Local band Mindless Torture kick-off this evenings proceedings of Thrash and Metal mayhem at the Wulfrun Hall. With barely anyone in the venue at the start of their set, aside from a smattering of people up front whom I can only presume are die-hard fans, I find myself barraged with a wall of noise from on-stage. Needless to say part way through the five song set I was willing myself to find something I liked about them; however, I was finding it very difficult to pick out something tangible to set Mindless Torture apart from any of the other Death Metal bands out there at the moment.
I am not saying these guys are not technically good at what they do; it is just there seemed to be a lack of that sparkle of something special which is required to make it in the wider world of music. Maybe it was the fact they were physically quite static on-stage or the similar pace of each song which left me feeling uninspired — I felt ‘My Cross’ was the one song which stood out from the rest with its more varied melody and pace in parts. I really did want to like them but I am afraid they were just not setting my world on fire tonight — though that is not to say I would not be prepared to give them another go at a later date!
So it was with a sigh of relief I found Warbringer invoking a very different reaction — this five-piece from California had a much more energetic manner with a sharp sound and a penchant for stomp moshing! Particularly enlightening tracks included the spirited ‘Living in a Whirlwind’, ‘At the Crack of Doom’ which included some incredibly intricate guitar work and the pounding ‘Prey for Death’.
Sporadically their style bordered on funky thanks to Ben Bennett’s buoyant bass skills and with legible lyrics this quintet proved a slight detour into diversity can work in a Thrash context. Warbringer received a great reception from the crowd with one woman screaming ‘You guys fucking rule’ only for vocalist/front-man John Kevill to counter with ‘No, you guys fucking rule!’. As the band rounded off with ‘Combat Shock’ I was satisfied that they had completed the much coveted support band task of successfully setting the crowd up for the main event(s) to follow.
When Onslaught took to the stage they had no problems cranking this party up a notch and with the venue now heaving at near capacity the whole place was awash with a sea of sweaty souls. They produced a well thought out set-list which spanned the majority of their career, opening with ‘Killing Peace’ and powering through the likes of ‘Metal Forces’, ‘Fight with the Beast’ and ‘Damnation /Onslaught (Power From Hell)’ from their debut album released way back in 1985. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was a distinct lack of offerings from their ‘In Search of Sanity’ album — which at the time saw Sy Keeler being side-lined for a vocalist perceived to have a more professionally polished vocal technique. Although the release of this album met with some controversy I have to say I still deem it to be a musical masterpiece (‘Welcome to Dying’ being an epic but perfect demonstration of this) which show-cased the bands versatility and proved they were not just a one-trip Thrash pony!
Hearing Sy up there tonight simply illustrated his vocal talents would have done it more than justice — he has such a distinctively powerful voice that you feel he is almost not using it to full capacity — every note just seems effortless. At one point during ‘Fight the Beast’ I felt sure there must be dogs howling all over Wolverhampton as he hit a note which went momentarily ultrasonic! Overall, Onslaught put on a great performance tonight and the only disappointment was that the set was over all too soon…..
…although it did mean that Testament were able to take up the mantle just that little bit sooner which is just as well, seeing as the more hardcore disciples were becoming impatient during the interlude and chanted for their immediate appearance. When the band finally did emerge it was like someone had lifted the lever on a taut trebuchet, people were crowd surfing and stage diving throughout — the sheer extent of which I have not witnessed at a gig for many years….the atmosphere was electrifying.
Testament relentlessly reeled out classics such as ‘Practice What You Preach’, ‘Souls of Black’, ‘Burnt Offerings’, ‘3 Days in Darkness’, ‘The Legacy’ and newer material in the form of ‘More Than Meets the Eye’ and ‘Formation of Damnation’. It is an honour to see what I would term a crÃ¨me de la crÃ¨me Testament line-up — guitarist Alex Skolnick fervently exhibiting the finest fret-work I have seen and heard in a long time and front-man Chuck Billy working the audience in his hands like putty accompanied by his characteristic mic-stand air guitar antics, all seemingly verifying his superb showmanship!
I cannot believe I first saw Testament live 19 years ago while on the breaking wave of the peak of their career and yet their last album ‘The Formation of Damnation’ is quite arguably one of their finest! I still do not fully understand why they never became Ã¼ber huge – surely this must be the most understated band in Thrash history? They are still exceptionally edgy and technically very tight, they played a comprehensive back catalogue, the sound was pristine and for me they not only managed to pull out of the bag the best live performance of the year — tonight will also sit up there with my top gigs of all time. So I say all hail the demigods of Thrash metal – Testament!
Review – Amanda Jones
Photos – John Colson