LOUDER LIVE: Testament, Exodus and Death Angel @ Kentish Town Forum / 06.03.2020
Music is full of cities and places that are synonymous with certain genres. Whether it’s Manchester and Britpop, New Orleans and Jazz or Gothenburg and Melodic Death Metal; cities have always had the ability to become breeding ground for musical movements that have gone on to define eras and spawn some of the biggest bands of a particular generation. One of those cities is San Fransisco, which is known for many movements, one of them being the thrash metal movement which developed in the early 1980’s and was at its peak throughout the second half of the decade. By fusing the heaviest sounds of the era with a DIY punk ethos, bands of the Bay Area of California created one of the strongest collective movements in metal history, which still resonates today. Though Metallica would emerge as the real superstars of the period; bands like Testament, Exodus and Death Angel were transformative acts of the thrash metal genre and legends in their own right. So it was in 2020 that these three bands teamed up for the Bay Strikes Back Tour to celebrate the period and to bring 80’s Bay Area Thrash to North London for the evening.
If you have a band of the calibre of Death Angel opening up a show, you know you’re in for a good evening. And seemingly, London’s thrashers were in agreement because the Kentish Town Forum was already packed before the band had even played a single note. Death Angel released their iconic debut album The Ultra-Violence in 1987 and are still putting out quality material such as last year’s Humanicide, which they had a giant backdrop of across the back of the stage. The five-piece kicked their set off with the new album’s title track, which immediately created large-scale chaos in the centre of the Forum which carried on throughout the band’s blistering set. Vocalist Mark Osegeuda was a fantastically engaging frontman throughout the show making sure that the large crowd who had turned out early to see them were constantly engaged and the rest of the band did a great job of balancing energy with musicianship.
Death Angel had a longer set (along with an earlier start) than would be usual for an opening act and fully made the most of it, delving into a number of big tracks from their back catalogue and ending with the monster anthem Thrown to the Wolves which was a definite high point. Death Angel often get missed out of the conversation when it comes to the big bands of thrash, but based on their recent output and the way that they were able to put in such a stellar and experienced performance, this is a fate they do not deserve.
Next up were Exodus, who really have been around the thrash metal scene since the very beginning and clearly had a large number of dedicated fans who were amongst the crowd. After entering the stage with a mash up of Angel of Death with the Benny Hill Theme (whoever put that together deserves a medal) and properly opening their set with Body Harvest, it was clear that we were in for much of the same as what had gone before; and there was particular excitement about this current incarnation of Exodus due to the re-addition of guitarist Gary Holt who had re-joined the band following his replacement of Jeff Hanneman in Slayer. It wasn’t long before the band returned to their classic tracks, picking heavily from their classic debut record, 1985’s Bonded by Blood.
As with Death Angel, there was a great deal of carnage throughout the crowd during the whole of Exodus’, though from a distance back from the stage the sound quality was lacking somewhat in comparison, with lead singer Steve Souza often struggling to make himself heard at times, particular during the more frantic sections of the songs. Nevertheless, the band more than make up for this with a performance that encapsulates their punk ethos, as they have always been more on this side of the genre than most of their compatriots. This is brought out particularly at the end of their set where The Toxic Waltz and Strike of the Beast round out their set in style and made me wonder how a lot of the crowd had any energy left for the headline act.
There was however, still the headline act yet to come and while lesser bands may have been put off by such a stellar set of support bands, this was never going to be a problem for Testament who have been one of the best in the business for a long time when it comes to the live performance. And indeed it was with this well-earned confidence that they set foot on the Kentish Town Forum stage and launched into their opening track Eerie Inhabitants from 1988’s The New Order. Although they have gone through numerous line-up changes throughout their history, Testament have remained a consistent force in heavy metal and they demonstrated all of their talent and experience transitioning seamlessly from classic hit to classic hit for ninety solid minutes.
Testament have quite a wealth of great songs to pick from and sticking with the theme of the tour, they opt to go more for the older ones than picking too heavily from more recent tracks. However, we were still treated to the opening two tracks from their most recent record Brotherhood of the Snake, as well as a few from 2013’s Dark Roots of the Earth. Although these were a little less well received than classics such as The Preacher and Into the Pit, the difference is minimal and at any rate, Testament are such an accomplished live act I’m sure they could put in a set full of album fillers and get marginally few complaints. They are certainly able to get good reactions from their two brand new songs of the evening Night of the Witch and a live debut of Children of the Next Level from their upcoming release Titans of Creation.
It seems like an odd thing to say when it comes to a metal band, but Testament are model professional in every sense of the term; as they put in a musically flawless performance. Drummer Gene Hoglan personifies this behind his massive drumkit, keeping everything in perfect time (which is no easy task when you’re playing at the tempo demanded by a band like Testament). Bassist Steve Di Giorgio meanwhile strutted about the stage giving the thrashy riffs produced by the two guitarists some much-needed weight behind them. Those guitarists themselves Eric Peterson and Alex Skolnick are also tremendous with the former chipping in the odd solo, but leaving the more complicated stuff to the latter who left no-one in the building in doubt as to why he is seen as one of the most accomplished guitarists in metal; shredding and sweep-picking all the while with a big grin on his face as though he was doing nothing more than mucking about in his bedroom with friends.
All of this was held together by frontman Chuck Billy, who was not only able to deliver the most versatile vocal performance of the evening, producing everything from crunching growls to piercing screams, but is also one of the most likeable frontmen in metal. It is no wonder that so much of the metal community has recently been following news updates to see whether he has successfully recovered from contracting Covid-19 (which happily is the case, as it is with Death Angel’s drummer Will Carroll). What’s more, Testament went out on a massive high ending their set with a few more fan favourites such a Practice What You Preach and Over the Wall. Their aim in putting the tour together, to celebrate the origins of the music they are clearly so passionate about, was nothing short of a resounding success. On this Friday night before lockdown and social isolation came about; Testament, Exodus and Death Angel brought the Bay Area to London and left a trail of destruction as well as a couple of thousand happy fans in their wake.
Testament's latest record, 'Titans of Creation' is out now via Nuclear Blast Records.
Check out the video for 'Children of the Next Level' below:
Death Angel Socials: