Walking into Washington D.C.'s Ras Restaurant & Lounge Sunday, Sept. 16 was like tumbling into a time warp. The crowd could have fit in at a 1987 metal gig – all wore denim and leather, patches and spikes, black on black. Though such a scene pulled from the genre's past, its soundtrack pushed towards its glorious future. Over the course of one afternoon, four bands proved extreme music keeps evolving well past its forebears.
First up was Chicago's Worn Out. The grind gurus kept their set spastic and short, going straight for the jugular and never letting go. Belligerent and brash, they showered the audience with musical spit and gristle. When all was said and done, sweaty and raw, Worn Out had definitely earned their name.
If Worn Out gave only piss and vinegar, their successors served milk and honey instead. Using arena metal as a foundation, D.C.'s Midnight Eye crafted intricate, fist-pumping flights of fancy. "Basilisk," for example, grew into a spectacular finale out of galloping riffs and wailing choruses. "MTLMTN," meanwhile, scaled a summit built from searing guitar melodies and urgent, melancholy singing. Out of all four performances, theirs was the one that most often reached for the sky.
Richmond's Battlemaster quickly brought things back to Earth. Gritty and grim, their raucous death metal instantly suits bars like Ras. For proof, look no further than "This Mead is Making Me Warlike," a tale of drunken battle told in tavern after tavern since time began. "Sorcerous Villainy," for its part, strode straight into the fray with pummeling guitar grooves and thunderous percussion. The undisputed highlight, however, was "Lessons in Deathmagick." Beginning with an ominous rumble, it erupted into furious aggression among the gig most memorable barnstormers.
Had the show ended there, it would have done so spectacularly. Undeterred, Vektor simply took center stage, hit light speed and left the competition behind. In a nutshell, if classic thrash like Slayer is the genre's benchmark, Vektor is its quantum leap forward.
Onstage, that next level is mind-melting in its intensity. Opening with the sprawling "Cosmic Cortex," Vektor combined robotic precision with inhuman speed. Ripping a tiny tear in space-time, they blazed through their ten minute epic in what felt like seconds.
Other songs were equally overpowering. "Echoless Chamber," for example, deprived the senses with a dense wall of sound woven from resonating guitar melodies. "Tetrastructural Minds," in contrast, hit with hyperactive fretwork, manic drumming and banshee shrieks. The curtain closed with "Asteroid," one last firestorm of nuclear thrash ending things with a bang.
By concert's end, heavy metal history had passed in the blink of an eye. The thrash, death and grind metal of yesteryear entered the 21st century louder and prouder than ever before. The scary part is that Vektor and co. may not have reached maximum velocity just yet. If the crowd's cheers that afternoon are any indication, metalheads can't wait to see what they find beyond that final frontier.
Learn more about Worn Out here, Midnight Eye here, Battlemaster here and
Mark Hensch is the editor of Thrashpit. You can also read more of Mark's work in Heavy Metal Hensch at the Washington Times Communities. When not writing for the Communities, Mark serves as a digital editor for the Times' Times247.com.