It was 1981. Music was everywhere. Rock was hard. Metal was becoming a stronger force by the month. There was Sabbath, there was Priest, there was Maiden, and there was Motorhead. Then, almost suddenly, hardcore fused with some of the majesty of the melodic rock world, and thus was born the genre that would come to ignite more passion, energy, and debate than ever before: Thrash. It was hard, it was fast, it was dirty and gross. It was everything a parent hated, and everything a rebellious teen needed to get their angst-laden point across. Denim and leather collided with spikes and pimples, and a new generation took their first steps into a new world or heavy metal.
Among the living energy of this new force came some very notable bands, to become known as “The Big 4” of thrash metal. Anthrax. Metallica. Megadeth. Slayer. If you’ve ever heard a heavy metal song and banged your head along to it, then you’ve at least heard the names of these four titans. There were others, of course. Exodus, Overkill, Testament, (early) Corrosion of Conformity, the list goes on and on.
40 years later, I stood in wait of two bands that I always had wanted to see, but had been too young to see in their “prime”. I’m not sure what they were like in their prime, but if my experience tonight was any indicator, they haven’t left that prime, not yet. Anthrax and Testament, at the Brooklyn Bowl right here in Las Vegas, Nevada. When I was invited to come to this show, I was immediately filled with excitement. Thrash metal is home. It’s comfort for me, a guitar player whose parents had injected the very heart and soul of heavy metal into.
The opening band, Nukem, kicked off the night. Formed in 2012 in San Diego, they have been playing stages with good bands for a while, and tonight, they really got to display some power. They didn’t disappoint. I hadn’t heard them prior to the show, and expected an “opening act”. The all-too-familiar band put on before the main event that usually gets 1/8 the crowd, and 1/16 the energy. Nukem put that to rest, quickly. They opened the show with ferocity, power, and fun. They were fast, heavy, loud, and sounded like a culmination of their clear influences, but fresh and rejuvenated. Riffs that felt familiar, but not ripped off. They sounded like a band that could have been playing alongside the masters that they were opening for 35 years ago, but they’ve been at it for less than 10 years. Marcus (editor, owner of AudioVein) bought their CD at the merch booth. I would have too, but, you know musicians and money don’t always mix.
When you talk about thrash metal, few bands generate the love and admiration that you’ll find for Testament. Another band from the Bay Area Thrash movement, but coming on a little later than their peers. The crowd erupted when the band came on stage, and immediately began to mosh. Chuck Billy never stopped moving, never stopped smiling, and never once gave any indication that he had anything less than pure, unconditional love for what he did. His voice was powerful as he commanded the stage and had the crowd waiting for his next move, his next note, or his grin gleaming out across the pit. Alex Skolnick, a legend in the guitar world as much as the metal world, did his legendary thing. His fingers flew around the fretboard with an almost odd smoothness, and he also never stopped having fun even for a second. A short guitar solo punctuated a break between the initial onslaught of the show. Eric Peterson took the 6-string duties on the other side of the stage; the constant backbone of the band through thick and thin, and as well with bone-crushingly chugging rhythms and tasty riffs. The banner behind them fell to reveal the old-school black and white block-letter Testament logo as they continued to kick every single ass in the room. Then there’s The Atomic Clock himself, Mr. Gene Hoglan.