Since being a teenager, my favourite subgenre of Metal has always been Thrash Metal. However, for some bizarre reason, when the New Wave Of Thrash Metal started, and lots of younger bands started making top quality Thrash, I utterly slept on it, not exploring it at all, or sometimes I even outright dismissed it.
This year I’ve been rectifying that, giving bands like Hazzerd, Harlott, Hyades, Havok, Power Trip, Lich King, Mosh-Pit Justice and Municipal Waste their fair shot and being won over time and time again.
The one exception to my New Thrash blind spot has always been Gama Bomb, maybe its because they’re my fellow countrymen, maybe its because they strike the right balance of humour and fun without descending into parody, maybe its just because they write the most memorable songs, but even when I had a “1980s or GTFO” attitude towards Thrash, I’d still find time to listen to Gama Bomb, recommend them to people, and I was even lucky enough to see them live (remember concerts guys?) when a guitarist I knew gave me a free ticket and transport (good guy!) back before I went to concerts regularly or was able to drive.
Many years since I first went in on the band with their Tales From The Grave In Space record, Gama Bomb have now released what I believe to be not only their best album to date, not only one of the best NWOTM albums I’ve heard, not only an album as good as what the ‘80s bands can put out nowadays, but one of the straight-up best Thrash albums I’ve heard to date from any era.
You heard that right. This album is their best one yet. This album can stand proudly up to the best things Slayer or Anthrax have been putting out since the ‘00s, and this album can stand up happily to some things Death Angel or Heathen were putting out in the late ‘80s. Never mind simply holding its own; this album is actively better than most of the output Thrash bands put out in the ‘90s and arguably better than some (if not a lot) classic Thrash and Proto-Thrash albums of 1983-1985 too!
I was a week one buyer (December 2020) after getting mega hyped by the pre-release singles, but it has taken me this long to write a review simply because I wanted to make sure how hard I like it wasn’t just hype or a sort of bubble-gum scenario where the flavour will go away really soon kind of thing. However, a few months later and I still think this record is a damn masterpiece of Thrash.
Songs like “Miami Super-Cops,” “Sea Savage,” “Ready, Steady…Goat!” and “Sheer Khan” just get stuck in my head for days. I have so often been on a walk these days and been unable not to sing aloud “Down, down, town!” during “Miami Super-Cops” when I had otherwise been walking in silence, sometimes leading passers-by to look at me like I am a lunatic. I don’t care, its so catchy it is irresistable!
Alongside top notch, catchy as hell tunes, everything else works perfectly. The production is tight, the playing is brilliant, the vocals just get better every time you hear them (some of those crazy Agent Steel-style screeches are so catchy) and the mixture between serious traditional Thrash music but goofy lyrics just works so well (but importantly, without being comedy music, which is always a turn-off for me). For example, when they go into “What shall we do with a drunken sailor” in the middle of the title track, it comes across as really clever even though it probably shouldn’t.
In summary, if you like Thrash Metal and can get over the fact that the band are not from the 1980s, you absolutely need this album in your collection, no questions asked.
Empire Of The Blind was released in September on Nuclear Blast. Heathen are perhaps not the world’s most prolific band, having only released their fourth studio album since their 1980s inception in 2020, but when they do put something out, you can be sure its going to be good.
Carrying on the general sound and vibe of their previous album, The Evolution Of Chaos, this new album sees the band once again blasting out crunchy Bay Area Thrash Metal riffs, a variety of fast, slow and mid-paced material, great melodic catchy choruses and superb melodic lead guitar lines. (Guitarist Lee Altus clearly uses Heathen nowadays as a vehicle to let out the cleaner catchier stuff that wouldn’t fit with his other band, Exodus).
The only main shift in direction from the previous record would be the amount of mid-paced or groove based parts is higher, and the number of speedy parts is a bit lower (although thankfully, without crossing the barrier into being ploddy).
They don’t frontload it and shove a bunch of filler at the end, it starts off restrained, opens up as it goes along, with the power-ballad just after the middle as a bit of a breather. It arguably gets better as it goes on, and also doesn’t drag on too long, clocking in at a solid 47 minutes with 10 proper tracks, an intro and an outro. The production is flawless, the vocals are remarkably good for singer Dave White’s age (holds up a lot better than many of his ‘80s contemporaries), and the overall flow of the album is just right.
