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ConcertsTestament, Flotsam and Jetsam, 4Arm, Merlin's Beard in SLC

Posted on Sunday, March 10 2013 @ 08:02:08 CDT by Pete Pardo
Heavy Metal In some ways, this tour may be one of the biggest thrash offerings of the year. Testament, after all, is a one of the best thrash acts around, a point too-long overlooked by those who think only in terms of the so-called "Big 4." In recent months, those bands have proven to be more about the drama than about the music; consider, for example, Metallica's obvious musical decline, Dave Mustaine's embarrassing media appearances, Dave Lombardo's firing from Slayer, and Anthrax's own personnel shake-ups. Testament, no stranger to drama of their own, has successfully and confidently risen to the top, something they have long deserved. Fans are taking notice. Their last two albums, The Formation of Damnation and Dark Roots of the Earth, sold extremely well and represent some of the best songwriting, lyric writing, and performances of their career. With Alex Skolnick back in the fold and the "Atomic Clock" Gene Hoglan on drums, these guys are ready to take the lead as the masters of thrash.

The tour took a major blow when Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth of Overkill announced that he had to take some major time off to recover from a festering and lingering case of pneumonia. Without Overkill, some fans complained, the tour would no longer be as appealing. Testament, of course, is rock solid, but Flotsam and Jetsam have been relatively quiet for a while and 4Arm is an up-and-coming newer band. I was disappointed that Overkill dropped off the tour, but their absence wasn't a deal-breaker for me. Testament is one of the better live acts I've ever seen and I'm willing to catch them any time, any place.

In Salt Lake City at least, Overkill's absence opened up a chance for local band Merlin's Beard to fill in the missing time. I've never seen these guys before, but they are definitely a band I'm going to watch carefully. They play a hard, crunchy, riff-driven style of metal that got the night off to a perfect start. As I listened to them, I couldn't help but wonder why these guys don't have more music and more fans. They are easily one of the better local acts I've seen and have a bright future. I was also impressed with Australia's own 4Arm, a thrash band that plays at blistering speeds. Their songs sounded great, even though the lead guitarist's solos were often buried in the surrounding din of the drums and bass. The drummer's shirt, a black sleeveless tee that read "I Love Thrash" captured the spirit of their set perfectly. These guys are the real deal.

I've mostly known Flotsam and Jetsam to be the band Jason Newsted played in before he joined Metallica. I've heard some of their songs over the years, but never gave them much of a hearing. When they hit the stage, the crowd went wild. Everyone around me began singing along with the words and cheered as loudly as possible. I thought they sounded great, though their older songs had a little more energy and passion than their newer ones. Part of the problem was that the sound was inconsistent, especially in allowing the guitars the full range of sounds. Some of the newer songs really suffered from the sound. As with 4Arm's set, the solos were often hard to hear.

Testament was awesome. In my recent interview with Chuck Billy, he informed me that the band would mostly draw on songs from the last three albums for this tour. Of course they would play classics like "Into the Pit," but the band has many other songs, such a long catalogue, why not mix things up a little? True to his word, Billy and the boys played a wide-ranging selection from the last two albums and also a healthy number of offerings from The Gathering, including the lesser-known "Riding the Snake." I was disappointed they didn't play "Disciples of the Watch," one of my favorite classic tracks, but they've only played that one on the nights they are recording for an upcoming DVD release of the tour. Oh, well. I also thought it would have been cool had they played one of the cover songs they recorded for an extended version of the current CD.

The last time I reviewed a Testament show, I described the band's cheerful stage presence. I could easily repeat what I wrote last time. These guys play like they own the stage. I'd also heard that Alex Skolnick sometimes looks bored, as if he's lost interest in Testament; I don't know where that idea comes from. He plays with passion and enthusiasm, filling in his well-deserved role as one of the better guitarists on the scene right now. From start to finish, the entire band played with everything they've got, ramping up the energy with every song, and getting the audience flailing about in the pit. As always, though, most of the fun comes from watching Chuck Billy interact with the audience and play his microphone stand as if it were a guitar. He's a consummate showman, a true leading man. At the end of the night, Billy told the crowd that they would tour again this summer. If you can, be sure to catch them on the road.

Carl Sederholm

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