–TESTAMENT/FLOTSAM AND JETSAM/4ARM: Live at The Intersection, Grand Rapids, Mich., 02-21-13


–TESTAMENT/FLOTSAM AND JETSAM/4ARM: Live at The Intersection, Grand Rapids, Mich., 02-21-13

Testament has a lot to be proud of these days. The legendary Bay Area thrashers are still decimating headbangers more than 25 years after their classic (and I’m not using that word loosely here) 1987 debut, The Legacy. They have a critically and commercially well-received album in last year’s Dark Roots of Earth, an excellent platter of blistering thrash metal that even reached as high as No. 12 on the Billboard 200 album chart. On top of that, the band’s ambitious, incendiary (literally) video for “Native Blood” won the award for “Best Music Video” at the 37th Annual American Indian Film Festival. So, when it was announced late last year that The Dark Roots of Thrash Tour, with Flotsam and Jetsam and Overkill, would be passing through West Michigan this February, it was a null-brainer.

First off, scratch Overkill from that billing. Earlier this week, the hyper-speed New Jersey-based “Eliminators” dropped off the tour due to singer Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth’s ongoing respiratory illness. So that was a big bummer, and I noticed a few residual Overkill t-shirts appearing throughout the crowd last night. Whether people still wore these because they thought Overkill was still playing or as a tribute in absentia, is someone else’s guess.

My brother Jeff and I arrived at The Intersection in downtown G.R. at about a quarter to eight and entered a hall that was easily more than half-full, but by no means jam-packed. That was fine with us, as we quickly made our way up closer to get a better view of national openers 4Arm from Australia. The Aussie quartet, from what I could tell from the couple songs we heard, plays some enjoyable if not quite original or groundbreaking old-school thrash. I commend the band for writing some well-paced and dynamic songs and not just throwing a bunch of frenetic riffs together, as seems to be a trend with some of the newer thrash acts. These guys are tight live and display some impressive musicianship, and I recommend giving them a listen.

As the floor cleared out for the obligatory mass bathroom break, we took the opportunity to move all the way up to the second row, stage left to witness cult Phoenix, Arizona thrashers Flotsam and Jetsam. These guys are perhaps best known as a trivia piece for being Jason Newsted’s band before he joined Metallica. This is unfair because these guys delivered some amazing metal in their own right, especially their first two masterpieces, Doomsday for Deceiver (with Newsted on bass) and 1988’s immortal monster No Place for Disgrace. The band, led by talented high-range vocalist Eric A.K., kept the ship wreckage moving forward with a series of albums of varying styles and quality. I wasn’t sure what to expect as the quintet took the stage, but all doubts were swiftly erased as the band eased into the opening strains of “Ugly Noise.” The moody title track to Flotsam’s upcoming album features a steady mid-tempo groove, a crushing main riff and soaring, flowing vocal melodies in the chorus. This promising start was just a taste of wonderful things to come, however, as Eric A.K. announced that the band hadn’t toured with this lineup in over 15 years and so would be playing lots of old stuff, to big cheers erupting from The Intersection crowd. That lineup, by the way, also includes longtime members Ed Carlson (guitars), Michael Gilbert (guitars), Jason Ward (bass) and Kelly David-Smith (drums).

Facing stage left, Gilbert’s Les Paul blasted a loud, distinct and brutal rhythm guitar tone as Flotsam decimated us with vintage speed stormers such as “Iron Tears” and “Hammerhead” off the debut, while No Place tracks such as the hauntingly emotive “Escape from Within” flawlessly juxtaposed the crushingly brutal, exhilarating speed and A.K.’s flawless vocal performance. Other tunes, such as the effective mid-tempo pounding of Cuatro’s “Swatting At Flies” and two more enjoyable tracks off the new album kept the hair flying and the horns raised. But it was the passionate, unrelenting speed metal firestorm of closer “No Place for Disgrace” that had this crusty old headbanger’s energy nearly spent before the headliner even took the stage. That, my friends, is a fantastic opening set, and the quiet underdogs of The Dark Roots of Thrash tour may have just stolen the rug from under Testament’s feet. If you get a chance to see Flotsam and Jetsam live anytime soon, do it. Now, if not yesterday.