Highlights include the tight and bouncy “Blood To Be Let” and the speedy “The God’s Divide” (I wish that was the album opener actually) as well as and the muscular “In Black” which feels like it could be played at sporting events, and reminds me a tiny little bit of the meatier material on Metallica’s Death Magnetic album (think “Judas Kiss” and “Broken, Beaten, Scarred”). The instrumental “A Fine Red Mist” is the real standout moment however, which balances the faster more powerful riffing with grand guitar textures and victorious mountaintop vista, sword-in-hand feel.
Kragen Lum has been handling the heavy lifting in the song-writing department, and seems to be more into creating a mood and leaving room for the singer and lead guitars to show their stuff, rather than just breaking teeth. The balance is not too dissimilar to recent Queensryche albums actually, (I don’t see how someone who loves Condition Human for example wouldn’t enjoy “Shrine Of Apathy”) although still unmistakably Heathen.
If I was to make a slight criticism, it would be that the album could maybe do with one or two faster songs to keep the Thrashing up. For example just one more “The God’s Divide” would have elevated it from good to very good for me, but that’s just nit-picking and personal preference really, and Heathen have never exactly been a Dark Angel or Razor focusing on relentless speed anyway. As long as you don’t go in expecting Darkness Descends, Violent Restitution, Reign In Blood or Pleasure To Kill however, this album is sure to satisfy and if you enjoyed their previous album The Evolution Of Chaos then there’s little chance you’ll be disappointed with the quality of the songs or the performance of the musicians.
Coroner were one of the more unique Thrash Metal bands. While their earliest material was a bit more pure-Thrash, with each new release they became more technical, more progressive and more unique.
By the time of their final full-length studio album, 1993’s Grin, they had pushed the envelope so far, most of the album is hardly reminiscent of pure Thrash at all.
It opens with the hypnotic tribal “Dream Path” intro, which sounds more like Lateralus-era Tool than it does Reign In Blood or Darkness Descends. That should be the first sign this isn’t your average full-speed-ahead thrasher.
After the brief intro, the record bursts into the first full-length song, “The Lethargic Age” which has a bit of a Beg To Differ era Prong feel to it. There’s still crunch and direction to the riffs, but it also intermittently gives way to jangly post punky ringing too.
That’s followed by the faster “Internal Conflicts” which picks up the pace, but also has a bit of a Ministry-Meets-White Zombie vibe, with its stop/start song structure, bouncy chorus, samples, but tight mechanical verse riffs. That then gets capped off with a sweepy Dream Theater sounding guitar solo.
“Caveat (To The Coming)” which follows, opens with a Beatlesy psychedelic jingle jangle intro, before evolving into a sort of proto-Nu Metal groove. Very bass driven and not as fast as you’d think of when you think of the word “Thrash.”
I won’t get into a full track-by-track but you get the picture, the band are expanding their style, looking in many different directions, trying new styles. It is the 90s after all, and very few Thrash bands are keeping it simple and sounding like its still 1986.
As a bit of a Thrash nut, I’ve spent most of my teens and early ‘20s with a sort of “80s rules/90s sucks” mentality when it comes to this sort of music (aint nobody gonna tell me Green is a better album than Forbidden Evil for example), but as I grew older, I definitely began to appreciate the sometimes underrated 90s releases from 80s bands a bit more. I’m sure if I’d have heard Grin when I was younger, I’d have balked a bit when hearing it. As I didn’t discover Coroner until much later, it just seems like another excellent album from the ex-Celtic Frost roadies. Being a Prong fan first also definitely helps.
I think there’s enough of what makes the previous Coroner albums great. There’s the technical prowess, the willingness to explore and the ambition in general. The vocals are still the same as the early albums (don’t expect any Cobain-isms or Alice In Chains-esque harmonies). The lead guitar is excellent – in fact, I’d argue that some of the band’s best solos to date come on this album and the band in general never fail to be interesting. The only thing that’s missing really is the breakneck speed or the warm fuzzy feeling of classic Thrash charm.
If you want a taster track to see if the album is for you, try the 8-minute, multiple-time signature “Paralized, Mesmerized.”
Overall; is this an appropriate album for adding to a Thrash playlist alongside Pleasure To Kill, The Legacy and Bonded By Blood? Honestly, no, probably not. However, if you are already a fan of ‘80s Coroner, should you shun this album because it is different? No, definitely not.
When you think of German Thrash Metal, chance are you think of Kreator, Sodom, Destruction or Tankard. Rightly so. One band who shouldn’t be overlooked however are Wiesbaden’s underrated Exumer.
