Testament | 04.10.15

live testament_75To say Alex Skolnick is underrated as a guitarist would be like saying America is a bit bigger than Luxembourg.




live testament_Danny-Nichols

Pop’s Nightclub, Sauget, Ill.

On a warm spring night I parked my car surprisingly far away from the venerable old concert venue and began my walk to the front door to pick up my tickets for an all-you-can-eat classic thrash metal extravaganza.

Shattered Sun was the first act to hit the stage. They weren’t thrash metal, but closer to death metal…with a keyboard player. My advanced metrics put him as tied for the third most metal keyboard player behind Ronnie James Dio’s guy and King Diamond himself, who are tied for first. The singer was engaging and full of anger—or anguish. Like many newer metal bands of the day, there was some alternation between dirty and clean vocals, and even vocals between one of the guitarists. All in all, it was a good set by a band that has put itself on my radar.

Exodus was next. It’s been just shy of a full year since Gary Holt & Co. had graced a stage in St. Louis. In the interim, Exodus released a new record and changed singers from Rob Dukes back to Steve Souza, the classic singer. The boys were ready to go and excited to play for the very full crowd at Pop’s. Souza often regaled the crowd with tales of concerts in St. Louis going back to the mid-’80s, while Holt showed precisely why he was tapped to join Slayer when Jeff Hanneman could no longer perform. Drummer Tom Hunting—and those of us not on stage—received a surprise when the crew came out to wish Hunting a happy birthday. Holt then entertained the crowd with stories of the two of them as young men in the ’70s. As with any metal band worth an E5 power chord, the members of Exodus knew their songs backward and forward—and at about 400 bpm.

Testament took the stage to the sound of air raid sirens. Drummer Gene Hoglan may have taken those sirens a bit too seriously, as he began to carpet bomb the crowd with his drumming. With the now-increased volume, hammer-of-the-gods drumming, and giant speakers, I was pretty sure my iPhone was going to get another crack from his blast beats. Chuck Billy is a thrash singer who’s not lost a step in the decades of churning out top-notch thrash metal vocals. Bassist Steve DiGiorgio confused me by playing a three-string bass half the night, but his notes never sounded anything but spot-on perfect. He held down the fort with Hoglan, as lead guitarists Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson dithered into harmony solos.

This was my first chance to see Skolnick clear-headed and up close. To say he’s underrated as a guitarist would be like saying America is a bit bigger than Luxembourg. He was about more than simply playing tremendous leads full of dueling solos that he played with himself, reminiscent of Graham Chapman’s wrestling sketch: He played with the joy of someone who had only recently learned three chords. The same goes for the rest of the band; never content to stand still, they moved nearly constantly, Billy strumming air guitar on his light-up mic stand, DiGiorgio moving around the stage, Peterson and Skolnick back to back, and Hoglan…I don’t think he’s capable of sitting motionless. Once the train rolled out of the station, the driving, pounding, and shredding couldn’t stop until all of the kinetic energy was spent.

Anyone who remotely enjoys metal would have walked out of that show with ringing ears and a newfound respect for the old masters of thrash. | Nik Cameron

Photo by Danny Nichols

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