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Megadeth ends this year’s Gigantour in Mesa

With Ozzfest now firmly entrenched as a cultural institution (read: over-bloated corporate circus), Megadeth leader Dave Mustaine must have suspected that he could fill a different niche and compete on his own terms with Gigantour when he launched the package festival in 2005. Now in its fourth year, Gigantour, which makes its final stop for this season in Mesa, actually packs a bigger wallop by carrying fewer bands this year. Gone is the second stage, a wise move considering that the whole two- and three-stage phenomenon at festivals just makes it harder for attendees to tackle everything. Interestingly enough, in another savvy move, Mustaine also decided to limit the lineup to five bands, all of them up-and-coming except for headliners Megadeth.

And while we're arguably nearing the 20-year mark since Megadeth last put out an album that truly demonstrated the band's powerhouse skills (1990's monumental thrash classic Rust in Piece), it's a thrill to see Mustaine playing at all since a 2002 arm injury had doctors telling him his career was effectively over. Backed by a completely overhauled lineup that sounds appropriately sleek, speedy and hungry on the pre-1990 material, Mustaine gets to demonstrate yet again why he is one of the genre's pre-eminent rhythm guitarists.

As much as one might appreciate Megadeth, however, it's the rest of the lineup that delivers the thrills — particularly on the front end. In the middle of the lineup, the keyboard-heavy approach of Sweden's In Flames and Finland's Children of Bodom, who play second-to-last and third, respectively, make the perfect bridge between Megadeth and the more edgy, underground sounds of High on Fire and locals Job for a Cowboy. The only truly extreme band on the bill, Job for a Cowboy gets to close out the tour with a homecoming.

Be sure to get there early, however, as openers High on Fire take the day's crown for most intensity, despite their mid-tempo leanings. No exaggeration: HOF is probably the world's only band that sits poised to inherit the torch Motörhead's been carrying for the last three decades. No one else has delivered such a satisfying, groovy thrum and done it with so much originality, passion, and purity. Like Motörhead, HOF has an innate knack for boogie/white-trash rhythms, even as they drench them in thrashing riffs and a menacing stoner/doom feel.