Testament + Exodus + Death Angel
The Bay Strikes Back Tour
@O2 Forum Kentish Town
6th March 2020
Review by Jack Merry
Photography by Manu Volpina
On a brisk Friday evening, three titans of thrash metal crashed into the O2 Forum Kentish Town for an unmissable night of sheer heavy metal power. It’s an impressive lineup to say the least, and it’s equally surprising to find out this is the first time that TESTAMENT, EXODUS and DEATH ANGEL have ever been on the road together, despite knowing each other for more than thirty years.
The Bay Strikes Back tour is named after the San Francisco Bay Area, where all three bands on the bill originated. Famous for kicking off with METALLICA and their incredible debut “Kill ‘Em All”, the Bay Area thrash scene would change the face of metal music forever. Bands such as VIO-LENCE, POSSESSED and FORBIDDEN wouldn’t get as much of the limelight, but were equally passionate and formed dedicated fanbases. The lineup on this particular tour is any metal-head’s wet dream, with DEATH ANGEL, EXODUS and headliners TESTAMENT.
DEATH ANGEL (5/5) were up first. Hot off the heels of the release of their stellar ninth album “Humanicide”, the band are clearly out for blood with a relentlessly exciting live show. Armed with an incredible set of songs pulled from their entire career, vocalist Mark Osegueda and company settle in to a razor-sharp groove, proving they’re still capable of cutting your throat with a vicious riff or two. Mark’s vocals were truly breathtaking throughout, often hitting the high notes and holding them for as long as possible, before dropping back down to a near-croon.
The twin guitar assault of Rob Cavestany and Ted Aguilar is a masterful display, shifting between technical ability and unadulterated melodic power with absolute ease. Raging, pounding riffs collide with blistering, euphoric leads, especially in ‘Claws in so Deep’ and classic track ‘Thrown to the Wolves’, as drummer Will Carroll pummels us into submission.
The crowd were digging it too, evident from the circle pit that broke out towards the end of their opening track ‘Humanicide’ and stayed there till the very end. My only complaint would be the set was too short, but I’ll be sure to go to their next full UK tour!
DEATH ANGEL SETLIST:
Claws in so Deep
The Dream Calls for Blood
Seemingly Endless Time
Thrown to the Wolves
EXODUS (4/5) take to the stage shortly after for an electric and energetic performance that delivers on nearly every aspect. Gary Holt has rejoined the band after an almost ten year stint with SLAYER and his appearance, complete with his infamous ‘Kill the Kardashians’ shirt, sends fans into a frenzy. DEATH ANGEL set the bar pretty high and it was interesting to see how EXODUS would compete. Launching into some newer material, opening tracks ‘Body Harvest’ and ‘Blood In Blood Out’ are full-throttle examples of the band’s staying power, and the pits on the floor of the Forum re-open immediately.
Vocalist Steve Souza gives it everything he’s got, but there seem to be some sound issues plaguing him every now and then. Some moments, he can barely be heard above the noise and others he can’t be heard at all. Every instance this happens it’s never for too long but it’s still very noticeable. His unique vocal hasn’t been my favourite on the studio releases, but in a live environment it works.
‘Fabulous Disaster’ and ‘Bonded by Blood’ are thrash metal classics, and the entire band are on top form. Guitarists Gary Holt and Lee Altus trade bombastic riffs and jaw-dropping solos on the monstrous ‘Deathamphetamine’ and ‘Blacklist.’ Holt teases the audience at one point by playing the opening riff from SLAYER track ‘Raining Blood’, but stopped short and shrugged it off, laughing.
Finishing up with the exciting ‘Strike of the Beast’, EXODUS have completely won me over as a fan after delivering a high-octane full-throttle set, bar the issues with the sound. A shame really, because everything else about their set was stellar.
