Testament

support Exodus + Death Angel
author AP date 06/02/20 venue Amager Bio, Copenhagen, DEN

It is hard to believe, but tonight’s concert marks the first time Testament, Exodus and Death Angel have joined forces for a tour. The three Bay Area icons share so much history and heritage together, and I don’t think you can find a single fan of thrash metal whose mouth didn’t water when “The Bay Strikes Back” European tour was officially announced last summer. I was actually surprised to find a package featuring such legendary artists had been booked for Amager Bio rather than Store VEGA, or even K.B. Hallen — and as expected, the concert sold out well in advance of the doors opening on this chilly winter evening. In spite of it being a Thursday, people are in festive spirits even before the opening act is set to begin, and the stage is thus set for a celebratory occasion in the name of thrash!

All photos courtesy of Jakob Muxoll


Death Angel

It is interesting to think about how unevenly the fortunes of thrash’s ‘80s heyday were divided. While the likes of Metallica, Slayer and to an extent also Megadeth went on to become some of the biggest metal bands in the world, some of their equally talented brethren such as Death Angel found success harder to come by and were thus destined to remain part of the ‘Other Four’. I tend to reason that it is because the San Franciscan outfit is too extreme for the masses, an argument that finds support in the second song of their set, “Voracious Souls” off the band’s 1987 début “The Ultra-Violence”, which is delivered with such blistering intensity it leaves me virtually gasping for breath after its vortex of a finale. It drives the crowd into a furious circle pit that never seems to stop until “Thrown to the Wolves” from 2004’s “The Art of Dying” has brought the concert to a conclusion some 40 minutes later, and as such, it beggars belief that this Californian outfit is not considered as one of the biggest names in the genre. Like always, the five musicians perform with no holds barred, pedal firmly pressed against the floor, with especially vocalist Mark Osegueda making a show of himself with his incessant windmilling and jumping antics.

Although the room is not filled up to the brim just yet, it is nonetheless clear that for once, the majority of the audience is here for all three bands, meaning that the likes of “The Dream Calls for Blood” (from its namesake 2013 album) earn a headliner-grade reception. It may be a newer track, but the attitude and groove in it are vintage Bay Area, and as such, it is not surprising to hear its effective two-syllable chorus yelled back with full force by the maniacally headbanging crowd. Indeed, people here are obliging Osegueda’s every cue, and when the time comes to wave farewell, he and his cohort appear to be genuinely touched by the dedication of both their fans and those of the other two bands on the bill. It is impressive that the band manages to cover more than two decades and eight of their nine studio albums during this relatively short setlist, but I have to admit, I was far more impressed by the voracity of their performance in more intimate confines in 2015, when both of the two guitarists, Rob Cavestany and Ted Aguilar, were as involved and in-your-face as Osegueda is here. Be that as it may, the concert nonetheless produces an excellent start to this hard-hitting evening.

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Exodus

To an even greater extent than Death Angel, the lacking mass appeal of Exodus also comes down to the band’s music hugging the more extreme end of the genre. Kicking off with “Body Harvest” off their 2014 record “Blood in, Blood out”, the five musicians exert their authority without hesitation and take on a more severe character than the opening act. Those two-syllable gang yells of “body harvest!” in the chorus are amplified thousandfold by the crowd, yet even so, one has no trouble noticing how good vocalist Steven ‘Zetro’ Souza sounds tonight. He makes a mockery of his 55 years of age with an acerbic, biting and vitriolic vocal performance in stark contrast with his otherwise chummy demeanour, which helps create this inclusive feeling of belonging to an Exodus family of sorts. During the songs he paces the stage striving to make eye contact with, and acknowledge as many of his fans as possible — and when the music is not playing, he conjures a sea of horns with a plethora of anecdotes from the golden age of the Bay Area scene as well as the group’s past concerts here in Denmark. Truly, he is an excellent frontman, to the extent that even if the returning Gary Holt on lead guitar was not flying around the stage, rocking out with a huge grin on his face, Souza would be able to shoulder the brunt of Exodus’ show on his own.

