Metal is falling deeper and deeper into a retro-obsessed morass. As such, folks will forever debate both sides of the ‘should they or shouldn’t they be digging out old treasures/does the old school crowd care about the new school stuff/does the new school crowd care about the old school stuff/should the band in question have broken up years ago’ arguments. Tonight, and this tour as a whole, is a solid indication that everyone on all sides of all arguments is both right and wrong. The Dark Roots of Thrash tour demonstrates that the entire span of a given band’s career means different things to different groups of people and everyone is valid in expressing their love of whatever era of a band they happen to love.
I don’t take photos at shows, mainly because I suck at them and don’t have real camera (an iPhone ain’t worth shit when you’re trying to take something worth publishing), so here’s some shit I found on the internet.
First though, on the almost-completely opposite side of the coin, were openers Shattered Sun, who one can surmise are only present because they’re being managed by Chuck Billy’s Breaking Bands management team. Aside from distortion pedals, tight black jeans and the occasional guitar solo, the Texas sextet has very little to do with the roots of thrash, let alone the roots of metal per se. Coming from a world where incessant breakdowns, good cop/bad cop vocals and melodic pseudo-death metal collide with digital warmth and amp factory pre-sets, theirs is a sound that relies as heavily on the waning NWOAHM (i.e. Killswitch, Unearth, As I Lay Dying, Trivium, et al.) as it does the changing attitude towards how a generation that ripped the fuck out of Slaughter of the Soul and claims The Black Album as Metallica’s high-water mark aren’t doing that as much anymore.
Remember what I said about me not taking live photos. Here’s Exodus standing above the Golden Gate Bridge.
Playing a vast array of songs from the entire 30-year wing-span of their career, Exodus illustrated how different phases of their existence appeals to different age cohorts and the friendly confusion that might erupt when those subsets of fans are thrown into a room together. Back in my early teens, I remember hauling ass down to legendary Toronto record dispensary, The Record Peddler, on Bonded by Blood’s release day. So, it stands to reason that their airing of “A Lesson in Violence” and the title track would be the moments that stood out strongest for me personally. That the band today remain spandex-on-ballsack tight and as energetic as a power plant (even with Jason Viebrooks from Heathen filling in on bass), with Steve “Zetro” Sousa acclimating rather nicely to his third go round with the band – outside of David Lee Roth, you’ll probably never see someone so happy to be back in a band – makes those classics still worth it to both teenage and old man me. If I can still react with a stupid grin when I hear the lyric “murder in the front row” being scritched out as a bunch of dudes who never should have survived The Great Alcohol Poisoning Purge of the late 80s bellow and fist pump along, then the world is still an all right place. But – and this is a big ol’ weird BUT – the biggest reactions from the majority of patrons were for Tempo of the Damned tunes like “Blacklist” and “War is My Shepherd.” And more people than I would have imagined were, rightfully so, totally digging the new stuff off of Blood In Blood Out as well. Just goes to show that any amount of behind the scenes drama can be pole vaulted by consistency, good tunes and doing it from the heart and all that other palliative platitude crap. Then again, the biggest whoop went up for “Toxic Waltz,” but that could have just been old dudes screaming bloody murder and running for their lives as the pit transformed into an arena showcasing the sort of lawless violence that even MMA fighters would be like, “Yeah, I think I’m going to stand over here and off to the side for the next few minutes…”
Testament being Testament
To further the combination of retro-obsession and possibly acknowledgement that, if their early material wasn’t their best material, it might not have received the attention it deserved, Testament was billed to be playing selections from their first three albums; which is awesome because those first three albums rule. What stood out as they careened through “Over the Wall,” “Raging Waters,” “The Preacher,” “Into the Pit” and so on and so forth is how they temper their old school roots with modern flash. New-old bassist Steve DiGiorgio was doing more on an awesome-looking three-string bass than those fellow low-end rumblers whose string count sometimes outnumber guitars, and doing it more tastefully, I might add. The stage show included the obligatory couple-stories-high backdrop, a light show which rivalled Meshuggah for variety and synchronization to the music, strobes that recalled the Dillinger Escape Plan for sheer seizure-causing intensity and the demon face from the cover of The Legacy spewing out dry ice like a fire extinguisher. There was Chuck Billy’s ever present air-guitaring on his half-stand mic stand, Gene Hoglan looking as cool as a cucumber as he juggled and twirled drum sticks amid his actual effortless playing and the band sounding crystal clear, courtesy their own PA system. It would have been easy to hide behind all the bells and whistles, but when it boiled down to it, Testament did their job impressively and, like their tourmates, were razor sharp and have probably never sounded better. There was no doubt that, even as these two busloads of dudes are setting the big 5-0 on horizon, that they’ve incorporated that seasoned professionalism of the last three decades and are still a forced to be reckoned with. And, unlike what various parents and guidance counsellors might have told you, this whole metal thing isn’t a phase one necessarily, or easily, outgrows.