The history of the Bay Area’s pioneering thrash metal scene in the ’80s has been written and rewritten time and time again. Thankfully, we don’t have to rely on old articles or even our dusty vinyl to get a taste of what it was all about, because many of those old bands are still touring today. Those names include Testament, Exodus, Metallica, and Death Angel.
Looking back on those glory days, guitarist and original Death Angel member Rob Cavestany says that the Bay has always been home to a lot of great, original musicians and so, in turn, a lot of great rock musicians and bands.
“It’s just a very artsy and musical vibe in the Bay Area,” he tells SF Weekly. “That lent itself to the evolution of the metal scene and the diversity between the metal bands that came from that scene — it was the time and place. From our point of view, we were really young when that was happening. We were just totally into hanging out at clubs, and discovering all these club bands which back then was Exodus and Metallica, Slayer when they’d come through town a lot. We were just kinda mentored by a lot of the older guys in bands and we were totally excited about being part of it.”
Cavestany says that the metal scene in San Francisco is still exciting, though it’s naturally evolved with the times. The city, he says, has changed as the tech companies have invaded.
“Different clubs have shut down, but others have opened up,” he says. “In the end, the scene still thrives and survives, and fights to exist. It’s actually a pretty strong scene. There are a lot of younger bands coming around playing metal and keeping it alive. Our shows are always sold out in the city, so it’s a good time.”
Death Angel released Humanicide, their ninth studio album, back in May and have been delighted with the critical and fan response. They’re still touring it, and they hit San Francisco this week, just in time for Christmas.
“We’ll be a well-oiled touring machine by the time we hit San Francisco coming after all those shows,” Cavestany says. “A lot of new songs in our set from Humanicide that we haven’t played live so far. Plus other special deep cuts from some of the older albums that we haven’t played for some time. We have a handful of covers that we have prepared, that we may unleash in those shows. As well as the special secret Christmas song and the Beatles song that is a special tradition at our Christmas shows. Pack all that together, and it’s gonna get crazy as usual.”
Death Angel play at Slim’s, and a few days earlier that same venue will host another band from the metal world, albeit one with an entirely different story.
L.A.’s Static-X looked to be over when frontman Wayne Static died in his sleep in 2014 through a mixture of pills and alcohol. He was estranged from his Static-X bandmates at the time, the group on hiatus. So what convinced the three remaining members to reunite as Static-X last year?
“We had been talking about it for a few years before that,” says bassist Tony Campos. “It just seemed like, with the [20th] anniversary of Wisconsin Death Trip’s release coming up, the right time to do it. If we were ever going to do anything, that would be the best time to do it. We just started planning to make it happen all at the same time, and take that opportunity to give Wayne the send-off that he deserved.”
Unsurprisingly, the reunion hasn’t been without its controversies and criticisms. Alongside the expected “cash grab” accusations that all reforming bands have to deal with, Static-X have taken heat for dealing with the loss of their singer in a unique way. An anonymous vocalist, going by the name Xer0, is up on stage wearing a zombified Wayne Static mask. Some say it’s distasteful, others a hilarious mark of respect for a lost musician who would “get it.”
“It helped accomplish a couple of things that we set out to do,” Campos says. “We wanted to keep the focus on remembering Wayne and the original lineup of the band. It wasn’t like we were saying, ‘Here’s Static-X with a new singer’ — that’s not what we were doing. So I think it was about keeping him anonymous and finding a cool way to represent Wayne on stage that was still organic — wasn’t a hologram. It was like, ‘How do we represent Wayne in a cool way?’ and that mask was the best way we thought of.”
Crowd reactions suggest that these Static-X shows aren’t disappointing anyone.
“We are overwhelmed by how much the fans have responded to what we’re doing,” Campos says. “I can see it out in the audience every night, how much people missed the music and missed Wayne. It’s a cool experience, not just for us but for people who missed hearing those songs.”
The band is currently putting the finishing touches to Project Regeneration, an album of previously unfinished Static-X material that will largely feature Wayne Static’s vocals. However, at this show we won’t hear any of those songs.
“The majority of the set will be songs off of Wisconsin Death Trip, and then the rest of the hour will be filled by the ‘hits.’ We won’t be playing anything off of Project Regeneration — I don’t think it’s the right time for that. Once we’re done with the tour, we’re going to go in and finish the record. That’s the main goal.”
What the future holds for Static-X, it’s hard even for Campos to say. But if these two bands teach us anything, it’s that metal refuses to die.
Static-X plays with Wednesday 13, Davey Suicide, The Watchers, and Society 1 at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 17 at Slim’s.
Death Angel plays with Hell Fire and Charger at 8 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 20 at Slim’s. Then with Warbringer and Hatriot at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 21 at Slim’s.