Anthrax, Exodus, High On Fire, Municipal Waste, Holy Grail
April 4th, 2013
Continuing their recent-ish trend of performing classic albums in their entirety, Anthrax rolled into town as the headlining act on the Metal Alliance Tour to play their 1987 record Among The Living for a sold-out main room at the legendary Minneapolis club, First Avenue. They brought with them a handful of ripping acts that include newer band Holy Grail, staples of the ‘00s Municipal Waste and High On Fire, and fellow veterans from the first wave of American thrash metal, Exodus.
The start time was bumped up a couple of times throughout the day, but you wouldn’t have known it without first checking the club’s Twitter feed. Therefore by the time I arrived, I had already missed all but two songs of opener Holy Grail’s set. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought I’d stepped into some sort of 1980s time warp. On stage, four guys with long hair, all black everything, and forearms covered in leather and spikes, struck familiar metal poses, while wailing speed metal blasted from their stacked amps. The crowd was fairly sparse at this point. Youngsters in throwback flipped bills, skinny jeans and patched up jean vests, thrashed about in a modest-sized pit. Bearded hessians and off-the-clock professionals sporting crisp Anthrax tee shirts (likely purchased when the Worship Music tour came through town two years ago, or perhaps just 10 minutes prior) milled about the bar areas, staring at their smart phones and sneaking one-hitters. Without knowing much about the band before walking through the front door, it was difficult for me to tell if Holy Grail were comprised of seasoned veterans or eager twenty-somethings. Either way it was pretty clear they were well-versed in the way of the thrash.
Municipal Waste took the stage just as the crowd had nearly doubled in size. It was immediately apparent the band’s special brand of crossover party thrash is better suited for smaller venues where audience participation is encouraged. While the barrier between the band and the kids deadened the stage diving and pile-on opportunities, it didn’t stifle any of energy being put forth on either side of it. When the band demanded a circle pit, the people were more than happy to oblige. As per the usual, lead singer Tony Foresta supplemented their humor-based songwriting with witty between-song stage banter. Before they began playing “The Thrashin’ of the Christ” (from 2005’s Hazardous Mutation) he introduced it by saying, “This song goes out to Satan. It’s about thrashin’ in Jesus Christ’s face and kicking Mel Gibson in the balls!” Similarly he set up “Mind Eraser” (also from Hazardous Mutations) by saying, “This is a love song.” Which he followed up with, “We love drinking alcohol.” The songs that garnered the biggest crowd responses were “You’re Cut Off” (from 2012’s Nuclear Blast debut, The Fatal Feast) and “Headbanger Face Rip” (from 2007’s The Art of Partying.) Everyone in the pit was fist-pumping in unison to the respective choruses. Municipal Waste ended their set with the title track from The Art of Partying, while colorful streamers and confetti blasted the crowd from cannons on the sides of the stage.
With the club now nearing capacity, High On Fire stepped on stage to break up the would-be thrash monotony with their signature blend of Sabbath-riffs and sludgy doom metal. Matt Pike and crew’s contribution was short and concise, without a lot of chatter. When Pike did choose to speak, he kept it brief, as is his wont. When he introduced “Fertile Green” (from 2012’s De Vermis Mysteriis) he informed the audience very matter of factly, “This song is about smoking weed." In a brazen act of defiance (and quite possibly, stupidity) a couple members of the crowd up front actually lit up and exhaled large hits of marijuana smoke towards the stage. Things really picked up near the end of the set. By the time they wrapped things up with the title track from 2010’s Snakes for the Devine, the audience was left wanting more. Judging by the crowd reaction, it’s safe to assume anyone that was previously unfamiliar with High On Fire had surely been won over.
Prince’s “Purple Rain” played over the P.A., as thrash metal veterans Exodus entered the stage to the approval of a now sold-out First Avenue. Long time fans showed their knowledge and appreciation by cheering loudly as guitarist Gary Holt, the only member to appear on every Exodus release dating back to the early ’80, and original drummer Tom Hunting led the charge. It didn’t take long to get the pit moving either. The band tore into “The Ballad of Leonard and Charles” (from 2010’s Exhibit B: The Human Condition) as the floor crowd swirled into frenzy. They effortlessly transitioned into “A Lesson in Violence” (from their classic 1984 debut album, Bonded By Blood) before allowing the committed moshers a little time to breath. Lead singer Rob Dukes, who’s been with the band since 2005, talked (with no sense of irony whatsoever, I might add) about the decision to use “Purple Rain” as an intro song. “This is (the club) where Purple Rain was filmed? We gotta use Prince tonight.” Knowing the importance of giving fans what they want, and no doubt self-aware that Bonded By Blood is considered a landmark album in the development of thrash metal, Exodus’ set was fairly reliant on songs from that release. “Piranha”, “Strike of the Beast” and the title track were all played, in addition to the aforementioned “A Lesson in Violence.” Their set was rounded out nicely with a mix of other material, such as “Blacklist” and “War Is My Shepherd” (both from 2004’s Tempo of the Damned.) Before breaking into “The Toxic Waltz” (from 1989’s Fabulous Disaster) Dukes instructed the pit to separate into two sections, facing each other. Then, as the first chord was struck, the groups charged at each other and collided in a mass of sweaty, long-haired humanity. (It’s what’s known in the hardcore scene as the Braveheart Wall of Death.) It was a beautiful cap to an already frantic 20 minutes. They finished up their portion of the evening with the Exhibit B: The Human Condition album closer “Good Riddance.”
