocalists then their long-suffering axemen. Yet all four Testa-men came across as crisp as a February night in Newcastle and standards such as Into The Pit and Practice What You Preach will have me digging out 2000’s Live At The Fillmore very soon. 

Megadeth had a hard and particularly heavy act to follow but thankfully for the ever doleful Mustaine this was, predominantly, their crowd. Just as well, really. The former Metallica man has never been one of rock’s great orators – at least not outside the comfort zone of his razor-sharp songwriting – and even took time out to chastise one fan for interrupting one of his rare mid-set addresses to acknowledge the point. But there’s no need to be quite so miserable…

Anyway it’s a fair assumption that the bulk of a crazed Academy crowd hadn’t actually forked out £20 to listen to Mustaine massage their egos a la Billy (how many times did he make the point this was, by far, the best UK crowd). They had come to hear one of metal’s foremost singer songwriters dazzle their minds and pummel their bodies with a back catalogue the envy of would-be thrashers everywhere.

In this respect Mustaine truly delivered. And then some. Washington Is Next! was an early contender for tune of the night but Ashes In Your Mouth was much, much better. More poignant. And more Megadeth. Then again you don’t get much more Megadeth than the two songs which closed a satisfyingly slick set.

Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying still knocks spots off anything released 20 years later although it could still be Alice Cooper standing behind the mic as Mustaine’s grinding whine becomes a husky Detroit-flavoured growl. And as for encore favourite Holy Wars…The Punishment Due? When critics talk of epic metal anthems this should be their starting point, the meat in the sandwich and the end game all rolled into one.

As for that whine? Well Mustaine’s vocal style has always been an acquired taste and whether it was a poor early mix or he was simply warming up it’s fair to say the So-Cal crooner required at least six songs to get into his stride. When he did he was demonic, devilish and deliciously cool. In two weeks’ time James Hetfield gets his chance to prove you can sing and play the guitar in a thrash metal band but let’s just say his former band mate has well and truly thrown down the rock God’s gauntlet.

Simon Rushworth