Words by Brian O’Neill | Photos by Tashina Byrd
Act of Defiance had to back out of this tour when guitarist Chris Broderick’s commitments with In Flames took precedence. Mothership gamely opened the show and went over better than one might expect a band with stoner rock roots would playing with bands that emerged on the cusp of thrash metal’s second wave in the mid-‘80s. The Dallas group smartly hedged their bets sticking to faster material making the set seem like party metal. And who doesn’t like a party?
Death Angel had a different kind of party in mind. This one involved circle pits and maybe a little blood. As vocalist Mark Osegueda said at one point, “We’re not here to fuck around.”
Death Angel emerged in the mid-‘80s as teenaged Filipino cousins in the fertile Bay Area. After one Kirk Hammett-produced demo, they unleashed The Ultra-Violence, one of thrash metal’s greatest albums ever. It’s been up and down ever since – including breaking up for a decade – and the albums since were far more groove-oriented than the “Rush on speed” fare of their literal youth.
You wouldn’t know it from the band’s set. “We play thrash fucking metal,” said the battle vest-clad singer and it wasn’t just words.
“Thrown to the Wolves” brought forth synchronized headbanging and fantastic riffs from Rob Cavestany and Ted Aguilar. It set the frantic pace for the next forty-five minutes where even “Humanicide,” the title track from the forthcoming new release, displayed old school dive-bomb leads and a furious chugging resolve. The band played exactly one song from every album except for 1988’s Frolic through the Park, using choosing the most neck-snapping track.
Ending the set by teasing the intro to “The Ultra-Violence” which morphed into “Kill as One” took the band and a lot of Heshers in the crowd back several decades to when Death Angel were the wunderkinder of the underground.
Overkill was never subterranean, technically speaking. As anyone following the band all these years knows, they came from the gutter – technically above ground! – and despite selling sixteen million albums worldwide they still proudly call it home.
The band’s patented formula was on display from the Philly stage: Chunky riffs played to accentuate a groove (“Head of a Pin” off the band’s latest album The Wings of War) or at breakneck speed (“Elimination” from The Years of Decay that just turned thirty years old). Plentiful backup vocals that sounded like a New Jersey street gang accentuated every chorus. And in the middle of it all were the two original members, bassist D.D. Verni, and the irrepressible Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth.
Blitz is sometimes thrash metal’s David Lee Roth, personably cracking wise from the stage about how if the Phillies’ Bryce Harper was in attendance he had to pay full price for a shirt. He is sometimes the genre’s Bruce Dickinson, able to belt out powerful high-pitched screams a week before his sixtieth birthday. He is often gesticulating like he invented every metal singer pose (doing this for nearly forty years, a solid case can be made that he did). But he is always the face and voice of Overkill.
The band dragged a few nuggets out of the mothballs, most notably “Bastard Nation” from W.F.O., though the real treat was seeing them reprise tracks from the legendary debut. For a while, in the mid-‘90s they didn’t play anything off it. Tonight the band ended the set with “Feel the Fire” and “Rotten to the Core,” both of which were, improbable as it seems, played even faster thanks to drummer Jason Bittner, the newest member of the band.
The encore also condensed all eras of the band: “Ironbound” from 2010’s album of the same name and “welcome to the Garden State” off the new album which was sandwiched around two equally profane and fun renditions of the punk nugget “Fuck You” that they have been making their own since the mid ‘80s.
If the so-called “Big Four” was expanded by one band, a solid case can be made that Overkill would round out thrash metal’s “Bigger Five.” Unsure? See them live, even now, and they’ll kick you right off that fence.