Try to momentarily forget about leader Dave Mustaine's antagonizing personality and (sigh) controversial politics. Save for Red Hot Chili Peppers, no group on the bill possesses Megadeth's experience or influence. While Mustaine's supporting cast changes on a regular basis, the guitarist/vocalist has never lost his bitter-aspirin tone or cynical rage. The quartet's recent Dystopia marks a return to the pent-up frustration, kinetic interplay and technical fretwork honed on Megadeth's thrash hallmarks. Even better, live staples such as "Peace Sells" and "Symphony of Destruction" erupt with a relevancy that suggests they could've been written yesterday.
What's rock 'n' roll without a little star power? Given Mötley Crüe officially called it a day, Sixx:A.M. takes over as bassist Nikki Sixx's main outlet. He's again joined by fellow Hot Topic model-in-the-making DJ Ashba, a fluid guitarist who gained fame by helping the pre-reunion circus of Guns N' Roses attain a level of respectability that appeared impossible before his arrival in 2009. Ashba apparently turned down Axl Rose's offer to remain onboard with Slash, which gives him - and Sixx:A.M. - even more incentive to impress with the band's own glam-spackled brand of sleaze and swagger.
Monster Truck (Friday)
Any band named Monster Truck needs to live up to its evocative moniker in more ways than one. The group should resemble a throng of denim-clad, long-haired burnouts stumbling out of a smoke-belching van in the summer of 1976. Songs have to be heavy, thick and bluesy. And some lyrics should pertain to living for the moment and ignoring authorities. This blue-collar, Ontario-based quartet checks all those boxes and more - and won a Juno Award in the process. "Rock 'n' roll might save your life tonight," Jon Harvey sings on his collective's recent album, treating the declaration as a certainty.
Lamb of God (Saturday)
Metal has always embraced survival as part of its code. From the resilience built into the aggressive sounds to the outsider ethos shared by fans, perseverance in the face of long odds serves as both a bond and rallying point. Few singers know firsthand what it's like to endure dungeon-dark circumstances more than Lamb of God wailer Randy Blythe. Arrested, jailed and ultimately acquitted for a manslaughter case stemming from a 2010 onstage incident in the Czech Republic, Blythe muses on the events on VII:Sturm and Drang - a thematic set that finds Lamb of God rediscovering its sense of purpose.
The anonymous individuals that comprise Ghost might be pretenders, opportunists, Satanists, freaks or horror-film admirers who took their passion to an extreme level. Whatever their identities, these Swedish spooks understand the value of showmanship and allure of a solid hook. Besides, much to Lucifer's dismay, nobody needs to sign a soul-selling contract for the right to be entertained by Ghost's censor-baiting shock - an underworld that comes alive onstage via haunting vestments, ghoulish masks and mocking symbolism.
At the Drive-In (Sunday)
A festival can't happen without at least one high-profile reunion. Enter At the Drive-In. The Texas post-hardcore group broke up at the right moment - namely, just as a larger concern of critics and audiences started to notice its existence. At the Drive-In also benefited after its members splintered into two other acts (the Mars Volta, Sparta) championed by the same indie sites that trumpeted the genius of the group's 2000 swan song, Relationship of Command. Yes, 16 years is a long time. But having already reunited once in 2012, the quintet already knows its way around expectations.
Death from Above 1979 (Sunday)
Claustrophobic noise. Ear-ripping distortion. Controlled chaos. Amplifiers pushed to in-the-red limits. Clanging percussion. Bazooka-loaded bass lines. Two shirtless dudes dripping buckets of sweat. All in the name of achieving the sonic equivalent of spontaneous combustion. No, Death from Above 1979 doesn't care much for subtlety or precision. The Canadian duo fixes its sights on stirring up a physical frenzy and doing everything within reason to ensure the crowd follows in the wake of its punk-propelled dance grooves. If you still crave an energy drink after this set, you aren't doing it right.