I guess line-up troubles and label issues stopped them getting the same exposure and opportunity as some of their peers, because their sound and formula is perfect for this style of music. Its not blackened or crossover, not progressive or technical, not funky or avant guard, its by the book Thrash, done simply, but effectively. Imagine the missing link between Bonded By Blood and Hell Awaits. Exumer’s cult classic 1986 debut album Possessed By Fire is the closest thing to that missing link. Eschewing the darker, more extreme style most Teutonic thrashers usually opt for, Exumer are Germany’s answer to Californian music (kind of like how Xentrix are for Britain).
The vocals are not the most memorable in the world, but serve the songs. They’re mostly in the mid-range but with occasional high screams. Not too cheesy, not too extreme. The guitar and drums are solid. Not flashy, not virtuoso, but get the job done nicely.
The warm analogue production courtesy of Harris Johns (Voivod, Coroner, Kreator, Sodom) is decent for a Thrash debut (certainly better than Destruction’s early work, less tinny and thin for example).
Highlights include the scream-along Title Track, the more adventurous ‘Xiron Darkstar’ and album closer ‘Silent Death.’
If there was a criticism to be made, I guess lack of originality may be the one to level at this band/album. (They do seem to steal a few sections from other songs **cough** Black Magic *cough* Riot Of Violence** cough). However, no more so than any other C-Tier bands of the era.
A good rule of thumb is that if you take a look at the Jason Vorhees meets Attila The Hun looking artwork and get a nice warm feeling in your tummy, then you will kind of already know what this album sounds like. Does it exceed your expectations, probably not, no, but it does meet them. If you dig albums like Terror Squad by Artillery or Malicious Intent by Razor then you’ll know what sort of level to expect.
Call it Speed Metal, Thrash Metal, US Power Metal or just plain old Heavy Metal; Agent Steel’s 1985 combat records debut album Skeptic’s Apocalypse is a frentic, buzzsaw of an album that pounds along with an almighty force.
This album is the pure flawless distillation on Metal at the time. No wonder it caused a stir back then. It rocks all the way through, from the (excluding a brief intro) meaty opening track; “Agents Of Steel,” which sounds like if someone took an early Venom song, produced it well, and then inserted insane falsetto shrieks and impressive virtuoso lead guitar work, to the catchy album closer “Back To Reign” – that mixes Iron Maiden’s gallop with some of that Show No Mercy-era Slayer tinny bounce and Feel The Fire-era Overkill vocal power,
Singer John Cryiis is incredibly diverse; sounding by turns like Katon W. De Pena of Hirax, Bobby Blitz Ellsworth of Overkill, Geoff Tate of Queensryche and strangely Philly Byrne of Gama Bomb (check out “Evil Eye/Evil Minds”). His ultra-high moments even give King Diamond a run for his money at times.
In terms of the instrumentalists; Guitarists Juan Garcia (also of Evildead) and Kurt Kilfelt are both an absolute master of the instrument, coming up with lots of memorable lead lines and solos. Drummer Chuck Profus puts in a really solid performance behind the drum kit. The production really leans into the ride cymbal and toms (almost as if the fills were recorded separately afterwards) and makes the drumming really stand out. The bass guitar, courtesy of George Robb can unfortunately be a little inaudible on some songs (or conversely almost too audible in other songs, for example the Queen Of The Reich copyist “Guilty As Charged” has quite loud bass).
Highlights include the speedy/thrashy “Bleed For The Gods” and the more dynamic and versatile “Children Of The Sun” which has a sort of Warning-Era Queensryche feel meets the vibe of Metal Church’s debut (a Seattle-sound if you will – but not in the flannel shirt meaning of that phrase!) and the slightly darker “144,000 Gone” which sounds like a mixture of Anvil and Iron Maiden but more depressing.
If you like Iron Saviour or Gamma Ray’s sci-fi lyrics with Judas Priest influences this is worth checking out, or if you like the production, music and vocals on debut albums by Anthrax, Exciter or Armoured Saint this is really worth checking out. If you want something Thrashy but clean, familiar but distinct, well-produced for the time but still charming and unmistakably 80s, then this is the perfect meeting point. It also helps that its just 30 minutes with absolutely no filler, so it doesn’t get old or outstay its welcome. Don’t overlook it for too long, I can’t believe I never tried this when I was younger.
Toxik’s 1987 Roadrunner Records debut, World Circus is a lot less technical or progressive than their sophomore album, Think This, and much more in keeping with a traditional Thrash sound. That being said they are rather adventurous, dynamic and technically proficient a that sound.
