SLAUGHTER BY THE WATER (Live Show S.F., CA)

“Slaughter By The Water” was the nickname of the 2010 Bay Area Thrash Fest, featuring 10+ bands spread over a neck-snapping evening at Oakland’s Metro. My date and I elected to take the Ferry from San Francisco to Oakland, to kick off our evening on a genteel, civilized note. It takes longer than BART, but BART doesn’t serve beer, nor can you watch the sunset from a tunnel under the Bay. (How great would it be if BART started offering a bar-car on every train, though? Just a thought to aid the Bay Area’s underfunded transit systems. You can thank me later.)

We arrived just as Prayers of Sanity were taking the stage. They’d come all the way from Portugal for the gig, according to host DJ Shredder from Metal Assault Radio. Their thrash features a slight dusting of black metal, with the vocals occasionally sliding into shrieky territory. But their music was tight and melodious, and the vocalist has impressive range for a thrash band. I picked up one of their CDs after the show, because if a band can fly all the way from Portugal for a gig, I can spring $5 for some merch. (The CD is well-produced and as strong as their live show. I will be watching what these boys do next.)

Here’s an important pointer for bands playing one of these all-afternoon festivals: tell us who you are at every opportunity.  At several points I had to ask the soundguys who was onstage, and there were so many bands playing that the sound engineers hadn’t a clue. (On the upside, the mix was solid all night, an impressive bit of work given that there was a new band onstage every 30 minutes.) Between bands I ambled around the merch tables, looking for vinyl singles.  Being at a warehouse-concert in Oakland gave me a heavy wave of nostalgia, and I decided to buy every 7″ I could lay hands on.  Sadly, Toxic Holocaust was the only band flying the flag for that old-ass format, but I bought a copy of their “Graveland” single, out now on Relapse.

Premonition were always going to have a tough time following Prayers of Sanity, and their generic monopaced ho-hum thrash lacked dynamics and killed off any pit-action POS had gotten started.  Their best song by some distance was a cover of “Subliminal” by Suicidal Tendencies (“They’re f’n with me, subliminally…”), which revived the crowd and ended the set with a welcome burst of energy.  They weren’t terrible, but they do need to work on their songcraft so it’s not just “chugga chugga chugga” for three minute bursts.

Local boys  Fog of War charged out of the gate playing thrash-paced Maiden intros tacked onto punk songs.  They’re from nearby Benecia, a town more noted for its punk history than for its metal. Indeed the vocalist was more Discharge than Maiden, although he did proffer the occasional high-pitched squeal.  Oh, and the bassist looked like he was playing in a jazz band.  Something about his style, holding the bass high on his chest, just seemed “jazzy”.  But he was clearly talented. Despite playing a punk/metal hybird, they did avoid the “metalcore” tag.  Where a metalcore band would feature hardcore-bellowing over breakdown after breakdown, they kept the thrash sharp and to the point. Fog of War won me over solidly enough that I decided to buy a CD.  But then I couldn’t find one as their merch was apparently tucked away in the darkest corner of the venue.

Fueled By Fire come from the Kreator/Destruction school of abrasive thrash, by way of Southern California.  They split opinions amongst my companions.  My friend Paul thought their blatant Slayer worship, down to the meandering stuck-pig solos, made them his band-of-the-night. The crowd was also thoroughly onboard, and I have to confess they had a grasp of dynamics that almost made up for their pedestrian song titles. (“Sickness of Humanity”, “Stare Into The Eye Of The Demon”, “Dreams of Terror”, etc.  Gotta work on those lyrics a bit, guys.)  I’d say the jury is still out for me, although apparently they were just signed to Metal Blade, so what do I know?

Local lads Zombie Holocaust offered tech-shred mosh, and shared the same jazz-bassist from Fog of War.  There are obviously two schools of thrash; the “Dead Skin Mask” serial-killer-metal of your Slayers and Sepulturas, and then the neon-green party-thrash with lyrics about comic-books, pizza, and…well, thrashing.  This second school was kicked off by Anthrax and has found a home in many of the new-wave of thrash bands such as Municipal Waste.  Zombie Holocaust clearly fall into this second group, with songs about Boba Fett, horror movies, and partying.  And they brought the party to the stage with silly-string, inflatable sheep, and all manner of flying debris.  Perhaps it wasn’t as “grim” as some would have liked, but it was a hell of a lot of fun.  (And really, if you’re the kind of fan that thinks flipped up baseball hats, hi-tops, and denim vests are still fashionable, how the hell “grim” can you be?)  ZH’s debut record is out soon from http://ebmrecords.com/.

By this point we’d settled into a routine: headbang during the band, then break between sets for a $1 zombie-taco and a cheap-ass $3 beer (I love Oakland).  Repeat as needed.  I was settled into this groove when my notes say “circle pits are for rule-following pussies.”  Perhaps it was the Corona talking, but I think I had a point.  Back in my day, if a band kicked ass, the audience broke into a frenzied pit that splattered in all directions. Nowadays, pretty much every thrash or hardcore band starts exhorting the crowd “I better see an f’n circle pit right now, mother fu#$ers”, halfway through the first breakdown.  Like we need to be told what to do?  (I didn’t get into this kind of music because I enjoy following instructions.)  It’s like bumper-cars at the County Fair nowadays.  When I was a kid, bumper-cars let you go in any retarded whiplash-inducing direction you wanted.  And you could collide head-on, full-speed, launching your best buddy into next week.  Good times.  Now they have all these signs posted at the tracks, commanding you all to go in a circle, in the same direction.  The best you can manage is a gentle sideswipe now and then, if you’re lucky. Not to come across like (more of) a cranky old bastard, but bumpercars and moshpits were a helluva lot better before everybody started following the rules.

Bonded By Blood is breaking free of their Exodus influence, largely due to vocalist Jose “Aladdin” Barrales having dramatically more range than Paul Baloff ever offered.  Their set didn’t delve into as much new material as one would have liked. (A year ago we saw almost the same set of tunes played at Thee Parkside in San Francisco.)  But they did treat us to the title track of their new record (due this Summer from Earache) called “Exiled to Earth”.  It featured an awesome finger-tapped intro from their bassist, who is apparently named Jerry Garcia.  Seriously.

By the time Toxic Holocaust took the stage, a lot of the crowd was suffering “metal fatigue” and the last BART trains were departing, so the venue started to clear out.  Toxic Holocaust is a one-man-act, with Joel Grind writing and performing all the music, and then employing session musicians to back him up live.  He’s sort of the Trent Reznor of thrash-punk, I guess.  I’m not sure if it was the seven-hour show, or the knowledge that this wasn’t a “real” band of like-minded musicians.  But I knew I was watching a group of hired-hands, and the set didn’t really catch fire for me.  Toxic Holocaust were solid, but Bonded By Blood was the more-exciting live act.  We stuck around for some of Toxic Holocaust’s set, then called it a night and hit Oakland’s Chinatown for late-night vittles. “Slaughter By The Water” set a very high standard for local metal shows, and I look forward to the next one.  I feel a bit spoiled, because even the weaker bands of the night were still at least good.  In fact I can’t remember when I attended a show that ran that long where I didn’t get bored at some point.  Set times were short, and the performances were solid.

4 out of 5 Metal Studs.

Malderor

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