The Webster Theater in Hartford is not an especially friendly venue. It doesn't boast any particular character or amazing features. Rather, it is just an open space with a stage and some bars, painted over to make it look grander than it is. The walls are decked with signs telling customers in no uncertain terms what they cannot do; no smoking, no moshing, no crowd surfing, no stage diving, etc. Lucky for the Webster Theater, that doesn't prevent the shows inside from being excellent. So, I walked in for Killfest 2010.
First band up to start off what was an early evening on a beautiful Northeast day was Woe of Tyrants from Ohio. I'm not sure there's a lot to talk about here. The band is talented, but has a lot of growing to do. I'm really worried that their singer is placing too much strain on his neck, as I could see his veins pop while he sang, and I was fifty feet away. Still, Woe of Tyrants was interesting enough, and the hearty souls who showed up early to see them did not walk away disappointed.
Next to the stage as dusk turned in to darkness was Evile, the up and coming thrash outfit from across the pond. I'd seen some press on them, but had never actually gotten around to doing the leg work to find out about them. I knew only that they were being called a large part of the "revival" of classic thrash metal, so I made sure to pay attention. Evile, to their credit, did not disappoint. The English entrants into thrash's kingdom played a robust and workman-like playlist, making up with effort what they didn't have in set time. Whether it was "Infected Nation" or "Thrasher," the beats were heavy but controlled, the guitars were fast and precise, and as the crowd trickled in, they were greeted with a solid and honest effort. At the end of their set, Evile asked that we all go home and tell everyone about Evile. Well, I'm meeting that obligation. If you're not familiar with the band, check 'em out. I know I will be. Cheers!
Warbringer! I have spent a lot of column space on this site talking about how great Warbringer is, and I'm about to spend some more. I can't understand how anyone who is a fan of thrash doesn't already know about and love this band. They look the part, they play the part, and they kick the crap outta your neck. Warbringer is an old-school whiplash factory, peddling the kind of barely harnessed chaos that put this genre on the map in the first place. I know that guitarist John Laux and singer John Kevill are the showmen of the band, but drummer Nic Ritter is the backbone. Like all great drummers, he's producing an incredible amount of spot-on percussion while not looking like he's really working that hard. From the first strains of "Jackal" through "Living in a Whirlwind," to the frenetic pace of "Combat Shock," Warbringer gives the crowd what they want. I've never seen fans walk away disappointed after Warbringer, and people who don't know them tend to be impressed. Warbringer is practically the perfect warm-up for Overkill, a younger band in the same mold. If you haven't looked into this band yet, you owe yourself some Warbringer. They've got the look, feel and sound necessary to lead the charge of thrash revival.
This is where the show slowed down some, as the next two bands sacrificed the over-the-top good time feel of classic thrash for an earthier, grittier, more modern spin on the genre. Ireland's God Dethroned is making noise in the metal community, so I was just curious enough to want to see what all the ruckus was about. They have very listenable moments in new songs like "Poison Gas," their sound is deep and their speed is unforgiving. Still, about halfway through the set, my friend who attended the show with me cynically asked "When did their first song end?" I didn't have a good answer. Couple the repetition of sound with a stoic stage presence, and God Dethroned didn't have the punch I was hoping for.
Vader ended up much the same. Maybe it's me, because these bands seem to keep popping up, getting signed, and sticking around for a while. Let me give Vader some credit. They were more enjoyable than God Dethroned. Vader has a more impressive rhythm section, their headbanging-to-wall-of-unintelligable-noise ratio is better, and they seem like a band that's not trying to make or prove a point, which lends their performance a less severe atmosphere. Still, I just don't get it. This type of speed/death metal has never struck me as something that I would reach for when I want a recreational listen. I don't think it's that the music is too fast or loud or heavy. No, for me I just find it too dense, to undefined, with too much stress placed on the sheer volume of noise rather than their placement.
To close Killfest 2010 was the progenitor of the entire tour, Overkill. Celebrating their 25th anniversary, Overkill is on a mission to prove that the fire still burns, and that the members are still feeling it, as it were. Opening the show with new album starter "The Green and Black" got the crowd riled up, and then the set list quickly became a celebration of albums gone by. "Rotten to the Core" was followed by a powerful "Wrecking Crew," and both sounded they had just been written with the new album. Bobby Blitz remains in the best shape of his life, and his stage presence and unique voice both defy his age and dominate the band's image. To temper this, Blitz leaves the forefront when he has no singing to do, and it is in these bridge moments when Overkill becomes D.D. Verni's band. (Side note, D.D. Verni looks a little like an older heavy metal version of BGH's own headman, Eric.) I am always at a loss when it comes to just how well Blitz and Verni share control of the band, even after a couple decades. On top of that, with the possible exception of Anthrax and maybe Airbourne, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a band that has more fun than Overkill. Dave Linsk, whether he’s shredding through “Hammerhead” or buzzsawing on “Bring Me the Night,” plays with a smile on his face. Ron Lipnicki continues to be a great addition to the band, as his drumming is both on time and appropriately heavy. It was his smoldering double kick that made a classic like “Hello From the Gutter” sound new all over again.
Overkill could do no wrong on this night, and the fans wouldn’t have let them. They cheered heartily, banged their heads viciously, and moshed with passion. It didn’t matter whether it was an unexpected classic like “Sonic Reducer” or a forgotten hit like “Necroshine.’ Overkill proved they can still stoke the furnaces of speed metal’s heart, and that the first twenty five years might only be a gateway to the next offering.