Oakland Metro Operahouse, Oakland, California

February 4th, 2012

by Thrash-Head

Thrash metal as a subgenre has long been regarded for it's intensity. Put aside your current notions of what intense metal means to you in this day and age of gutteral growls, blast beats, downtuning, and Andy Sneap. Back in the day you didn't have any of that at your disposal if you were in a band and you wanted to make the most insane music ever. All you had was heart, emotion, and effin' GRIT! All that added together – along with a healthier-than-average idea of the proverbial “good time” – and you have the I-N-T-E-N-S-I-T-Y that thrash metal needed in the 80's. All the heavy hitters were mid-paced behemoths comprised of bonafide MUSICIANS dressed in their finest leather gear. What's a band in the 80s to do to get noticed but have that intensity in ample supply?

Arguably, if there's anyone from that era that more personified that intensity than Paul Baloff, they are never mentioned. The lore and legends of the man are innumerable and make up some of the scene's fondest memories. This show was an extreme case, yes, but throughout the scene in general Baloff is often regarded by a simple five word phrase coined by those that were there, and repeated by those that have since learned...

“Paul Baloff is thrash metal!”

Put together as a 10-year anniversary memorial concert of his untimely passing at only 41, “Bonded by Baloff” was put together to remind us of what we have lost. Sure he wasn't the most gifted of vocalists, not even by thrash's sometimes monotone standards, but he had such a profound impact the only way to honor him is put together a billing comprised of many of his closest friends and fans. This shows was all about sheer, blunt, intensity...truly fitting.

The Venting Machine is an Oakland-based four-piece playing tuneage not unlike many other modern thrash bands out there. Musically speaking, a good point of reference is some weird mixture of mid-career Nevermore, Hatesphere, and recent Chimaira. The musicianship is very top-notch, although not really breaking a lot of new group but still incredibly capably performed. If anything could be considered a weakness in their sound, it might be their singer. While showcasing an incredible amount of versatility, he seems to rely on a vocal style that is very tried-and-true-and-featured-in-innumerable-metal-bands (think Randy Blythe without the drawl). He has a better-than-average would be awesome to hear it utilized more.

Even the least amazing band of the night at least had enough passion for what they do that it's incredibly hard to deny their power. Beginning with the band's name, Hellfire plays very still-in-the-garage thrash metal that's long on heart and short on finesse. Think about many of your favorite bands' first records that they put out between 1981-1985, and this is very much along those lines minus the classic feel. Sloppy without being punk, and yet still very aggressive, and therefore very impressive. That being said, keep practicing and try to write something better.

If any band might be considered a little out of place, it might have been My Victim. Their logo was so “metal” it was almost laughable, and when you heard what music bore that logo it actually was kinda laughable. Take Black Label Society, Godsmack, and barely a hint of the old school SF thrash sound, and there ya go. Not bad, but not groundbreaking. But truth be told, it looked like exactly what it seemed it was supposed to be...a bunch of old guys up there having fun making music, not really worried about breaking new musical ground.

The next band I saw was a nice little crossover throwback. Angerhead seems to be a new band playing a very MOD/Crumbsuckers-esque hardcore-influenced thrash. Having them on the small side stage made it almost dangerous to be in there, as their mosh-ready riffage definitely found a home in the ears of this rowdy crowd. It was good stuff too, if you like your thrash as punky as you can get it.

Going a little out-of-order to get the last side stage band reviewed here, I found myself watching Attitude Adjustment for the second time in as many weeks. Being completely unfamiliar with the band – despite my love of the old school – I'm extremely impressed with THEIR brand of thrash/punk/core crossover. Still along the Suicidal/Crumbsuckers/MOD lines, but quite a bit more aggro and way less silly, this band slays. Several original members remain, among them Mr. Chris Kontos and guitarist Eric McIntrie, not to mention vocalist Kevin Reed, and you get the idea from watching them onstage that there is just a genuine love of this music they create and that is why they do this. The music isn't precise, but it's not meant to be, and that's part of what makes this band's just go-for-the-throat moshcore from an era when moshing meant a circle of doom and not practicing pussy karate moves.

