If heavy metal has an essence, it's thrash. None of its other subgenres hit extreme music nirvana so often. As a style, it has to pure thrash requires that perfect mix of chaos, violence and speed for success.
It's a fact proving itself wildly apparent on the aptly-named Metal Alliance Tour thus far. The ongoing trek features five of thrash's best bands locked in a nightly death race for listeners' attention spans. With each act pushing the speed limit over the others, it's delivering fireworks for metalheads, by metalheads regardless of the day's pit stop.
Last Sunday's gig at the Fillmore in Silver Spring, Maryland was no exception. The evening began with a brilliant set by openers Holy Grail. As if honoring their namesake, the quintet's sound was a relic of bygone times when heavy metal reigned in youthful supremacy. "Dark Passenger," for example, galloped like vintage Iron Maiden with thunderous guitars and soaring vocal harmonies. "Crosswinds," for its part, started with manic riffing before letting loose massive, fist-pumping choruses. The crowning moment, however, was the epic "Ride the Void." Mixing virtuosic guitars with frontman James-Paul Luna's majestic pipes, it sounded like the second coming of Judas Priest. As a whole, it was the kind of performance that makes non-metalheads rabid, true believers.
The bar was understandably high when follow-up act Shadows Fall took the stage. The group got a rocky start when, for a song or two, the mix on their dual guitar attack seemed muted. By the time "Divide and Conquer" kicked in, however, the ship was righted by furious thrash and urgent gang vocals. The inhuman shredding of "The Light that Blinds" stayed the course, while perennial favorite "The Power of I & I" inspired contagious headbanging via crushing riffs. Everything peaked when Shadows Fall dusted off "The Idiot Box," a complex oldie which slowly burned into a blistering conflagration.
All this was mere prelude before the anarchy provided by Municipal Waste. Undeterred by their predecessors, Richmond's self-described "speed metal drunks" floored it and never looked back. The end result came at one velocity unhinged and never let up.
Immediately launching into the raucous "Unleash the Bastards," Municipal Waste blazed through a collection of their signature blitzkriegs in record time. Naturally, fans ate it up 'Wasteheads are notoriously insane, and Silver Spring's chapter is no exception. As soon as "The Thrashin' of the Christ" hit with its belligerent chug, all bets were off. The rest of Municipal Waste's set erupted into a gigantic circle pit, with moshers careening in ever-widening spirals of destruction.
It's worth noting that said melee came packed with costumed bruisers. Ronald McDonald made an appearance, as did a baseball mascot and a giant chicken. Such zany antics, however, didn't detract from the reality at hand Municipal Waste tore the Fillmore apart. With hits like "You're Cut Off," "Terror Shark" and "Mind Eraser," they left nary a breath between frantic bursts of metal. When "The Art of Partying" shut things down, in fact, it was almost relieving. Almost, except that Municipal Waste nearly brought the roof down two bands before closing time.
It's a testament to Exodus, then, that they came after Municipal Waste and handily upstaged them. The Bay Area thrashers stole the show by busting out a flawless display of their craft. "War is My Shepherd," for starters, unloaded a firestorm of molten guitars and frontman Rob Dukes' caustic howls. "Blacklist," in contrast, dropped into a pulverizing crawl rattling both speakers and skulls. It set the stage for "Bonded by Blood," a vicious anthem delivering maximum power at maximum speed.
The evening's best song, though, was "The Toxic Waltz." As soon as guitarist Gary Holt began strumming the opening riff, the Fillmore went ballistic. The entire crowd devolved into a stampede of flailing limbs and colliding bodies. From there, everything was a free-for-all backed by huge riffs and chest-thumping shout-alongs. Nearly 25 years after its creation, it was proof that "Waltz" remains a true thrash classic.
Never outdone, headliners Anthrax roared back with a performance of their 1987 masterpiece Among the Living. More than two decades after its release, the album remains stacked with killer tunes. "Caught in a Mosh" reeled listeners in with palpable energy, while "I Am the Law" had them bellowing every word. Another standout was "A Skeleton in the Closet," which marched forward with upbeat stomp. The undisputed highlight was "Indians," a rare mix of poignant choruses, ripping guitars and social commentary. With so many classics on hand, the real treat was hearing them together as one.
At its best, heavy metal thrives on the utter collapse of separation between bands and their audiences. Last Sunday delivered such upheaval in spades, and for several glorious hours the Fillmore raged as a single mob. At day's end, the Metal Alliance Tour is a reminder that pure thrash pleases all metalheads, regardless of whether or not they're playing onstage as they hear it.
Mark Hensch is the editor of Thrashpit. You can also read more of Mark's work in Heavy Metal Henschat the Washington Times Communities.
Check out Anthrax here, Exodus here, Municipal Waste here, Shadows Fall here and Holy Grail here.