Testament + Annihilator + Vader
@ Koko, London
April 4, 2018
Review by Torbjørn ‘Toby’ Jørstad
Photography by Thomas James Henry Saunders
Judging by the names on the package, there’s no wonder Wednesday night’s gig at the Koko was sold out. Old school Bay Area thrashers TESTAMENT proved with their latest studio album The Brotherhood of the Snake that they’re still going strong, over 30 years since formation. Canada’s ANNIHILATOR and Poland’s VADER completed the rather impressive bill of fast, unrelenting extreme metal, and were surely fitting support acts for this night of old school goodness.
Vader long ago trademarked their staple death/thrash sound, an approach they have been polishing for decades at this point. The Poles unleash musical hell with unrelenting force, sending their fans into a nostalgic frenzy with “Chaos” off their debut album The Ultimate Incantation, re-recorded earlier this year as Dark Age. It’s fast, furious, loud and tight from the very start.
Frontman Piotr ‘Peter’ Wiwczarek’s vocals are on point, well accompanied by his band mates’ meticulous performances, and their sound rings comfortably loud beneath Koko’s high ceiling. The old school crowd of the night is obviously pleased with favorites like “Vicious Cycle” from the debut and “Sothis” off De Profundis.
“It’s been 25 years since our first album!” Peter exclaims. A bulk of their setlist is made up of songs from this record, which didn’t seem to trouble anyone. The crowd headbangs, moshes, jumps and repeatedly chant the band’s name whenever the opportunity arises. “The Crucified Ones”, another classic track, features arguably one of the most intense openings of the night, and the stage is fittingly coated in red light.
“Thank you for this absolutely fucking crazy evening,” Peter exclaims, leaving us with the final song “Cold Demons”. The band leaves the stage as John Williams’ infamous “Imperial March” from Star Wars rings throughout the venue. There’s a nice buzzing atmosphere amongst the people in the crowd as the second band of the night prepares for attack.
2. Vicious Cycle
3. Triumph of Death
6. Dark Age
7. The Crucified Ones
8. Send Me Back To Hell
9. Cold Demons
The next 45 minutes of stage time is dedicated to Annihilator, Canada’s leading thrash metal band. Fronted by Jeff Waters, and still going strong 29 years since the release of their debut album, the now four-piece went through a number of line-up changes in recent years, making Waters take up lead vocal duties alongside guitar in 2015. “Crystal Ann” sounds over the PA as the band takes the stage to roaring cheers from a considerably larger crowd than earlier in the night.As the band tears into “King of the Kill” from their 1994 album of the same name, the crowd goes wild and a moshpit immediately breaks loose. Their straightforward Canadian thrash is well received and a nice relief after the somewhat heavier death/thrash that Vader served. Waters runs around stage pulling silly faces while shredding, not unlike Accept’s Wolf Hoffmann.
Their latest record For The Demented is represented by “One To Kill” and “Twisted Lobotomy”, both songs that seemingly work well with an already worked up and enthusiastic London crowd. Bassist Rich Hinks receives an extra warm applause when it is revealed that he is in fact from Cambridge. A sea of heads bangs in unison along with the chugging riff to “Set The World On Fire”.
The iconic Alice In Hell and Never, Neverland records have stood the test of time as timeless thrash metal classics since their conception almost 30 years ago, and songs from the band’s early years are highlights in my eyes. A young boy decked out in a nice fitting battle jacket is all of a sudden called out on stage by Waters. The boy, whose name is Charlie, then impressively plays the iconic guitar lick to “Alison Hell”, which is revealed to be the next song.
“Phantasmagoria” ends their set with a final blast from the past, and the crowd is left nothing but pleased as the time draws nigh for the night’s headliner.
1. King of the Kill
2. One to Kill
3. No Way Out
4. Set the World on Fire
5. Twisted Lobotomy
7. Alison Hell
The lights go out one final time, and the crowd goes wild as Testament takes the stage, going straight into “Brotherhood of the Snake” from the latest album. Frontman Chuck Billy prides his face with the widest grin as he beholds the hordes of loyal fans on the different levels of the Koko.
The sound is great, and the band is in top shape. Alex Skolnick, arguably one of the most underrated Bay Area guitarists is a pleasure to behold, as he seemingly effortlessly tears through lick after lick. When not singing, Chuck Billy practices his favourite past time as usual – playing air guitar. The setlist is a nice mix of old and new, with a slightly heavier emphasis on the classics. “Low”, the title track of their 1994 album is described by Billy as his “favorite title track”.
A pet peeve of mine is what I call ‘unnecessary’ instrumental solos. Nothing wrong in giving guys who’ve been going strong at this for over 30 years a little break in the middle of their set. However, when the stage is abandoned by all but one member not one, two, three but four times during the course of one and a half hour, I’m triggered. Did we really need that second guitar solo? And has anyone, ever, been impressed by a drum or bass solo to the point of deeming it a worthy replacement of just playing a song?
Billy, who has Native American ties himself, recalls the Standing Rock protests in the States, in which they wrote “Stronghold” as a response to. Despite some of its other Bay Area counterparts, Testament have proven themselves to be able to write quality thrash metal even at this stage in their career. Anthemic “Rise Up” with its obviously-written-for-live chorus and the latest title track are good examples of that in my opinion.
“Into The Pit” spawns unsurprisingly the largest moshpit of the night. Later, “Souls In Black” followed by “The New Order” has to be the strongest ways they could have possibly ended their regular set, before leaving us for a short while.
The band returns for encores, and drunken shenanigans in Texas in the late 80s, including the band stumbling upon Pantera, is recalled before the staple title track “Practice What You Preach”. As it is the last show of the tour, things are mixed up a little at the end, Billy reveals.
“Alone In The Dark” from The Legacy transforms the venue with its ominous atmosphere created by the lighting, before “Over The Wall” shakes the very foundations of the building, as the crowd erupts into madness one final time, complete with the melody singalong after the solo. Was “Disciples of the Watch” missed? Not really. Did Testament again prove that their Legacy is still standing tall? Absolutely.
1. Brotherhood of the Snake
2. Rise Up
3. The Pale King
4. More Than Meets the Eye
5. Guitar Solo (Alex Skolnick)
6. Electric Crown
7. Into the Pit
10. Throne of Thorns
11. Guitar solo (Eric Peterson)
12. Eyes of Wrath
13. Drum solo
14. First Strike is Deadly
15. Bass solo
17. Souls of Black
18. The New Order
19. Practice What You Preach
20. Alone in the Dark
21. Over the Wall