As the stage hands began preparing for the arrival of the headliners Anthrax, a collective anxiety began to wash over the crowd. Lines for the bathrooms and the bars grew to near unmanageable sizes, while the battle for good sight lines along the sides, in the back, and on the balcony had begun. Those that had managed to maintain a spot along the railings or at the front of the steps became agitated; refusing to budge for any late arrivers and less-fortunate attendees that anxiously attempted to peak over their shoulders. At the same time, bodies eagerly pressed into each other, leaving little breathing room for anyone on the main floor. Every inch of available eye space was quickly filling up.
Bassist Frank Bello was first to take the stage, followed quickly by guitarist Scott Ian, vocalist Joey Belladonna, and co. As the opening riffs of “Among the Living” struck, it was as if a seismic shift forced the whole club to rumble, and when the mosh breakdown hit everyone went fucking bananas. Belladonna paused briefly to introduce the next song. “This one is about you guys” he said as he pointed to the floor. “It’s called...”—and the audience finished his sentence for him—“CAUGHT - IN - A - MOSH!” The band played a lengthier version of the song, as the largest circle pit of the evening commenced at a hasty pace. Near the end of “I Am The Law” Belladonna put in extra effort to stretch out his vocal chords—as if he hadn’t fully warmed up yet—proving why he remains to this day one of the genre’s premier vocalists. After an especially thrashing rendition of “A Skelton in the Closet” the band put a pause on the Among The Living songs to squeeze in some other material. Two songs from 2011’s excellent Worship Music bookended a set that included covers of AC/DC’s “T.N.T.” (from their recently released covers EP, Anthems) and “March of the S.O.D.”, a song that belongs to Ian and absentee drummer Charlie Benante’s lesser known “other band” Stormtroopers of Death. As they prepared to attack the second half of Among The Living, Belladonna said something about being a lifelong Minnesota Vikings fan, as he normally does when playing Minneapolis, and it was predictably (and sadly, I might add) met with mixed reactions. He then screamed, “Can we do a fucking war dance in here tonight?!” The crowd roared back in approval, and the band ripped into “Indians.” With the strobe lights, double kick drum and chunky riffage, it was pure head-banging ecstasy. Anthrax finished out the rest the album before returning with an encore that included “I’m The Man” (form the 1987 EP of the same name) and the show-closing Trust cover, “Antisocial” (from 1988’s State of Euphoria.) The left little doubt in anyone's mind that at three decades strong, they are still on top of their game.
Shoutout to Jason Henriksen for the upload.
Unleash the Bastards
The Thrashin’ of the Christ
You’re Cut Off
Thrashing’s My Business…And Business Is Good
Headbanger Face Rip
The Art of Partying
Personal bias: I wish Municipal Waste would have played something from their excellent 2002 split with Crucial Unit. They still have the best tee shirts though.
High On Fire
Rumors of War
Madness of Architect
Snakes for the Devine
Personal bias: Matt Pike deserves kudos for continuing to play shirtless, despite gaining a noticeable amount of mass around the mid section. And every time I see Jeff Matz playing bass with High On Fire, I am reminded how much I miss seeing Zeke live.
The Ballad of Leonard and Charles
A Lesson in Violence
War Is My Shepherd
Bonded By Blood
The Toxic Waltz
Strike of the Beast
Personal bias: Despite Exodus having gone through numerous lineup changes, it hasn’t lessoned my enthusiasm for them. I think Rob Dukes has done an excellent job of not only covering the old stuff adequately but also carving out his own place in the history of the band, having been with them for eight years now.
Among the Living
Caught in a Mosh
I Am The Law
A Skeleton in the Closet
In the End
T.N.T. (AC/DC cover)
March of the S.O.D. (Stormtroopers of Death cover)
A.D.I./Horror of it All
Imitation of Life
Antisocial (Truth cover)
Personal bias: While I am a little disappointed that Rob Caggiano departed the band —mostly because of his superb production work on Worship Music—journeyman Jonathan Donais is no doubt and excellent fill on guitar. Same can be said for Charlie Benante’s absence from this tour. It was barely noticeable, as Jon Dette, who’s cut his teeth as a member of Testament and a Slayer fill-in, has clearly immersed himself in Anthrax’s back catalog. Now that I’ve seen the band do Spreading The Disease and Among The Living in their entirety, I’m really hoping State of Euphoria is next on the hit list. When Belladonna came out for “Antisocial” wearing a Brett Favre Vikings jersey, it was on some multi-layered, Inception-level type shit for me.
A special shoutout goes to the stage crews, who kept the tear-down and setup between bands moving quickly; and the engineers, who provided superb sound throughout the evening.
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