In my experience, Exodus’ performances vary a lot in terms of how much engagement the band shows, but on that spectrum, the grit with which the likes of “Fabulous Disaster” (off its namesake 1989 album) and “Iconoclasm” (taken from 2007’s “The Atrocity Exhibition - Exhibit A”) are delivered renders this gig one of their best on Danish soil that I have seen yet. One of the reasons for this is without a doubt Holt, whose adventure as session guitarist for Slayer yields major returns. He brings so much intensity and unpredictability to the table, lifting the band’s showmanship and tightness to another level, and as a result, tracks like “Deathamphetamine” (which appears on 2005’s “Shovel Headed Kill Machine”) have never sounded sharper. The drumming by Tom Hunting in that song is sublime and he single-handedly transforms it into a standout moment, with Souza even proclaiming that “this is what it looked like back in the day in the Bay Area” as he takes in raging crowd. Things reach a fever pitch during the classic 1985 piece “Bonded by Blood”, with Holt, Souza, guitarist Lee Altus and bassist Jack Gibson all leaning over the edge of the stage hellbent to feed off the rabid energy of their fans, but the ultimate release arrives in the closing track “Strike of the Beast”, as much of the crowd splits into a wall of death and has the five musicians grinning with self-satisfaction. Half an hour’s worth of extra time would have been well-deserved, but alas — the band is forced to exit just as the venue seems to be on the brink of exploding.

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Testament

It is easy to understand why the changeover between the sets of Exodus and Testament took so long. The stage has been dressed in a production deserving of an arena headlining slot, including additional lighting, countless banners, and an enormous backdrop — all of which has the effect of making it look like the thrashers are embedded in the artwork of their upcoming album “Titans of Creation”. The show kicks off with a blast from the past, “Eerie Inhabitants” off the band’s 1988 album “The New Order”, and I think I am not the only one dumbstruck by the fullness and volume of the sound mix steamrolling from the amplifiers. Compared to the somewhat barebones setup of the previous two acts, Testament have built a show with a capital ’S’ to accompany their onslaught with Bay Area grooves, but these theatrics are not distracting anyone from the essence of the quintet’s performance. That essence is of course to unload as many headbang-inducing, moshpit-fuelling tracks unto us as possible, and in keeping with the philosophy behind this tour, there are plenty of gems hidden amongst, such as “Greenhouse Effect” off 1989’s “Practice What You Preach” played live for the first time since 1993. As expected, the song is well-received, inspiring the first crowd-surfers of the evening to make their stake at reaching the barrier, yet it is not until the newer “Dark Roots of Earth” (off its namesake 2012 album) that the first sing-along of this set erupts. In general, the audience seems to be a little less raucous now, but the five musicians (and in particular vocalist Chuck Billy) are unfazed, excitedly putting the myriad fixtures on stage to full use in order to pose and brandish their instruments in between bouts of headbanging and windmilling.

At 16 tracks in total, many of which clock well past five minutes, Testament’s show tonight is admittedly a little on the long side, especially if you share my opinion that there is very little variety from one song to the next in the Oakland-based five-piece’s repertoire. By the time “The Pale King” (taken from their latest album “Brotherhood of the Snake”) arrives halfway, it is obvious that people are sparing what little energy they have left from two hours of incessant headbanging already for the tracks that truly deserve it, and somewhat surprisingly, one of these is the brand new single “Night of the Witch”, which emerges as one of the absolute highlights on the jam-packed setlist. Heavy, urgent and bursting with slick riffs by the two guitarists, Alex Skolnick & Eric Peterson, it has no trouble standing tall next to the classic “Into the Pit”, and seems to herald a return to the band’s origins on the upcoming album — much to my and everyone else’s satisfaction by the looks of it. But while there are these bursts of furore from the audience, there is no denying that both Death Angel and Exodus enjoyed far more frenzied responses. Part of the reason is without question the fact that swathes of Testament fans have their qualms about the more melodic style of many of the newer songs aired, a hypothesis proven correct by the size and intensity of the circle pit that forms for the aforementioned “Into the Pit” and the other three staples that bring this majestic, if somewhat repetitive show to a conclusion.

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Setlist:

  • 01. Eerie Inhabitants
  • 02. The Persecuted Won’t Forget
  • 03. The Haunting
  • 04. Greenhouse Effect
  • 05. Dark Roots of Earth
  • 06. Last Stand for Independence
  • 07. Throne of Thorns
  • 08. Brotherhood of the Snake
  • 09. The Pale King
  • 10. Careful What You Wish For
  • 11. Fall of Sipledome
  • 12. Night of the Witch
  • 13. Into the Pit
  • 14. Practice What You Preach
  • 15. Over the Wall
  • 16. Disciples of the Watch

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