It’s a little surprising to discover that, despite having known each other for over thirty years, Testament, Exodus, and Death Angel; three leading lights of the Bay Area thrash metal scene have never actually been on the road together before. Dubbed “The Bay Strikes Back”, the first UK date of this neck-snapping triple bill is located, rather appropriately, near the water. Okay, the Bristol Channel might not be the Pacific Ocean, and the Clifton Suspension Bridge might not be quite as impressive as the Golden Gate Bridge, but you can’t have everything now can you.
Despite the lack of a nearby ocean, tonight Bristol is home instead to a roaring sea of denim, leather, long hair, and shiny heads, as vast swells of metal fans from all over the UK converge like a tidal wave of black t-shirts. A tsunami hell-bent on consuming as much alcohol, and grabbing as many items of merchandise as possible.
Hitting the stage to a rip-roaring ‘Humanicide’, Death Angel whip the crowd into a fury, a pit immediately kicking off and not stopping as the band slash through the likes of ‘Voracious Souls’, ‘The Moth’, ‘Seemingly Endless Time’, and ‘Thrown to the Wolves’ among others. Singer Mark Osegueda‘s vocals are occasionally hidden amid the bass-heavy mix, but that’s sorted out quickly enough with no harm done.
The anticipation level goes up a few distinct notches before the arrival of Exodus, but is quickly replaced by amused bafflement as the band choose a bizarre mash-up between Slayer‘s ‘Angel of Death’, and ‘Yakety Sax’ as their intro music. All silliness is forgotten in moments, however, as the band – now complete with founding member Gary Holt (sporting a rather fetching ‘Kill the Kardashians’ wristband) returning from his time with Slayer – open up with a rampaging ‘Body Harvest’ and ‘Blood In, Blood Out’ before turning the place completely inside out with a crowd-pleasing ‘And Then There Were None’.
A fast and furious ‘Fabulous Disaster’ comes next, followed by ‘Deathamphetamine’, showing that vocalist Steve “Zetro” Souza isn’t averse to performing material by his (second time) predecessor Rob Dukes. A frenetic ‘Bonded by Blood’ precedes an utterly monstrous version of ‘Blacklist’ before the band encore with the face-breaking double hitter of ‘The Toxic Waltz’ and ‘Strike of the Beast’ as the crowd respond by hurling themselves over the barrier like epileptic lemmings.
After a lengthy changeover, it’s time for headliners Testament to put the cherry on the thrashcake, and they do so with ease. A formidably tight performance, there is simply no room for impressive but time-consuming solos of any description. Those who turn up wanting to hear guitarists Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson shred like motherfuckers, or watch “The Atomic Clock” himself, Gene Hoglan, smash the hell out of his kit under the spotlight for five minutes will go home sorely disappointed. Instead, the band use their time to the fullest effect by thrashing like maniacs from the opening second until the last.
After the old school uppercuts of ‘The New Order’, ‘The Haunting’ and ‘The Preacher’, the band hit the newer material with the likes of ‘Dark Roots of the Earth’, ‘Last Stand for Independence’, ‘Throne of Thorns’, ‘Brotherhood of the Snake’ and ‘The Pale King’ before surprising everyone with ”Fall of Sipledome’ from 1999’s The Gathering album, and newie ‘Night of the Witch’ before closing with a time-honoured ‘Into the Pit’.
Returning for the trio of ‘Practice What You Preach’, ‘Over the Wall’, and ‘Disciples of the Watch’ (dedicated to the venue’s overworked security staff), the band end the show to huge roars of approval, and many sweaty fists raised into the air.
There is much discussion overheard afterwards as to which band were actually the best, but the fact that all three bands are mentioned with virtually the same amount of enthusiasm just goes to show what an awesome – and physically draining – night this actually was.
WORDS AND PHOTOS BY GARY ALCOCK