Some bands sound raw, rough and nasty, but this is utter professionalism, precise and dynamic from start to finish. More for fans of Heathen than Hirax if you know what I mean. The production is clean and the playing is flashy in an effortless sounding way. I also has one of my all time favourite Thrash tunes on it. There’s some nice melodic falsetto (almost Power Metal) vocals, some very impressive virtuosic lead guitar wizardry with all sorts of fancy sweeping and trickery, and of course, oodles and oodles of speed.
Why isn’t it a bigger album then? If I had to guess, the two biggest flaws with the album, are firstly that some of the material can be a bit forgettable after the record has stopped playing, and secondly that the opening track, “Heart Attack” is an absolutely brilliant, catchy, unbelievably fun gem and nothing on the rest of the album can live up to that level or entertainment. If someone asked me “what is Thrash Metal?” its one of the first songs I would play them. Its just a shame the rest of the record doesn’t live up to that unfairly high standard.
That being said, it is not a one hit wonder situation. Anti-drug track “Pain And Misery” has a memorable staccato opening and is one of the most rhythmic Thrash songs released before the 90s. I guess the album is probably most famous for the Title Track having a Thrash recreation of the circus theme tune (do-do, doodoo do do, doo doo) but make no mistake, this is not gimmick band. They are deadly serious, with excellent musicianship and thoughtful lyrics (Eg. “Count Your Blessings” covers the topic of homelessness and not taking what you have for granted).
I love the Ed Repka cover art too. Soooooo Thrash. This is the kinds of thing modern bands like Haydes, Municipal Waste and Havok worship.
Overall; Not the most even record in the world, but definitely worth a look for Thrash fans.
Half an hour of straight-ahead ass kicking, Hirax’s debut Raging Violence is certainly appropriately named. The Californian speedsters’ 1985 album is an underrated gem.
After opening with a silly Monty Python-esque spoken word intro (called ‘Demons’), the album speeds ahead with 14 slabs of snarling, rabid, nasty Thrash. Brevity is the order of the day, with most of the songs under 2 minutes and absolutely none longer than 3 and a half.
There’s a really intriguing mixture of NWOBHM sounding moments, colliding with crossover sounding moments, and a sort of intermittent red-hot streak that clearly influenced Napalm Death (who would later go on to cover the band on their Leader’s Not Followers 2 album).
Its full of brief messy shrieking guitar solos, blunt aggressive drumming and singer Katon W. De Pena’s trademark vocals, that sound a bit like Overkill’s Bobby Blitz Ellsworth being squeezed too hard.
Sometimes they sound a bit like Pleasure To Kill-era Kreator, such as on the furious “Bombs Of Death,” sometimes they have a bit of Holy Terror’s runaway train barely-in-time charm, such as on “Warlord’s Command,” sometimes, such as on the one minute long “Destroy” they would channel Nuclear Assault. Sometimes they would even foreshadow where Dark Angel would go (only without all the changes and technicality).
The production job is a bit low-budget sounding; but considering this was still only 1985, it was still in the opening days of the Thrash movement, before bands were making real money and getting the big name producers. Not that it needs a bigger production; this isn’t a sweeping progressive epic, it’s a punky blast of naked aggression designed to blow the cobwebs off the listener.
Some minor points of interest: The band’s logo was designed by Celtic Frost’s Tom G. Warior. Future Metallica Merch Maestro Pushhead designed the odd psychedelic humpty dumpty artwork. It was released on Metal Blade.
In summary; its raw, is rough, its over in a flash but it’ll kick your teeth out. This is a record worth checking out. Their next album was half as long and twice as fast again.
I don’t normally like to post reviews of records until I’ve had a while to sit with them and let them sink in, but given how long it took me to review Brotherhood Of The Snake, I thought maybe this time around I should strike while the iron is hot, so here goes…
Its 2020 and the 1980s Thrash Metal legends Testament have dropped their twelfth canonical studio album (ie. not counting First Strike Still Deadly, since that is re-recordings of old material). I was pretty hyped up for this album before it even arrived as the band have been on such great form for the last decade with no weak releases in recent memory. Their latest effort is called Titans Of Creation and has the same killer production style as the last two albums and also features the same line-up as the previous album Brotherhood Of The Snake, which is actually a rare thing nowadays as they usually seem to have at least one line-up shift on each new record since the ‘90s.
Interestingly though, although it has the same line-up as the last record, it kind of sounds like there has been a shift. The album is a lot less direct and a lot more technical and musically complex than ‘Snake was. Its also about 15 minutes longer. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still no intros and no ballads, just metal fury from start to end, and there are still some blunt force all-out Thrashers on there (see the red hot ‘WW3’ or ‘Curse Of Osiris’ for example), but they do take the foot off the gas a few times to flex their musicianship rather than just sanding faces off and full speed for an hour. It ends with a biblical sounding instrumental for example. ‘Symptoms’ goes down quite a technical and melodic route, that really lets you know the current rhythm section were both also previously members of the band Death. Single ‘Night Of The Witch’ should give you some idea of the direction of the record. Songs crammed with numerous tempo shifts, complex structures, virtuoso solos, loud and flashy drumming, as well as little hints of the mid-late ‘90s Groove Metal and Death Metal-influenced Testament style creeping in at points amongst their modern-Thrash style of the last four albums. ‘City Of Angels’ takes things even further, and is probably the closest thing to Low the band have done in a very long time.
Basically, the record takes the building blocks of the few previous records’ style, but really pushes it in several different directions and adds more variety. Whether you prefer this album to previous albums will really just come down to personal preference in issues of precision and succinctness versus experimentation and breadth. In terms of quality however, it is unquestionably as good as anything the band have put out since Chuck recovered from cancer.
In terms of highlights; I think my second favourite track on the album is the off kilter ‘Ishtar’s Gate’ which is very bass driven, has a nice eastern-sounding intro and guitar solo, and revolves around a very satisfying loud/quiet dynamic that reminds me a tiny bit of Annihilator. My favourite song however, and the catchiest song on the album, is probably ‘Dream Deceiver’ which could probably be described as the bastard son of ‘Electric Crown’ and ‘More Than Meets The Eye’ and which is somehow even better than that sounds. It is arguably the most memorable song they’ve written since 2008’s The Formation Of Damnation album (and this is coming from someone who loves the last two albums, so this is saying something!). Oh and in case you were wondering, its not a Priest cover, that was ‘Dreamer Deciever’ you’re thinking of.
Overall; a damn fine modern day effort from a world class Thrash act, still at the top of their game, that is both similar enough to recent records that if you like them you’ll love this, but differnt enough that you haven’t just heard it all before. Highly recommended.
Ps. I am not usually a particularly sentimental reviewer. I don’t post many tribute posts when musicians pass away or get well soon posts when musicians are ill. However; Singer Chuck Billy and bassist Steve DiGiorgio are currently recovering from Covid-19 at the moment, about a month after I was within sneezing distance of them at a recent concert, just before the world shut down. Sorry if its cheesy given the timing of this review, but I genuinely do wish them all the best.
I went to go see Testament, Exodus and Death Angel live last night, on The Bay Strikes Back Tour at Bristol 02 Academy, on Tuesday 02.03.2020.
As you probably know if you read this blog, I really, really like Thrash – it is my unquestionably favourite type of music.
Boy, I was so pleased when I saw this concert bill advertised. This is one hell of a concert line up! Three bands that I’ve been listening to since my teens, together on one bill, all playing Bay Area Thrash Metal, my favourite type of music bar none.
The media always likes to talk about the Big Four of Thrash Metal, (all of whom I’ve been lucky enough to seen live before!), but for me it has always been the Big 6 with Exodus and Testament in there too.
Exodus and Testament are so representative of everything good about Thrash. I can never decide which one is my favourite and it can change on any given day. In fact, Exodus and Testament logos occupy both the left and right shoulder positions on my patch jacket, equal in size and position. I’m also quite partial to early Death Angel and their Act III album in particular is one of my favourite Thrash albums.
[Trivia fans may also be aware that there are a few other connections between these three bands. I’ll type just a few here now – Death Angel’s demo was produced by Kirk Hammet, who was in Exodus, and Exodus’ singer Steve Souza was the singer of Testament before their debut album, back when they were called Legacy. Nice connections there].
I’ve been lucky enough to see Exodus before, back in 2016, when I lived in Manchester, on a bill with Prong and Obituary. That gig that got me into Obituary and properly into Prong where before I was just a causal fan. This is my first time seeing the mighty Testament live though, and I couldn’t be more excited. (Crazy as it sounds, sometimes I almost feel like I’ve seen them before though, as I have watched their Live In LondonDVD more than 50 times, to the point where reality blurs and my memories of it almost feel like I real memories and like I was there). Its also my first time seeing Death Angel live who are a perfect opener for such a bill.