Blood In Blood Out
And Then There Were None
Bonded by Blood
The Toxic Waltz
Strike of the Beast
Headline act TESTAMENT (5/5) burst into life on a stage adorned with artwork from the band’s upcoming album “Titans of Creation”. Wasting no time, the five-piece draw from the 1988 album “The New Order” with ‘Eerie Inhabitants’ and the title track. It’s an overwhelming show of brutal metal force, combining elements of thrash with melodic groove and hints of black metal thrown in for good measure.
TESTAMENT have been one of my favourite metal bands for a long time now, and it was such a pleasure to finally get the chance to see them live. Vocalist Chuck Billy and the twin guitar attack of Eric Peterson and Alex Skolnick lead the charge, while the rhythm section of Gene Hoglan on drums and Steve Di Giorgio on bass guitar round out the lineup. All five members are at the top of their game here, delivering a glorious set that flows brilliantly and never lets up on the pace. With not a ballad anywhere to be seen, this is a thrash metal concert through and through.
After a couple of older tracks, the backdrop TESTAMENT have put up changes to that of the “Dark Roots of Earth” album cover and a cheer erupts from the audience. “Dark Roots of Earth” is widely considered to be the band’s best modern record, and rightly so. It’s definitely my preference, and I knew I was in for a treat. The three songs they performed from the record are my favourites, and I just couldn’t believe it. The title track is a stomping affair, and ‘Last Stand for Independence’ is relentless in its delivery.
The crowning moment of that particular record for me is the flawless ‘Throne of Thorns’, as grinding riffs and melodic showy solos collide with powerful vocals and a chunky rhythm section performance. My high mark for the show was sealed during the final few bars of the track.
Next we get two songs from the band’s most recent effort, 2016’s excellent “Brotherhood of the Snake”, as the title track and ‘The Pale King’ are concise, riff-heavy beasts; definite crowd pleasers that keep the endless circle pits turning. ‘Fall of Sipledome’ from 1999’s “The Gathering” gets a rare live airing, with its black metal tinged vocals and drum patterns, complete with topical lyrics about global warming and the polar ice caps.
“Titans of Creation”, due out on April 3rd 2020, is set to be an incredible album if the two new songs are anything to go by. ‘Children of the Next Level’ gets its first ever live performance on the very same day it was released on streaming services, and ‘Night of the Witch’ is a strong showcase of what TESTAMENT are still capable of at the start of the new decade.
Both tracks have quickly become some of my top metal tracks, and I’m excited for the entire album. For a brand new track, ‘Children of the Next Level’ sounds like they’ve been performing it for years. It’s chunky, melodic, heavy throughout with impressive vocals from Billy and ecstatic lead work from Skolnick and Peterson.
Coming into the home stretch, we are gifted with the absolute essential TESTAMENT tracks. No show is complete without ‘Into the Pit’ and ‘Practice What You Preach’. They’re absolutely iconic, and for good reason: they’re great thrash metal tracks. Chuck Billy and company clearly adore what they do, and the fans clearly love them for it. TESTAMENT have a very dedicated fan-base that have stuck with them through thick and thin, and there is a lot of love in the Forum. ‘Practice What You Preach’ has a grinding, momentous, heavy riff that encapsulates everything I love about the band, while ‘Into the Pit’ bounces along as fans throw themselves… into the pit.
To finish off, TESTAMENT give us renditions of classic tracks ‘Over the Wall’ and ‘Disciples of the Watch’, as the Forum reaches its boiling point. Fans are sent into delirium as an evening of Bay Area thrash metal draws to a close. It’s been a thrilling, relentless, exhausting, and energetic night of pure undeniable passion and talent from three bands who have been doing this for over 30 years.
My only hope is that DEATH ANGEL, EXODUS and TESTAMENT all return to UK shores for another tour very soon, because I’ll be there in a heartbeat to celebrate these titans of thrash metal.
The New Order
Dark Roots of Earth
Last Stand for Independence
Throne of Thorns
Brotherhood of the Snake
The Pale King
Fall of Sipledome
Children of the Next Level (live debut)
Night of the Witch
Into the Pit
Practice What You Preach
Over The Wall
Disciples of the Watch