(review n pic by MWJ)
As one of the stand-out bands of last years trip to Hellfest this opportunity to see the “a rare visit from the thrash titans” (quoth The Daily Post) relatively locally was too good to pass up. Had been tempted with them bottom of the bill on the currently running Judas Priest/Megadeth tour but with this option you get more than twice the Testament set length at less than half the price, plus you don’t have to put up with a cheese OD.
The band themselves say they have looked at this spare day in the North West as an opportunity to come back to Liverpool for the first time since maybe the early 90’s, with the expected spiel about how the place knows how to rock etc but there’s a good deal less distance between the bands egos and the crowd than many others. Eric the guitarist has been in a local music shop doing a promo all afternoon, the first 50 customers at the merch get to meet n greet with the band, support and appreciation comes across as a two way thing.
The first band are on when we come into the big open hall of the Academy 2, and after working out the line-up juggling it turns out to be the first of 2 local supports The Institution. It’s pretty straightforward metalcore, chugging and screaming along but unfortunately not escaping the generic for me, including the presentation of it. With Zabriskie Connection it’s a surprising shift of tone, as with the strong vocals we’ve almost sidestepped (watch where you stand) into stadium rock territory, which is done pretty faultlessly but is of no interest to me and beyond maybe bringing some folks in I fail to see the connection to the main band.
So we pass some time marvelling at Scouse thievery but it’s combined with wit and humour so that’s all right, and revving up for this year’s Hellfest (still some 4 months off) with more tales from the bottomless pit of Flames, the international man of debauchery. Local ladies help us with our eyesight to see the stage times at the sound desk to know it’s high time we headed up front.
There’s a good few hundred in which is really pleasing to see but we’re able to get right in, intro melodies start up back stage and then they take to the stage with a roar. They’ve got their new “The Formation of Damnation” album to plug so the opener is unsurprisingly from that but they know us and we know them so then it’s straight back over 20 years of history to old school classics “Over the Wall”, “First Strike STILL Deadly”, “New World Order”, and of course “Into the Pit”. Naturally this triggers the mosh mayhem, later I have to apologise to someone for accidentally almost leaving a tooth in the back of someone’s head after taking a shove from the circle pit. They do air a fair few from the new album, and while it lacks familiarity there’s a lot that hits the spot. A big range in tempos, not all flat out thrash, and plenty of their characteristic melody, especially on numbers like “More than Meets the Eye”. As with many of their long standing contemporaries maybe there is and element of pacing themselves which is understandable but the fact is when they want to up the tempo they achieve it effortlessly. Yeah, Alex Skolnick can be loving himself up front with his virtuoso solos but that’s kind of offset by chuckling Chuck Billy behind him throwing all his plectrums off the mike stand without him knowing. For a long time they’ve been a conscientious band beyond the traditional dark and deathly subject matter of their origins, now dealing with post 9/11 US on the new “The Evil Has Landed” while showing they were addressing climate change with “Practice what you Preach” a long time back. I grab a passing Preston FM DJ to give us a leg up for brief surf but then am warned by the head bouncer in very reasonable terms that you are allowed only one before you get thrown out. (may have to take note if similar policy applied to forthcoming Propagandhi at Sheffield Academy). We have a big break down jam session in the middle of “Alone in the Dark” to enable everyone to have a breather and a sing-along to the chorus, with Chuck exhorting us to sing loud enough so all his friends in the name-checked Bay Area bands can hear us, until acknowledging that it probably wasn’t even loud enough for Cradle of Filth to hear. They even offer to do requests but my cries for “C.O.T.L.O.D” fail (despite the echo), bah, just have to do it myself. Ultimately there’s a satisfying mix of the old and new (maybe less of the variable middle years) before a thundering ending and they all take a bow together upfront. An unashamed celebration of metal whatever variety it might be.
All very enjoyable, and in my post gig euphoria I am all set to be off to London when I belatedly hear they are doing a one off down there in March playing just their first two albums. OMFG. But when that wears off a midweek workday trip with baby sitter required seems a non starter. Unless…hmmm…maybe…