As has become a habit of mine in recent years, I have been listening to these bands constantly in the weeks leading up to the concert, building anticipation. I also listened to them all on shuffle on the drive to the concert, which was in Bristol. This is only my second ever concert in Bristol, as I fear the unfamiliar and large city and much prefer the convenience and familiarity of Cardiff for concerts most of the time – but this line up is too good not to travel for!
I thought since it’s a bit of a stressful drive, I’d book the day afterwards off work, so I don’t go to work on less sleep than usual. Turns out I’m an idiot though, as I booked the day of the concert off rather than the day after! Woops! Oh well, at least I wasn’t in a rush to get there after work then. I tried to get some sleep beforehand to balance it out.
It was much less stressful navigating my way there this time as I made no wrong turns and I was familiar with the parking lot (which is down a weird cobbled side street that looks like you aren’t allowed to drive down) so everything went smoothly. After I queued up and got in, I was just in time to catch Death Angel’s first song. Somehow, I managed to get a good spot with a good view, only a few places from the stage slightly to the left of the venue, stage right.
Death Angel’s setlist was mostly a mix of tunes from their modern post-reunion albums. I only own one studio and one live album from the modern era so far, so it was a bit unfamiliar with the material they chose. They only played two and a half songs from the classic first three albums (‘Voracious Souls’ and a little bit of the title track from their debut album The Ultra-Violence and then the classic opener ‘Seemingly Endless Time’ from their masterpiece Act III). Nevertheless I had a great time.
Their performance was great. Tracks like ‘Thrown To The Wolves’ and especially ‘The Dream Calls For Blood’ sounded really powerful and energetic live. There wasn’t much of a stage show, but they really didn’t need it. They really got the crowd gonig with their enthusiasm and crowd ineraction.
I was quite happy with how into it the crowd were. Sometimes the crowd doesn’t go for the opening act. When I saw Diamond Head support Saxon, the vibe was utterly dead for Diamond Head until their last song, but here, people treated Death Angel like a headliner. There were sections of people throughout the room singing every word and most of the crowd were thrashing like a maniac, so to speak. It was a perfect way to start the evening.
The sound was really well mixed. It was a thousand times better than Megadeth had been recently. You could hear everything perfectly but it still had a real crunchy, aggressive power. The vocals soared, the leads were clear and the drums hammered at you. The rhythm guitars hit that sweet crunch spot that makes Thrash so perfect.
In the gap between bands I managed to get closer to the stage still as people went off to find drinks and toilets. I’m not a push to the front kind of guy and am allways mindful of people behind or beside me’s personal space, so sometimes you can’t get the best view, but I got a pretty great view through sheer luck.
Next came Exodus. Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza is still fronting the band. Its nice to see some line-up stability, as there was a lot of upheaval over the years. Tonight was my first time seeing them with main guitarist Gary Holt in the band. Last time I saw them, Garry wasn’t there as he was busy touring with Slayerat the time, following the untimely passing of Slayer’s Jeff Hanneman. Tonight he played a little snippet of ‘Raining Blood’ and Zetro quipped about how he could do it legally now due to having been in Slayer.
[Trivia fans may also be aware, just for more Thrash connections, that Exodus’ current line-up featurs Heathen’s Lee Altus. Heathen have also previously had Exodus’ first singer Paul Baloff in their line-up briefly and they currently feature former Slayer drummer Jon Dette.
There are innumerable other trivia links between these bands. If you want to get on with the review, skip to after these brackets. Otherwise; strap in guys, this is a convoluted one…
Also worth mentioning since we’ve brought up Slayer, is that both Testament and Exodus have had Slayer’s second drummer Paul Bostaph behind the kit, and Testament have also had Slayer’s first drummer Dave Lombardo, and while we’re talking about shared drummers – both Testament and Exodus have both had John Tempesta on drums!
The aforementioned Paul Bostaph used to be in Forbidden, who have also had Glen Alvelais, and Glen was in Testament in the ‘90s and has been in Tenent alongside Exodus’ singer and Steve Souza. Testament’s current drummer is former Dark Angel drummer Gene Hoglan. Hoglan has also been in Forbidden briefly and done backing vocals and drum teching for Slayer in the early days.
Speaking of Hoglan, this not strictly Thrash, but he has been in Death with Steve DiGorgio, but it loops back around to Thrash, as DiGorgio is Testament’s current bassist – Its like musical chairs in the Trash Metal world!
