Testament

support Last In Line
author AP date 06/08/17 venue Amager Bio, Copenhagen, DEN

Finishing off a hectic week of concerts for this scribe is an evening in the company of Bay Area veterans Testament. Despite earning a place in time immemorial as an important piece of the thrash metal genre, the fact that the 1,000-capacity Amager Bio is not sold out tonight is quite telling of their belonging to a second tier beneath the Big Four — loved and respected, but never held as heroes. Still, Testament ranks as one of my personal favourites of the ‘80s thrash eruption and having proven their live worth on countless occasions, there was never a question whether I would be attending or not. The icing on the cake is that the package includes the opportunity to see another group of legends as well, in the supporting berth…

All photos courtesy of Peter Troest

Last In Line

As betrayed by the moniker, Last in Line is essentially Dio’s band in its most famous configuration — or at least was, until the untimely death of bassist Jimmy Bain and the forced departure of keyboardist Claude Schnell in 2016. And although the group did issue original music in the shape of their début album, “Heavy Crown”, that same year, Last in Line very much remains a tribute act, with two thirds of tonight’s setlist made up of classic Dio-hits such as the opening “Stand Up and Shout”. One has thus got to wonder why anyone would offer even a dime to see the now-confirmed tour featuring Ronnie James Dio’s hologram backed by elements of the Dio Disciples (an outfit Last in Line’s guitarist Vivian Campbell has publicly given ‘zero credibility’); with Last in Line, one gets an outstanding interpretation of Dio’s vocals in flesh and blood by Andrew Freeman, not to mention two of the musicians involved in the creation of Dio’s best material between 1982 and 1986. It is also an added bonus that, with quality songs of their own (like “Martyr”) to choose from, Last in Line is able to skip the filler that will no doubt have to be crammed into the hologram farce.

Indeed, Last in Line’s concert tonight is the perfect balance of old and new, played with zeal and ardor by musicians who still burn for their art. Scarcely a moment goes by without Campbell wearing a broad grin or drummer Vinny Appice baring his teeth, as they handle their instruments with a rockstar’s panache. And as far as frontmen go, Freeman’s past stints with The Offspring and guitarist George Lynch’s Lynch Mob have moulded him into a formidable stage personality, full of power and bravado to the extent that no one could be left wanting by his performances in “Holy Diver” and the magnificent “Rainbow in the Dark”. The concert brims with energy and passion, with only the two session musicians — bassist Phil Soussan and in particular keyboardist Erik Norlander — lagging behind in terms of visible enthusiasm. And although judging by the band’s own material it is unlikely that Last in Line should ever achieve the success that Dio did or be able to headline venues surpassing the capacity of Amager Bio, there is little else bad to say about their début concert on these shores.

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Testament

Many metal bands from the '80s have struggled to keep themselves relevant, or at least to keep up with the times. Some have tried and failed, only to revert to the trusted style of their heyday (Overkill’s ventures into groove metal and Anthrax’s dabbling in nu-metal both come to mind…) but Testament has always struck me as belonging to a rare caste of these artists that have aged well. The Oakland, CA-veterans still play blistering thrash today, but they have also seasoned their sound with melodic death metal and even metalcore in recent times — all this without alienating the core elements of their fanbase. As such, it feels almost like a tribute to the band’s disciples that so much of tonight’s setlist consists of picks from the classic era (which, at least for me, spans from 1987’s “The Legacy” to 1994’s “Low”) and that the fresh cuts charged with opening the proceedings should be those that hark back to that period as well.

I have always derived pleasure from watching old-school artists showing younger acts where the door is when it comes to the art of performing, and Testament is one of the leaders in this regard. It is nigh impossible to match the punishment dealt out by Slayer of course, but were I to pick one other thrash metal band that can always be counted on for intensity, Testament would be it. Chuck Billy is a phenomenal frontman and has a unique penchant for combining bloodcurdling vitriol with the kind of chumminess and insight one would usually expect from one’s granduncle — or indeed from Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson. Wearing gritty expressions, thrashing around and touting their microphones and instruments at the audience, Billy and his colleagues — guitarists Eric Peterson & Alex Skolnick and bassist Steve DiGiorgio — are at their wildest during the ode to moshing that is “Into the Pit” and acknowledging the significance of this piece, the audience responds with a hefty circle-pit that is only superseded by a wall of death during the closer, “Formation of Damnation”. But in between the eruptions of frenzy, of which the classic, searing thrash piece “Over the Wall” is of course also a part, Billy takes time to pay homage to the Native Americans of Standing Rock and explain the stories behind a number of the songs aired as well. These interactions remove the divide between band and audience and create an atmosphere of not only intimacy, but also camaraderie. This is a band that cares about its scene deeply and has no intention of coming across as somehow superior.

Understandably, the energy that reigns inside the venue is unusual by the standards of a typical Sunday show in Copenhagen, with the group’s dedicated fanbase here determined to show that they can equal the ”crazy motherf***ers up front at Testament’s early shows”, whom the aforementioned “Into the Pit” honours. Testament, in turn, is fuelled by the response, looking like a band that both means business and is genuinely having a blast, playing their no-nonsense thrash metal for us. The surprise-inclusion of “Dark Roots of Earth” — the title track to what many regard as a kind of ‘return to form’ in 2012 — further evidences that sensation. It is difficult to imagine anyone leaving the venue disappointed, thus, let alone thinking that Testament might be past their due date.

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Setlist:

  • 01. Brotherhood of the Snake
  • 02. Rise Up
  • 03. The Pale King
  • 04. Centuries of Suffering
  • 05. Electric Crown
  • 06. Into the Pit
  • 07. Dark Roots of Earth
  • 08. Stronghold
  • 09. Low
  • 10. Over the Wall
  • 11. Practice What You Preach
  • 12. The New Order
  • 13. Disciples of the Watch
  • 14. The Formation of Damnation

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