I remember my first reaction to seeing the announcement for this tour “Wow, am I reading this right?”. It’s not often a touring bill like this comes around, and if you were a thrash fan back in the 80’s, then you couldn’t help but get excited. Testament, Annihilator, and Vader are headlining bands in their own right, and are capable of pulling a crowd and touring individually. It’s pure speculation on my part, but I guess the advantage of a bill like this is to allow these bands to play larger venues than they might be able to normally. Whatever the reason may be, I don’t think many fans will be complaining, and it’s not surprising that a number of the shows on this tour are sold out.
Polish death metal band Vader are no strangers to Scotland. I’ve seen them a number of times, both as a support and as a headliner, and they’ve always put on a good show. Unfortunately, they’ve drawn a bit of a short straw tonight, in that not only are they first on stage, but not everyone is inside the venue when they start. I was chatting to a friend, who told me he was still in the queue outside the QMU when they started their set. Doors were supposed to open at 6pm, but it wasn’t until 6:45pm when people starting going into the hall. Those that managed to catch the start of Vader’s set, like myself, would have been standing freezing in the sleet/snow for quite a while. This possibly goes some way to explaining the slightly muted response as the audience were probably still thawing out.
“Hey Glasgow, good to be back…. c’mon this is Scotland… the silence is suffocating. This is Triumph of Death” barks Piotr Wiwczarek as he introduces their third song tonight. It’s always great to see Vader, but the sound tonight isn’t really doing them many favours. It starts to improve around the third song, but Piotr’s guitar solos are completely lost in the mix, whereas Marek Pająk’s are loud and clear. Drummer James Stewart is awesome, but it’s quite a drum heavy sound from where I’m sitting on the balcony, and I would have liked to have heard the guitars come through a bit more. Due to Testament’s set taking up a large proportion of the stage area, Vader don’t have much space to manoeuvre. The drum kit has been pushed to the front of the stage leaving bassist Tomasz “Hal” Halicki cut off from the rest of the band, sandwiched between the drums and a partition. This doesn’t stop Hal from windmilling through most of the songs though. Despite the cramped conditions, Vader deliver a set of high energy brutality that wins over the crowd. The set feels too short at around 30 minutes, but hopefully we’ll see them again soon.
Before the main event, Annihilator bring their brand of Canadian thrash to the QMU. The lights dim, and a huge cheer goes up as the sounds of the “Crystal Ann” intro tape floats over the now packed hall. Frontman Jeff Waters runs onto the stage, already wearing his guitar, followed by the rest of the band. “Let me see your hands!” shouts Jeff as Annihilator launch into their opener “King Of The Hill”. They benefit from a much improved sound compared to Vader, and right off the bat the crowd are jumping. There’s already a small pit, and the crowd surfing has begun.
“Alright, it’s gonna be fun”, and Annihilator immediately fire into another fast song, “One to Kill”. They look like they are genuinely enjoying themselves, and Jeff spends most of the set hopping around the stage and throwing guitar shapes with his flying V. It’s the older songs I’m most looking forward to hearing, and they don’t disappoint, with the likes of “Set The World On Fire”, “W.T.Y.D.”, and “Phantasmagoria”. Of course, the now classic “Alison Hell” has to be included, and the crowd helps out, singing the chorus. Good thrashy fun from “Anal Eater”, as Jeff called the band during some between song banter. 45 minutes later, and it’s all over far too soon. The last time I saw Annihilator they were supporting Judas Priest on the Painkiller tour back in ‘91. I think they put on a better show tonight.
Along with Annihilator, Testament were another band that provided the sound-track to my teenage years. However, I haven’t managed to see them play a headline set before. The first time I saw them was way back on the “Clash Of The Titans” tour, anyone remember that one? I’ve also seen Testament do support slots, but it’s never the same as a band doing their own show. Thirty or so years later, and I’m happy that I’m finally getting to see them do a full set.
After a short intro tape, Testament explode into the title track from their 2016 album “Brotherhood Of The Snake”. The backdrop to this thrash assault is a picture of the three-headed snake from the album cover. On either side of the stage are some impressive-looking stone pentagrams discs featuring the skull from the “Legacy” album. Glowing eyes from the skulls, vertical smoke machines, strobe effects, and moving lights make up the rest of the inspiring stage show.
Chuck Billy is on form tonight, his vocals spot on, and when he’s not singing, he’s pacing the stage, smiling at the crowd, and playing air guitar with his mic stand. Even after all these years, he still looks like he’s having fun. Eric Peterson may be in his 50’s, but he can still show a lot of the younger guys how it’s done. He bounces around the stage like the last 30 years never happened, his face mainly obscured by a mass of moshing black hair.
Testament draw material from their eleven album career, but unsurprisingly the set features more songs from the new album than any of the others. For the old-school thrashers, hoping to catch some of the old classics, they play tracks such as “Into The Pit”, “The New Order”, “Disciples Of The Watch”, and my personal favourite, “Over The Wall”. Unfortunately, no “Trial By Fire”, a song I would really liked to have seen them play, but with such a large back catalogue, you’re never going to please everyone.
The set is interspersed with a number of solo spots. The girl next to me who was playing with her mobile phone, suggests not everyone found them to be as interesting as perhaps the musos in the audience might have. Alex Skolnick’s turn in the spotlight was, of course, phenomenal. His solo section incorporated some AC/DC riffs, some tapping, a bit of Van Halen’s “Eruption”, Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady”, and an impressive sweep picking section. The trouble with Alex’s solo spot being first, for me anyway, is that the rest paled in comparison.
What really makes a great show for me is when the band interacts with the crowd. Chucks chats to the fans between songs; he praises the venue’s bouncers, talks about the early days in the bay area, tells stories about early video shoots, and introduces “Stronghold” by telling us about the Native Americans at Standing Rock who fought to protect their rights. It’s obviously a subject he feels passionate about, as he was born to a Native American father and a Mexican mother.
The night is finished off with an encore of the crowd-pleasing “Practice What You Preach” and “Disciples Of The Watch”. It’s a faultless performance from Testament. A great night and a great tour. If you missed it, you missed out.
Review: Martin Patterson
Images: Lara Vischi