Onslaught, Artillery, VX36, Ravage – October 24, 2014 – The Middle East Nightclub, Cambridge MAMonday, 27th October 2014
Pre-warned during my interview session with guitarist Nige Rockett and bassist Jeff Williams of Onslaught that the early dates of this tour could be more like Onslaught goes punk, I went in hoping for the best out of an unfortunate situation. Booking these North American tour dates months in advance, vocalist Sy Keeler had to bow out due to surgery appointments for his son – and we all know that even in the world of heavy metal, you need to close ranks and take care of family first. Enter ex-Anthrax vocalist Neil Turbin, who the band knew of from previous festival gigs many years before. It would be day two of this two month long tour across the USA and Canada, settling in on the upstairs portion of the Middle East Nightclub in Cambridge, Mass on a fine Friday evening.
Hearing during the soundcheck from the door man that the pre-sales for the show were at about 60, I didn’t think we would reach sell-out capacity of 194 (it’s proudly noted as you enter the venue what the limit is), but I would say there were 100-120 people there for most of the evening. Ravage would take the stage first, the local opener who seemed to bring a healthy hometown contingent to the show. Their 30 minute set featured numbers from their first album Spectral Rider such as the opening title cut and “The Wasteland” as well as the ever popular speed thrasher “The Shredder” and “Grapes of Wrath” from their second album The End of Tomorrow. One of the better local quintets that deliver jaw dropping harmonies and a mixture of power metal with speed/thrash touches.
VX36 came onto the bill about a month ago when Canada’s Striker dropped off (which was unfortunate, as this journalist was really looking forward to checking them out). Hailing from California, the trio love the up-tempo riffs and blitzkrieg lead breaks that put them in the Slayer meets Sepultura camp, but the vocals from guitarist Nate Klug were just growls and screams devoid of any versatility beyond a barking attitude. Honestly I had more fun watching the dance moves of a 60 year old gentlemen to the right of me near the stage, as he seemed thoroughly entranced. It has to be tough being the first national on the bill when a) hardly anyone knows who you are and b) your album hasn’t really gotten out there much distribution-wise.
Artillery from Denmark was up next. They made a rousing appearance a few years back at Maryland Deathfest, and originally were supposed to tour here last year I believe with Gama Bomb, but visa issues pre-empted this. Not this time… they just crushed the competition through their 7 album discography that spans the 80’s, 90’s, and today. Opening with “Chill My Bones (Burn My Flesh)” from their latest album Legions, the band was very diligent about getting the new songs out of the way early… by song four (the title track), it was all back catalog material for the group, and the audience ate it up. Michael Stützer is quite the frantic axe master, wheeling and dealing brilliant riffs and solos at the drop of a hat – while latest vocalist Michael Bastholm Dahl throws his long blonde locks around and hits all the notes with power, grace, and conviction.
Favorites in their 50 minute set? Whew… “The Challenge”, “Terror Squad”, “By Inheritance”, and “When Death Comes” are four of many that kept the Middle East crowd begging for more. Let’s hope that this is the start of Artillery coming over here more often; we need that tight, semi-power, semi-speed, all thrash sound on these shores as much as possible.
Onslaught were the headliners of the tour, and being the second night apprehension set in when vocalist Neil Turbin set up his iPad on the microphone stand with the lyrics going across the screen, almost like metal karaoke. On short notice you do the best you can – but I got the sense that a lot of people in the crowd would have rather seen a singer be a true ‘front person’ and less tied to the screen for a majority of the set. There’s no doubt his screaming ability and power is still there as it was during his Fistful of Metal days with Anthrax.
Bassist Jeff Williams did his best to get the crowd involved every chance possible, his infectious energy translating to plenty of mutual fist bumps. Guitarists Allen Leigh Chambers and Nige Rockett lay down a thick speed template, as drummer James Perry pounded on the kit for all that its worth. Their 70 minute set list included “Killing Peace”, “Chaos Is King”, “Children of the Sand”, crowd favorites “Let There Be Death” and “Metal Forces” from The Force, as well as “Rest in Pieces” and “The Sound of Violence” from 2011’s Sounds of Violence. If you could handle the fact that Neil got the words right some of the time instead of all of the time, all could be forgiven. I can’t dispute the energy put forth, and I’m glad they are making the best of a situation that could have resulted in another tour cancellation.
My guess is, give Onslaught another week with Neil and this will be a fine, well-oiled thrash machine. In the end, the universal appeal of thrash was evident tonight, proving the undergound’s long-lasting staying power.