I haven’t even gotten into all the Machine Head links yet. Don’t get me started. I had a whole blog about this stuff in my teens called The Thrashagram. Its proably kid’s stuff looknig back at it now, but at the time I was pretty proud of it].
Anyway… When I saw Exodus last time, their performance was great live. I remember writing at the time that if you get the chance to see them, no matter how high up or low down on the bill they are, you really must take it. They aren’t a nostalgia act, they’ve still got the fire in their eyes. This time however, they were even bloody better! They were utterly amazing. On fire. In the zone. Blistering. Whatever you want to call it, they tore the venue a new one. What a difference a Holt makes, am I right?
Zetro made a big speech about how Holt was back and how we were all lucky to catch him on his first UK date back in the fold, and by god was he right. The energy, chemistry and indescribable x-factor going on made the performance utterly captivating. Zetro made a few speechs that night, including one about Bay Area Thrash that really locked into my old teenage love of Thrash and made me smile like a goon.
Exodus’ set was more balanced between their modern and classic material than Death Angel’s had been. They didn’t have enoguh time to cover ever single album, but they hit all the key periods. There were a few tracks from their Paul Baloff-fronted debut Bonded By Blood, a few from the Souza-fronted ‘80s albums (my favourite era of the band), a few from the Souza-fronted modern albums and even one from the Rob Dukes era.
It is nice that they mix the setlist up. Last time I saw them, they didn’t play ‘Deliver Us To Evil’ or ‘Fabulous Disaster’ for example. Last time I saw them, they played ‘The Ballad Of Leonard And Charles’ from the Dukes era, and this time they played the cleverly titled ‘Deathamphetamine.’ I love how this band play material from all eras. It’s a lot better for us fans than situations where some bands have a line-up change or reunion and the returning old guy refuses to play material from his former-replacement’s era. Most fans want to hear it all.
The band were tight, the sound was great again and they played some of my favourite songs (I was so happy to hear ‘Fabulous Disaster’ and ‘Black List’). What a brilliant time. If the night ended here, I would have been utterly satisfied.
Finally came the headliner, Testament. This band’s first four albums absolutely defined my teens and their mighty comeback album The Formation Of Damnation was the metal oasis in my otherwise prog-centric first year of university.
Testament were great live too. Their sound was a bit more restrained and less savage than it had been for Death Angel or especially Exodus. Furthermore; Gene ‘The Atomic Clock’ Hoglan’s drumming is mechanical and perfect, compared to Tom Hunting’s crazed and exciting beast-man drumming style. This made for a nice contrast, and was suited for Testament’s more melodic parts, even if it was a little less pulverising in the heavy parts than Exodus had been.
What they lost in savagery however, they made up for in professionalism. Compared to the other two bands, Testament got more time and more of a stage show, with an hour-and-a-half set. Clearly the headliners then!
They had banners, smoke cannons, lazers and a much more colourful light show. The banners changed depending on what album they were focusing on. They had raised points for the guitarists to climb on during solos. Eric Peterson in particular was really impressive. Many of the solos I always thought were Alex from the newer records, were actually Eric. Live, he delivers them with such flare and precision it was a joy to watch.
Speaking of joy, after all those years of watching Live In London on repeat, my brother and I always talked about how much fun singer Chuck Billy has. The man looks like being in Testament is his dream come true and that he’s having the best time in the world. His huge smiles as he plays air guitar on his mic stand, and air drums in sync with all the cymbal catches are so infectious. I feel like he is Testament’s number one fan and his joyous enthusiasm is such fun to behold.
No setlist at any concert ever satisfies everything I want to see, and tonight I’d love to have seen the title track from Souls Of Black or something like ‘Alone In The Dark’ or ‘Apocalyptic City’ from their debut. Most of all, I would have really loved to have heard ‘More Than Meets The Eye,’ from Formation Of Damnation which I think may be the band’s finest hour, but overall I was really satisfied with Testament’s choices tonight. Their set list was a real mix as well, not just all old not all new. They covered early stuff, mid-period-stuff, and even a brand-new song from the as yet unreleased next album.
They also played a few songs from their most recent album, The Brotherhood Of The Snake which I’ve been meaning to review for ages now, but spoilers, they managed to play the best two songs from it! Huzzah! Combined with many of my favourite tunes like ‘Practice What You Preach,’ ‘Over The Wall,’ ‘The Preacher’ and ‘Into The Pit’ I was pretty chuffed.
