Metal Thrashing Mad in SoCal: Two shows, two counties, seven bands, all metal. The weekend saw two (mostly) thrash metal bonanzas in SoCal — Friday’s Sepultura show at the Belasco in Downtown Los Angeles, and on Sunday the Bay Area Bites Back tour arrived at the House of Blues in Anaheim.

Both of these tours had been delayed for two years for obvious reasons, which meant that many if not most of the attendees at both shows had been primed and ready to slam for all of that time. It felt like it too — the vibe in the air was like a rubber band being pulled and pulled, until the sweet release. In these two cases, that meant a heavy-as-hell song and some insane mosh action.

L.A.’s sole representative at these two shows was Art of Shock, the openers on Friday. Signed to Century Media and with the superbly named Dark Angeles album already out there, the band is making waves and for good reason. These guys play traditional thrash with a contemporary edge, and they blew the cobwebs away at the Belasco.

Next up were New Orleans bruisers Crowbar. Less thrash than sludge/doom metal, these downtuned behemoths are all about crushing groove. In Kirk Windstein (also a member of Down with Pantera’s Phil Anselmo), they have a riff-master of a guitarist, and a singer who sounds like he’s gargling broken glass. They just released the Zero and Below album this year, and the new songs from that sounded immense in L.A. But powerful show closer “All I Had (I Gave”” was the set highlight.

Phoenix’s Sacred Reich have been around since the ’80s and they treated us to a killer set packed with crowd faves including opener “Divide & Conquer” and classic closer “Surf Nicaragua.” Everything in-between was a blast too — frontman Phil Rind always comes across as the happiest man in thrash and his smile is infectious. He’s always been on the right side of history too, never afraid to air his progressive views. The guy is a force of nature, and he and his bandmates were treated like returning heroes.

That left Brazilian titans Sepultura to close the Friday gig. Frontman Derrick Green has been in the Sepul-ranks for 25 years now, yet he still finds it hard to shake off the new boy tag because the band’s first six albums, with Max Cavalera, are so highly regarded. But shit, Green is a fantastic vocalist and, while the nine albums he’s recorded with the band aren’t quite so immense, they each have flashes of brilliance.

Still the highlights on Friday were the oldies. Opener “Refuse/Resist,” “Attitude,” a cover of Motorhead’s “Orgasmatron,” the tribal “Ratamahatta,” the encore “Roots Bloody Roots,” and the absolutely incredible “Arise.” We did get a couple from latest album Quadra, and they sounded great so the future is still bright for Sepultura.

Saturday was all about recovery, before the three Bay Area representatives arrived in Anaheim on Sunday. That part of this state is of course where the thrash metal scene was really happening in the ’80s, despite the fact that three of the “Big Four” (Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer) are from L.A. and the other one (Anthrax) is from New York. But still, the grassroots thrash metal scene was going on in the Bay Area, and those three L.A. bands spent a hell of a lot of time up there while they were finding their audience and their sound.

Sunday’s show saw three of the Bay’s best join forces, and it was quite the experience. Death Angel (not to be confused with L.A.’s Dark Angel) released their classic The Ultra-Violence debut album 35 years ago and the tracks they played from that at the HOB (including the title track, “Evil Priest” and “Voracious Souls”) sounded huge. A surprising set highlight was “Humanicide,” the title track from their 2019 album. Melodic, epic and of course heavy, it’s a sign that this band isn’t all about nostalgia.

Exodus ended up being the best band of the entire weekend. They just seemed so up for it, with guitarist Gary Holt still relatively fresh from his stint with Slayer and drummer Tom Hunting (the only remaining original member) having beaten cancer last year. Frontman Steve “Zetro” Souza sounded massive as he and the band blasted through classics for the Bonded by Blood debut including the title track, “A Lesson in Violence” and “Strike of the Beast.” But every single song was fantastic because Exodus was just on it, start to finish. A triumph, all told.

Testament were generally considered the band most likely to break into the “Big Four,” but they never achieved any level of mainstream success that would propel them into this leagues. But fuck it, who cares? In guitarist Alex Skolnick and returning drum beast Dave Lombardo (famously from Slayer), they have two of thrash’s best musicians in their ranks, and in Chuck Billy (another who recently beat cancer) they have one of the more imposing frontmen. Like Phil Rind, Billy sports a massive grin throughout the set, clearly delighted to be back on tour and healthy.

Before we knew it, “Children of the Next Level” and “Practice What You Preach” has blasted past, the band on top of their game. “Into the Pit” is a genre classic, and it didn’t disappoint on Sunday.

But then, to be fair, nobody did.

Metal Thrashing Mad in SoCal

LA Weekly