(DGR caught Testament’s tour in Sacramento at the end of February and turns in this report.)
It’s funny to think that every show review I’ve done for Testament has popped up on this site, so I guess it goes without saying that I really enjoy the band – especially since their last two albums have really helped to revitalize their sound and make them seem current instead of another thrash band just spinning their wheels. They have a huge amount of history attached to them, and I’ve always felt that they were a little overlooked whenever you heard stuff about the Big Four tours that were all the rage a year or two back.
You may also sense that I’m echoing sentiments from my last two show reviews for these guys, and those feelings line up with the fact that I have seen this band three times within the span of a year and will pretty much fork over cash any time they roll through town. I’ve gotten three different setlists and enjoyed myself every time, so that is why I found myself standing outside in downtown Sacramento at the end of February to witness one of the last dates of the hobbled yet still alive Dark Roots Of Thrash tour.
There were two local openers – both of whom opened for Kreator and Swallow The Sun when I saw them late last year, so the names should be a tad familiar – followed by the two bands left on the Dark Roots Of Thrash tour, so it was a relatively quick four band show. It was also the start to one of those lucky times when the stars aligned and I could do a two-shows-in-two-days-style weekend, with March 1st being the occasion for another show review that appeared here previously.
Though I’ve probably expressed this sentiment before, I still feel like I will catch shit (and rightfully so) for saying that both Solanum and Blessed Curse sound like they fell out of a time machine. This was my second time seeing both of them and they are both so good at emulating the groups they love that they could easily have fit in back in the 80’s.
The phrase may imply a criticism that they sound dated, but I don’t mean that, because both bands sound like thrash groups from that era but filtered through modern technology. I think of the two, and judging by their live set, would guess that Blessed Curse are the ones who won’t have as much mainstream appeal, but that’s because they look and sound the ethos so much that people who are fans of thrash music will likely be drawn to them.
I get the feeling their set wound up starting a little late because it seemed that after a certain point, sound check for them became a time for goofing around playing cover songs while the sound guy ran back and forth between two different set ups. They never did fix the overbearing static coming out of one of the amps, and I think that was also an issue last time. But in a weird way it kind of fits what I’ve drawn from their shows so far – which is that the music is loud, fast, and a little ugly.
I’ve described them as feeling like they are fueled entirely by beer, if that helps. That said, they write long and intricate songs, with some feeling like they last for almost six or seven minutes. Between the two live shows, I’ve noticed that they love to go into extended solo bits before wrapping all the way around back to what feels like the beginning of the song, only to do the whole routine again. It was an experience similar to the last time I saw them, except this time they had a bigger crowd (given that the show wasn’t on a Monday/Tuesday). They’re only a three piece, yet they still manage to fill Ace Of Spades with sound every time.
Of the two, I think Solanum was probably the local opener that I enjoyed more, and a lot of that hinged on their new song “A Bond Of Flesh” (I think that’s the correct title) because, man, did that one blow me away. Maybe it was just because I was familiar with the rest of their material from the last time I had seen them, but it seemed like the new one was much heavier and more mature-sounding as a song than everything else they had. Also, although it was only the second time they had ever pulled it out live, it was impressive that they nailed it like they did. It was such a fast and heavy song, one that never let go of its initial breakneck pace – and one of the few times I’ve seen a circle pit break out so quickly that it seemed like the song was written specifically for that purpose.
For those of you who haven’t listen to these guys, Solanum are another thrash group like the one above but they tend to be a little bit faster paced and the vocal delivery is very shrill – almost shrieked. They have a titular track and one that I think is called “Hurry Up And Die” that’s fun as well. They connected with the crowd surprisingly well this time around, and it seemed like everyone was very receptive to pretty much everyone that night.
4ARM were the one band to whom I had absolutely no exposure prior to the show, so they had the longest distance (both figuratively and literally – the group hail from Australia) to travel to reach me. When they took the stage I was just expecting another thrash band but was pleasantly surprised by how much they try to stretch outside of that initial set of boundaries. They had a heavy focus on melody throughout their whole set, they kept a very brisk pace, and they seemed to really be having fun on stage.
They broke out a cover of the song “So What” that got the whole venue going, but they didn’t really need it as they were slowly converting folks in the room anyway. The drums also seemed incredibly loud during their set too – which was actually kind of cool since it just seemed like a gigantic barrage coming from that end. The group released an album in early February last year, so if you’re interested they have a couple of songs on their music page on facebook and I’ve dug up two of the music videos from that disc here and here.
Since I had seen Testament twice before I figured I had a pretty good idea of what sort of set we would get – which was something of a combined version of the one they did with Anthrax last year and the epic-length one they did the first time I saw them. Many of the songs were very familiar live staples, but a huge chunk of them were drawn from the recent album Dark Roots Of The Earth. That wasn’t a bad thing by any means though, because that album was really good and was one of the reasons why I really wanted to see them live again.
Surprisingly, despite the huge stage set up and the impressive amount of strobe lights, the show actually seemed intimate. Maybe it was because this was one of the last shows of the tour, but they really seemed to be goofing off quite a bit on stage. Chuck Billy also appeared to be taking it easy. In between casually bullshitting with the crowd he actually sat down quite a few times on the front of the stage and just sang to the front of the crowd. Yeah, it was probably one of those “I’m old and on stage” maneuvers, but good on him for playing it off throughout the whole set. I also didn’t know this, but they have been allowing certain fans who paid the high VIP price to get on stage and do the gang vocals part on “Into The Pit”.
I did get the feeling that they were under a bit of a time crunch though, because usually every headliner I’ve seen has gone for an encore, but this time they hit the last track and just celebrated and jumped off the stage. I’ve heard stirrings that Sacramento’s somewhat draconian 11 PM noise ordinance is back in place after a bunch of venues started to ignore it, so maybe that was the case. Either way – this show felt more like a bridge between the first time I saw them (which seemed to go on forever and was awesome) and the shorter set they played (although it had a bunch of new songs from Dark Roots in it) when they were touring with Anthrax. They’re still an enjoyable band to see and they have made it a point to come back continually, so we have something to look forward to.