30th November 2012
Review & Photography by Graham Hilling
The first bite of winter and an unusually early start combine to ensure that openers Xerath are playing to a smallish crowd this evening. Despite this, the quartet play a short set with no shortage of enthusiasm.
Their music is an unusual combination of symphonic grandeur and syncopated metal guitar work and while this works very well for recorded material, this evening the guys are let down a little by the sound quality which has removed any subtlety from the mix.
With the playback being inaudible at times, one of the important textures within the music is as good as lost, only on the lowest registers can it be heard when it literally makes the floor shake. So it’s a short but sweet set from Xerath, with closer “Unite to Defy” even seeing a bit of pit action as well.
Next up are Malefice from Reading.
This is a band that has been around a fair while now, and have always struck me as never really fulfilling their true potential. Their live performances are always great, the recorded material is solid (“Awaken the Tides” is a really good album) and they’ve played with a list of notable bands that would be enough to definitely qualify them for a nod of recognition. However, playing as headliners just doesn’t seem to have happened and they seem to have become stuck in the “great support band” role for way too long now.
Vocalist Dale Butler tells the crowd this evening that the previous shows on this tour haven’t seen Malefice particularly well received but they always have a good reception in London. And he’s not wrong, the venue has now filled up a little more (although nowhere near capacity) and Malefice rattle through a short set of songs which are all appreciated. There’s some more circle pit activity and despite the fact that the sound hasn’t really improved it’s a solid showing from Malefice. Best song tonight is “Delerium” from the afore mentioned “Awaken the Tides” album which showcases exactly why it’s a bit of a shame that Malefice have not made more of an impression on the metal scene.
By the time Testament take to the stage, the venue has filled to what feels like capacity and the sound has improved immeasurably. Testament are like old friends, some bands you see and think they are so far removed from the punters who’ve paid to come see them but with Testament it just doesn’t feel like that. Maybe it’s because they’ve been around for so long and the songs have become like old friends too, instantly taking you back in time (….or maybe I’m just an old sod!). For whatever reason, the moment the first chords of “Rise Up” ring out tonight, you know that Testament are going to be a little bit special.
The duelling guitars of Eric Peterson and Alex Skolnick are nothing short of brilliant with riff after riff as large as life crackling through the PA. Chuck Billy looks like a man very happy in his role, wandering around the stage playing his mic stand like a guitar. Interestingly, he takes spare picks from the mic stands to augment his “playing” and then flings them to the front row punters, just another really nice gesture. Both guitarists play with an air that only comes with performing together over a number of years, effortless where they are so familiar with each others playing styles.
This evening there is no Gene Hoglan on drums though. Apparently commitments to his other band Dethklok have meant that he couldn’t make this tour and Mark Hernandez (ex-Forbidden) has been recruited to fill in. Hoglan has big boots to fill and while Hernandez does an admirable job, the discerning ear can hear the difference.
The set starts with “Rise Up” from the excellent current album “Dark Roots of Earth” which sets the standard for the rest of the evening. We’re treated to a set of gems taken from the whole history of the band, there’s a fair few lifted from “The New Order” including the title track, “The Preacher”, and “Disciples of the Watch”. All perfectly executed and not showing their age at all.
We also get “Over the Wall” which makes the already tumultuous pit turn into an inferno. Yes, Testament have always been the genuine article and tonight’s no exception. This is a band that looks set to be around for another 30 years, still churning out songs that other bands would pay to be able to play, let alone write and look so comfortable and happy on stage. Finishing with “The Formation of Damnation” you’d be hard pressed to find anyone in the venue who’s not impressed, me included. Top marks! (again)