Oct. 23, 2011
Better than: Listening to the new Loutallica album online.
Bay Area thrash-metal fans still waiting for Metallica to bring the Big 4 Tour to their hometown got to enjoy a neck-snapping substitute on Sunday, when Anthrax brought its Earth on Hell Tour to the Warfield with local legends Testament and Death Angel. The confluence of '80s metal stalwarts still going strong three decades after the rise of thrash pulled a crowd that packed the floor of the venue with a mix of greybeard heshers and youthful headbangers moshing, sweating, and crowd-surfing throughout the marathon concert.
Cleveland, Ohio-based band Chimaira had the unenviable task of being the new-school act opening the show at 6 p.m., but its members managed to acquit themselves well with their grinding, hectic grooves. The presence of a keyboard player might have thrown off some more traditionally minded metal fans, but the high-energy and technical precision of vitriolic songs like "Pure Hatred" won over audience members up into the balcony.
Death Angel took the stage to a throaty roar of approval from loyal local fans as the group plowed through a set that leaned heavily on its year-old effort Relentless Retribution. Lead singer Mark Osegueda whipped his floor-length dreads and the crowd into a frenzy, working the full length of the stage and clambering onto speaker stacks at both ends on the classic "Evil Priest" as shredders Rob Cavestany and Ted Aguilar traded riffs and guitar faces. Osegueda told the audience the band hadn't played the Warfield since 1990, joking that they had a little more room on the stage back then between swigs from a massive bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin.
After the Death Angel's all-too-short set wrapped with a frenetic version of the thrash anthem "Kill As One," a quick set change revealed why the band was working with such limited real estate. Using the same sizable gothic castle set from last summer's American Carnage Tour with Slayer and Megadeth, Testament filled the stage with a career-spanning fusillade of thrash gems that drew evenly from earlier albums and 2008's stellar The Formation of Damnation. Wielding his illuminated mic stand like a guitar/mini light saber, charismatic frontman Chuck Billy incited the crowd to its most furious moshing yet. While it would have been nice to get a preview of material from the band's in-production album Dark Roots of the Earth (slated for release in the spring of 2012), it was hard to argue with the unbridled guitar fury dealt out by Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson on "Over the Wall" and "Into the Pit."
After all the mayhem stirred up by Testament, there was some question of whether the audience would be too winded to maintain for the headliner. However, as soon as Anthrax took the stage, the number of crowd-surfing and airborne bodies made it clear the thrashing was far from over.
Deftly bashing out songs old and new amid a flurry of headbanging perpetual motion (particularly from guitarist Scott Ian and bassist Frank Bello), the band brought a less dark but equally kinetic energy to the stage. Returned lead singer Joey Belladonna proved his air-raid siren voice has lost none of its power, wailing the same notes on "Caught in a Mosh" and "Indians" he first hit almost a quarter of a century ago. While the '80s-era songs were met with the enthusiasm you'd expect, the crowd was equally responsive to songs from Anthrax's stunning new album Worship Music. Whether on the opening tunes "Earth on Hell" and "Fight 'Em Til You Can't," which brought the moshing to a new intensity, or the soaring ode "In the End" (a heartfelt tribute to the late metal legends Dimebag Darrel and Ronnie James Dio), audience members sang along, slammed into each other and generally lost their shit.
The thrash loyalists got a bonus during the encore as Osegueda and Metallica's Kirk Hammett joined in on background vocals for "I Am the Law." Afterwards, drummer Charlie Benante pounded out a familiar breakneck rhythm as Ian foisted his guitar on Hammett for an abbreviated take on Metallica's "Whiplash" that sent the sweat-drenched masses home with smiles all around.
Personal bias: Having grown up as a suburban hesher teen in the Bay Area during the '80s, how could I not be biased?
A younger generation: As many grey-haired metal fans were in attendance, it was heartening to see a solid contingent of teen and pre-teen enthusiasts (my 9-year-old son included) scattered throughout the Warfield.