Overall, this night was a thrash fan’s dream night if ever there was one. Once again, if it had just been Testament and Death Angel, I would have been wholly satisfied. However; given the utterly perfect set from Exodus, this was a whole other level of good. (And to cap it all off, the traffic and roads were so good, I managed to get home in time to get a fair amount of sleep for work next day! Bonus!).
Next on my concert schedule: Rammstein in Cardiff this Summer, Helloween in Manchester around Halloween, and then WASP doing only tunes from the first four albums in Cardiff a few days after Helloween. (Possibly Sepultura too, depending on money, work and tickets – I’m thinking about it).
Blind is a very interesting and unique record within the C.O.C discography both historically and musically. A transitional record for a band who have had several very distinct and separate sounding periods and musical-directions over the years.
In the ’80s C.O.C were a raw, gnarly Hardcore Punk band (but with Sabbathy doomy tracks here and there too) and gained more and more Thrash influence with each release. In the 2012-2015 one of the earlier line-ups reformed but made more sludgy stonery Metal. The band are most famous however for their 1990s period especially the fan favourite Deliverance and Wiseblood albums which saw them add in Southern Rock, Groove Metal and Stoner Rock elements together into one big melting pot resulting in some of the best music of all time (real top 100 albums to hear before you die type stuff, seriously, if you don’t own those two albums yet, drop what you are doing and explore!).
In 1991 however, C.O.C had an interesting and one-off change of pace, direction and line up. Usual bassist and occasional singer Mike Dean was out (he’d be back again) replaced by Phil Swisher. Karl Agell joins the band and takes the mic, about their fifth singer alreay. For the first time guitarist Woody Weatherman finds himself in company as a second guitarist is added to the line-up, a big step in changing their sound from ramshackle Punk flavour to something else, something more metallic. That guitarist was none other than Pepper Keenan. Pepper of course being famous not only as the guitarist in supergoup Down nowadays, but also the band leader and singer of C.O.C for their most famous and beloved work in the ’90s.
Well, all that history and line-up information is certainly interesting, but it really doesn’t give you any guide as to what this particular record sounds like and if you’ll like it or not. Let me ask you a few questions. Do you like Chaos AD? Do you like Burn My Eyes? Do you like Vulgar Display Of Power? Do you like Cleansing? …if so then you’ll probably love Blind too!
The music is a far cry from the early Hardcore Punk and Crossover Thrash directions. It has yet to gain the Stoner Rock vibes, bounciness or Southern Rock influences that meshed into the sound of their most famous stuff. It is a strange pure perfect early Nineties Metal record. The intro and outro tracks are noisy-ass Doom-sounding sludgy dirges; otherwise however, the rest is a little harder to define. I know some people argue that Groove Metal or Post-Thrash or whatever you want to call it is not a real subgenre. I’ve heard this album called all sorts from Thrash (not really right) to Sludge (no…not right either) to Doom (…nope, not right either). The only one that really fits for me is Groove Metal. Take those above-mentioned four albums, Blind sits somewhere in a cross section somewhere the middle of all of them.
Karl’s vocals are James Hetfield/Chuck Billy influenced, semi-barked and semi-melodic, often very reverby and very, very well-suited to the music. The drums are very rumbly and varied. The guitar is very raw and heavy, never Slayer-fast but with a nice Thrash-style chug mixed in with hardcore fueled long ringing chords. Imagine a Supergroup that was half Black Label Society and half High On Fire trying to cover one of the deeper cuts from The More Things Change. In terms of production, it doesn’t have the warm Hard Rock ready sound of the next two records or the tinny budget-sounding job of the earlier stuff, instead it has a very distinctive early-’90s sound, the kind of thing that Pissing Razors had before the millennium. Something somewhere like Demanufacture only without the futuristic robotic vibes. Its a real charming sound.
Highlights include the ridiculously catchy single ‘Dance Of The Dead’ (Seriously; why don’t the band play this live more often!?) as well as the excellent drum-powered ‘Damned For All Time’ and of course the concert favourite ‘Vote With A Bullet’ which has the interesting point of having Pepper sing lead vocals, a hint of what was to come.
Overall; there’s no band quite like C.O.C and there’s no C.O.C release quite like Blind. If you like the band you really ought to check it out if you haven’t already, and if you don’t like the band yet but are a fan of the albums and bands that I’ve been mentioning throughout then this is a serious gap in your collection, do yourself a favour and give it a try!