DSCN0095Now, that is not to imply that Testament in any fashion performed badly or disappointed their “Legions” of rabid moshers. In fact, the Bay-Area bangers presented a thoroughly solid show and played as tightly as a band can play. Fog and orange lights shrouded the stage as ominous sound bites from historical political figures overlaid a variation on Hendrix’s Woodstock “Star Spangled Banner.” With metal drummer-extraordinaire Gene Hoglan (Fear Factory/Death) sitting high atop his riser above his stage, and with guitarists Alex Skolnick, Eric Peterson and bassist Greg Christian manning similarly-elevated positions around him, towering vocalist Chuck Billy & co. launched into new-album opener “Rise Up,” a terse and punishing call to arms against oppression. The new material sounded great, which was a good thing because Testament had announced that this tour would showcase lots of material from their last three records. Indeed, I overheard a fan behind us complain loudly, “Play some old ****!” Well, you know what, buddy, deal with it. Testament advertised the kind of tour this would be and the material they would be playing, so if you’re a fan of the band, pay attention to what’s going on. That said, they played no fewer than four tunes off Dark Roots, including the popular video single, “Native Blood.” These songs seemed to go over well with the hardcore moshers, as did the few tracks off the previous The Formation of Damnation and The Gathering records. The older material was performed with plenty of energy, precision and aplomb as well, with Skolnick and Peterson playing off each other perfectly during the synchronized and harmonized riffs. Skolnick, in particular, sounded fantastic in the lead guitar department, and his fluid and searing, melodic soloing left more than a few jaws agape in amazement.

That leaves a few points of criticism, in my humble opinion, of course. First, the sound mix left a lot to be desired. Peterson’s guitar on stage right wasn’t loud enough, so it rendered his aggressive, palm-muted rhythms fuzzy and non-distinct, which is a huge detriment to a heavy band. Also, Billy’s vocals weren’t loud enough throughout the set, so it was difficult to make out certain vocal lines and the different techniques he was using. Hoglan’s drums and Skolnick’s guitars pierced through loud and clear, right where they should be. But the overall mix sounded muddy, to the point that two-thirds of the way through the set the speedy and pounding thrash tunes seemed to bounce together and clash, as if in a giant echo chamber.

Secondly, Testament would do well to vary the pacing of their sets more. I’m not talking about just representing material evenly from different eras of their career, but about creating a better flow by mixing various tempos and moods. Why not include a gorgeous and emotional power ballad such as “The Legacy,” “Return to Serenity,” or “Trail of Tears” among the skull-pounding speed fest, or a couple crunchy mid-tempo groove numbers such as “Electric Crown” or “Souls of Black”? Perhaps the band is trying to please the hardcore, elitist “no posers” thrash metal fanatics a bit, and that is understandable. But playing a more balanced and dynamic set would do much to alleviate any sound ills and make for a more enjoyable performance.

Overall, I’d give the Dark Roots of Thrash tour a solid B+, and this is coming from a devoted Testament fan. Let’s not be too hard on the boys. I have a feeling their best is still yet to come.–Jonathan Kollnot

–Approximate Setlist: 1.) Rise Up 2.) More Than Meets the Eye 3.) Burnt Offerings 4.) Native Blood 5.) True American Hate 6.) Dark Roots of Earth 7.) Into the Pit 8). Practice What You Preach 9.) Riding the Snake 10.) Eyes of Wrath 11.) Trial By Fire 12.) The Haunting 13.) The New Order 14.) D.N.R. (Do Not Resuscitate) 15.) 3 Days in Darkness 16.) The Formation of Damnation


~ by jonnyboyrocker on February 23, 2013.

2 Responses to “–TESTAMENT/FLOTSAM AND JETSAM/4ARM: Live at The Intersection, Grand Rapids, Mich., 02-21-13”

  1. I was supposed to see this show in Minneapolis last night but alas I didn’t make it. Nice review though sad to see quite a few classics left off the setlist.

    • Ahoy there, Nate! This is Nate Dressel from Legendary, a great metal journalist and bleeding heart metal fan–not to mention a fellow bass guitar man.=) Yeah, the show was pretty good, but they were promoting the new stuff primarily. Maybe next time around they’ll do more of a classics set again, which is kinda what they did with Anthrax/Death Angel. Cheers!–JK

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