Testament, Malefice and Xerath
@ KoKo, Camden London
30th November 2012
Review by Rhiannon Marley
Photography by Michelle Murphy
Hailed as ‘arguably one of the most popular American thrash groups of all time’, seasoned fireball Testament have plenty of hell-raising on their hands.
After the release of tenth studio album ‘Dark Roots of Earth’, they’re hitting the capital with a vengeance tonight – the first time I’ll have witnessed them since they annihilated Bloodstock Open Air back in August!
London fans have been waiting in anticipation for weeks, and judging by ticket-holders shivering in masses outside, it looks set to be a veteran guest-list: Kreator tees, thrash cuts and thinning barnets confirming Testament’s unwavering fan-base who, you can bet your life, queued with as much fervour in ’89 as they do in 2012.
After winding through gorgeous KoKo venue and scoping some impressive comb-overs, I gear up for the UK’s XERATH (4/5).
Exploding onstage, it’s not long before guitarist Owain Williams throws kaleidoscopic riffs and dive-bombing pinch-harmonics into a blender with epic symphonic backdrops, held by the bullet rhythms and bolt-tight precision of kit-basher Michael Pitman.
I see bodies smash into one another like beyblades, and the four-piece are so energetic, it’s no wonder fans are going crazy, as heads rock and hair swishes around me.
Xerath perform solidly tonight and with great flair for showmanship; their sound marries the nuts and bolts of extreme metal to theatrical lushness, and they go down a storm.
Since I’m undecided on which side of the fence I sit for experimental metal, they comprise everything I love about Strapping Young Lad, and everything I hate about Meshuggah, with a pinch of Gojira welding the mix.
Their melody defeats any technical coldness, though; even if they’re not your thing, I’d recommend seeing them live for their vast, innovative and ambitious presence.
There’s plenty of groove to get your teeth into, to boot.
With a crowd of seemingly nothing but gents, it’s no surprise when weathered brows are replaced by greasy cherubim at the arrival of MALEFICE (3/5).
The Reading bunch have been in the wars for the first few nights of the tour, says cockney singer Dale Butler; older audience piranhas have eaten them alive.
This could be because despite guitarists Ben Symons and Andrew Wilson hurling gyrating grooves and tremolo rhythms, the sound of the band treads the wrong side of the line between melodeath and metalcore.
If you think Butler’s ear tunnels and vest are to blame, I’d suggest looking away and seeing whether you still visualise a small boy in tight trousers pumping his walnut-sized fists – that is, if it weren’t for the frontman’s mix of shouty vocals and death-growls, and the tell-tale breakdown-riffs.
Nevertheless, Malefice play with passion, contorted faces and balls of fire tonight. Folk sway and nod to the beat in front of me, although many of them trek back to the bar.
Yet despite wolfish 40-somethings in The Legacy garb remaining unmoved, the kids love them, tumbling around me with glee. It’s unfair for Malefice to be completely slammed; they’re just a little out of place here, but on the right bill and with the right crowd, they’d go down a storm. Better luck next time, gents.
Final fags butts are stamped out, and pints forked out for, amid the buzz of impatience.
The lights dim. Our voices soar. And the headline beasts emerge in a blaze of restless glory. Berkeley powerhouse TESTAMENT (4.5/5) unleash a jaw-breaking assault on NW1, cloaked in neon brilliance and a haze of screams.
Girls sit on shoulders to my left, and gents crowd-surf to my right; each human husk in KoKo’s lair is possessed. My horn-throwing and stuff-strutting kicks in, as the quintet bowl muscular rhythms that are doused in earthy aggression, and Alex Skolnick’s eye-boggling axe-wizardry leaves me as jealous as I am shocked.
It’s bloody hard to write anything down while being jostled by 6-foot windmillers, but 30 seconds in and I surrender to noise and motion!
Testament, to their credit, don’t drown us in recent slices with no heed to sentiment. Offering a set-list dominated by both Dark Roots of Earth and 88′s The New Order, tracks ‘Rise Up’ and ‘Disciples of the Watch’ elicit roars as joyous as those for classics ‘Alone in the Dark’, ‘Over the Wall’ and ‘Practice What You Preach’.
Yet while it’s a mixed bag, there’s sadly not one cut from 90s scorcher Souls of Black – a twinge of personal disappointment for me, perhaps, but this is ironed out by the electric vibe and the Californians’ unshakable quality of live output: as steadfast in their third decade as in their first.
The pit is an amorphous mass of heaving passion. My skin shivers at the depth of groove, and my nerves wrench as singer Chuck Billy’s grimaces turn to beaming grins, and he whips up call-and-response from the moshers. While an unusual venue choice, KoKo has been doing the metal rounds of late, and once again, it works a complimentary magic.
I find the one-time-theatre to provide the perfect level of intimacy for me to appreciate how concentrated, but incredibly strong, the thriving still is for the old-school; I even spy enormous Orange Goblin frontman Ben Ward tumbling through the front doors afterwards.
Though I’m gutted by a shamefully early finish at 9.30, one thing has been certified.
To the smell and texture of blood, sweat and metal, Testament have demonstrated to us all why they’re one of the baddest, most resilient totems of pure US thrash, and left us in no doubt that they’ve still fucking got it – may Dio damn any bastard who says otherwise!
The New Order
True American Hate
More Than Meets the Eye
Dark Roots of Earth
Into the Pit
Practice What You Preach
Over the Wall
Alone in the Dark
Disciples of the Watch
D.N.R. (Do Not Resuscitate)
3 Days in Darkness
The Formation of Damnation