Without question this stellar thrash package, dubbed ‘The Bay Area Strikes Back’, was the best to hit our shores in a very long time. Indeed the legacy of each band is legendary to say the least as this colossal tour hit Manchester for a sold out show at the main Academy. Setting off early, anticipating horrendous traffic around Manchester was unfounded as I arrived early to down a pint in the Student Union bar with friends, though in all honesty I really didn’t fancy standing in a queue for over half hour.
The place was already teeming with people on entry, most of whom seemed to be male much to my surprise, as a good few of them were already reaping the effects/benefits (delete as appropriate) of alcoholic imbibing during the afternoon, but always in good spirits of course. With an intro of animal noises signalling the arrival of Death Angel the venue amplified in tension as they detonated with the caustic annihilating riff that greeted us on “Humanicide”. As always the singer was completely enamoured with the crowd as some of them were sporting inflatable guitars, this wasn’t a power metal show people. With energy bouncing around the venue the band turned to the debut album for “Mistress Of Pain” which caught me off guard but was very welcome. All the bands had decent set durations giving them plenty to fire at us as the pit was already under way and the first crowd surfer was thrust over the top.
My trip to the bar caused me to only hear “Voracious Souls” which is still absolutely immense some 33 years after its release on the debut. I wasn’t keen on “Aggressor” which was far more melodic and lacking the vigour and vitriol of other material before the power resurged on “The Dream Calls For Blood”. By now the venue was pretty much packed as the pit continued its spin-dryer movements before vocalist Mark gave us the usual stage propaganda, though he said it was a sell-out crowd on Sunday which he did correct, saying “what am I, a fucking calendar” which was amusing. I did feel he overdid the speech stuff at times, though the crowd loved it before catapulting into “The Moth” as by now all band members were volleying around the stage like men possessed. Teasing us with the opening to the massive instrumental “The Ultra-Violence” lasted about 30 seconds or so which was hugely disappointing as the song is a bona-fide classic, but instead channelled the riffing into “Thrown To The Wolves” which is a fine tune in itself. I will admit I’ve seen this band play and be better on stage but for opening the event there could have been none better.
I’ve mixed opinions about the Exodus discography and the vocalists they’ve had in their ranks since Paul Baloff left the band and subsequently pass away, who I did see when the band played Manchester supporting their seminal debut “Bonded By Blood” to the point that no other front man has come close to his persona and charisma ever since. However time moves on and in 2020 Exodus were as incandescent as you could possibly get them in a larger venue; they really do suit playing smaller venues for the sheer power and violence they wield. Added to that Mr Gary Holt was back in the ranks after his sabbatical in Slayer these last few years. It was clear he was very welcomed by the crowd and he made the most of the adulation by cavorting around the stage continually to the point of showing off to be honest. After the medley of tunes that served as their intro, including the Benny Hill theme they battered the audience with “Body Harvest” and like Death Angel it was like touch paper to a firework for the pit as it exploded into action. The guitar sound afforded was piercingly acidic matched by the huge drum sound making every hit feel like bone hammering blunt force trauma. “Blood In, Blood Out” followed as the front of the crowd was a like a beach as wave after wave of surfers bombarded the security. Crowd favourite “And Then There Were None” was aired from the debut only after Holt told Souza the correct track when he originally said “Deliver Us To Evil” which I really would have liked to hear again live. There was some chat announcing the return of Holt with much cheering before “Fabulous Disaster” inflicted grievous bodily harm on the crowd.
A newer song, “Deathamphetamine” ensued after some more chat by Souza, which was getting a little tedious, but was probably engaging to those who hadn’t seen the band before. It would be fair to say that the crowd wanted classics and they got it when the sound of a plane came over the PA before “Bonded By Blood” battered the audience as Souza leaned forward to bait the crowd right before a surfer nearly cracked him before he flinched back quickly. “Piranha” maintained the old material as the drum fill intro section was instantly recognised building up the momentum for “The Toxic Waltz” which is always greeted like an anthem, though the pissing about with Slayer riffs at the start was unnecessary. Closing the set was another crowd favourite, and my personal favourite, “Strike Of The Beast” which is still as violent and frenzied as anything you hear in thrash today, though I could have done without the Bob Marley “Exodus” tune as their outro; why not play their own song called “Exodus” instead!
There is a tendency for a lot of bands to use intro music and songs before they play and Testament was no different as they opted for “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” to supposedly get the crowd going, which it didn’t. With a pending new album, “Titans Of Creation”, due for release in April I did expect the band to open with a song from it but instead floored us with a double barrelled blast from “The New Order” starting with “Eerie Inhabitants”. The blaze of stage lighting created a fiery vision as the guitar sound was as potent as Exodus’. “The New Order” followed as the band members darted around the stage posing like heavy metal heroes, but I did feel Chuck Billy’s vocals were far too low in the mix. “The Haunting” passed me by for some reason but was reinvigorated when “The Preacher” energised the pit into more good friendly violent fun. A triplet was executed starting with “Dark Roots Of Earth” as Chuck was the epitome of a metal fan, air guitar posing often before “Last Stand For Independence” seemed to baffle the crowd at its inclusion for some reason. Airing the epic “Throne Of Thorns” finalised the triplet with a rousing grandiosity that started with a backing track intro as the band members disappeared off stage during it. As the riff blazed in the place erupted again as the lead breaks by Eric and Alex were utterly sublime and tantamount to virtuosic.
With energy levels at boiling point for both the crowd and band members there was no let-up as “Brotherhood Of The Snake” was played prior to which Chuck gave us a little lecture about Bay Area Thrash. Announcing the next song was for Gene Hoglan (drums) was cheered as Chuck said that security was counting everybody that came over the barrier, and there were a lot of them, asking the dutiful horde to break the record, though I don’t know what that record is. “Fall Of Sipledome”, for Gene, was immense the power of this song was unmatched as Gene pulverised his kit to oblivion like only he can do. A new song was played called “Night Of The Witch” which was announced in a very low tone by Chuck as the pace was picked up a notch slightly and gave us a good indication that the new album is going to be excellent. Some chat about old school fans meant that “Into The Pit” ensued which was exactly what the crowd wanted. Their seemingly endless energy levels continued to send the pit into a frenzied madness as “Over The Wall” continued to beat the crap out of us. With the set drawing to its close I did venture to the back to escape the inevitable crush leaving as stalwart favourite “Disciples Of The Watch” put the cherry on top of a night of exhilarating thrash metal.
WORDS: MARTIN HARRIS
PHOTOS: PHIL POUNTNEY