Heathen were a band that I was extremely interested in seeing. Having been a fan since the late '90s, back when their discs were all out of print and ridiculously hard to find, I've been extremely impressed with how this band has reunited and gotten the kinks out and come out with a blistering recent release, the mind-blowingly retro “The Evolution of Chaos.” Opening with the leadoff track from said album, “Dying Season” whipped this crowd into a fury and it was really nice to see that all the guys in the band were in tip-top form too. Although I was carrying the torch for Doug Piercy to return to the band for many years, Kragen Lum (also of Prototype) is truly awesome...he's an amazing guitarist who truly understands the music of Heathen and what it needs. And guess who's back on bass? Mr. Jason Viebrooks, he of Grip Inc. fame and who once toured with the band some odd 20 years ago. Add to them Lee Altus, the energetic David Godfrey-White (you could tell he was happy to be here), and that amazing second drummer Darren Minter from the blistering “Victims of Deception” album, and you've got a 5-piece meant to kill. And kill they did, through almost an hour through tracks such as “Control by Chaos,” “Death by Hanging,” “Open the Grave,” and two songs I came to see, “Hypnotized” and “Opiate of the Masses.” For a special guest, original bassist Eric Wong (from the demo days) even made a brief appearance for a couple tunes. This was one of my favorite oldschool bands that I never got to see, and now I can say I was front and center for them. Awesome!!!

It was also cool to see Forbidden get up there and tear it up. One of those bands that I probably should have always liked a helluva lot more, they've just never really resonated with me as much they probably should have. The current lineup though, sees original members Russ Anderson, Craig Locicero, and Matt Camacho with new-ish guitarist Steve Smyth (he of Nevermore, Testament fame) and brand spanking new drummer Sasha Horn (ex-November's Doom, of all bands...). They proceeded to tear it up through all the old classics like “Challice of Blood,” “Through Eyes of Glass,” “March Into Fire,” and “Step by Step,” and along with a few new cuts from “Omega Wave,” and a few Baloff stories. All in all a great show, if nothing else to see Steve Smyth's unorthodox lead playing leave others in the dust.

PLAGUED by sound problems for the first few songs, Possessed had a rough night. Classic though they are, their sound is dated as hell (pun intended), especially to the
kids in the crowd that grew up on the brutal death metal of the last two decades. Today's Possessed lineup in pretty much just Jeff Becerra on vocals mixed with whoever he feels should be in the band, such as Sadistic Intent's old drummer Emilio Marquez (who my wife caught a stick from at the show...thanks honey), along with a (WTF) certain Mr. Tony Campos on bass, who you'll remember as the former bassist of Static X and now current bassist of Soulfly, Prong, and Ministry. Round it out with guitarist Daniel Gonzales and another longtime member of the scene Kelly McLaughlin (Pessimist, Unholy Ghost, and many others), and this should be a rather formidable death metal troupe. The music is what it is, primitive-as-neanderthal death/thrash, and as odd as it is to hear it on album and not be jaded, in the live setting this stuff is awesome. Literally playing practically every kick-ass song they ever had, whether it be “Phantasm,” “The Heretic,” “Fallen Angel,” “The Exorcist,” the downright blistering “Swing of the Axe,” or even the onetime genre-defining “Death Metal,” Possessed owned it tonight and at the least proved that even if the kids don't get it and write it off as chromatic garage-death like the kind we all used to play in our first band, their music has withstood the test of time to a crowd that recognizes greatness.

The days of Exodus jumping off monitors may have gone with Hunolt and Souza's exits, but the band is still an awe-inspiring spectacle to watch and the crowd eats them up. If you are familiar with the live reunion album “Another Lesson in Violence,” then you are familiar with the set they played tonight. Since it was a night honoring Paul Baloff, they deemed it inappropriate to play tunes that weren't from his era, so they stuck to playing “Bonded by Blood” in it's entirety, along with a few demo tracks, and “Pleasures of the Flesh.” If you've heard the 2008 release “Let There Be Blood,” you know that most recent vocalist Rob Dukes is PERFECTLY suited to sing these tried-and-true songs, and in the live setting it's no different. Tunes like the obvious opener “Bonded By Blood,” and “Strike of the Beast” cause pretty much the reaction that you think they would...the crowd goes positively apeshit. Throw in some great Baloff stories, like the one where he sold his trailer to two guys and bailed with the money to help fund the reunion concert, and this is just a happy fucking night. Then something super-cool happens, and Mr. Rick Hunolt jumps onstage in probably his healthiest form of the past 20 years, and run all over the place like an Angus Young clone slaying through a few more tunes. Can't get any better, don't be so original bassist Jeff Andrews (from the demo days) jumps up as well. Still can't get any better? How about a certain ouija board-guitar that was being soundchecked earlier in the night...belong to a Mr. Kirk Hammett, formerly of Exodus and of course being the lead guitarist of Metallica for the last near-30 years. The band, with two bassists, and 4 guitarists, then launched into an ooooooooold demo tune called “Whipping Queen,” and followed it up with set closer, “The Impaler.” The crowd's energy fueling them on, they ended the show on a heavy and high note and then it was all over.
It seems weird to even think that I was there. Seeing several classic bands pay tribute to a scene figurehead who I never even got to see in person. But I know what I had here...this was a historic concert in every sense, and every person in this packed house knew it too. Aspirin, beer, and Taco Bell burritos later, I am still feeling it.

Thrash on!!!