Thursday, 19 February 2009

Megadeth + Testament, Newcastle 18 Feb 09

It’s been almost 22 years since I last saw Testament. On that occasion I arrived late having been delayed on the 724 bus to Newcastle and entering the City Hall after running across the town I was met with a long view down the theatre of Alex Skolnick in full rock-star mode, taking a solo spot in a haze of blue lights and dry ice. It was October 1987 and Testament were opening for Anthrax and we were riding the high tide of Thrash Metal – twelve months earlier Metallica had played the old Mayfair on the Master of Puppets tour and in a few weeks Celtic Frost and Kreator would play to a less than half-full City Hall. Oh to be young – and have a cut-off denim jacket with the Slayer logo painted on the back. Those of us who were teenagers in the 80s have lived long enough to see our youthful passions re-invented and flogged luke-warm to our children. There is a very good reason why Thrash Metal died – because it was shit. I say that with the benefits of hindsight and as a jaded 38 year old man who dislikes seeing young people enjoy themselves but harsh though it may be I stand by my point. Thrash Metal was and is a load of shit and if anything brought that message home to me it was seeing Megadeth and Testament rehash their tired old moves in front of a tiresome audience. However it seems that my memo telling the world that Thrash Metal Is Shit was not widely received and some people still like it, indeed love it and go crrrrrrraazy and love to “mosh” about to it. Looking at the audience at last nights gig these people fall into two broad camps – those too young to know better and for whom Thrash Metal is a cool retro-ironic scene with nice white basketball shoes and baseball caps and those old enough to know better but too stupid to care. The former are aged anything from 8 to 25 and might well have a very expensive haircut coupled with the clean-cut boy-next-door looks of a High School Musical star. We can pity them because they know no better, they have been sold a lie and being the products of 24-hour MTV, Broadband and Wii are too dull to dig deeper. The latter we can less easily tolerate – if middle aged men who were young enough to see Megadeth in the 80s are still going crrrazzy and “fucking-shit-up” then something is wrong, something is very very wrong because Megadeth are and always have been the bud-light of Thrash Metal, and Thrash Metal was obsolete the moment the bus fell on Saint Cliff. By the mid-80s Heavy Metal was in trouble. The NWOBHM was over, ending in soggy beer mats and long van rides home for some and union-jack shorts and multi-platinum discs for others. Kerrang was putting bollocks like Prince and Phil Collins on the cover - indeed around 1984/5 the only thing worth reading in that magazine was the add for Shades Records - so when younger, heavier, faster and nastier bands came along I for one took notice. I love the metal of the 80s – I love the proto-thrash records of 1982/3 that are so often forgotten – records by Exciter, Avenger, Jaguar, Anvil, Satan, Tank, Savage, Acid and Razor. I love the evil, gut-wrenching fall-into-the-abyss solos found on Slayer’s early records, the cryptic Hyperborean war-metal of Celtic Frost and the caustic frenzy of Dark Angel and Possessed. I love the inverted, goat-bothering madness and mayhem of Venom, Mercyful Fate and Bathory. I love Metallica’s first three records with a passion, I love the riffs and leads as much as I loved the bands down-to-earth attitude but I don’t love Thrash Metal because that has always been a brand, a commodification, a journalistic construct that allowed bands, labels and magazines to conspire to sell more pre-packaged product to a demarcated demographic and that is as true in 2009 as it was in 1989. Megadeth are the embodiment of this commodification. Not so much a band as a vehicle for Dave Mustaine to get even with the world through the medium of avarice Megadeth’s music is lost in a revolving door of ex-band members and sponsorship deals, heavy metal credibility bleeding away with another soundtrack tie-in, another WWR slam-down riff. At one point during last nights gig I thought Mustaine was going to play the opening riff to Raven’s “Mind Over Metal” but as the shitty sound drained all the life from the guitars, as Mustaine petulantly skipped across the stage, distant and aloof, throwing his shapes and scowling at the guys on the mixing desk it all disappeared up its own arse in a chugga-chugga-chugga of Mall-Metal blandness. There is no venom to Megadeth, no bleeding edge and in truth very little that is either heavy or metal. A reformed junkie now born again Mustaine has taken a Pastor on previous tours to keep him on the straight and narrow, all this may work wonders for his eternal soul but its not conducive to playing metal, had he stopped the gig halfway through and said “Now a word from our sponsors…” I would not have been surprised. Music evolves and moves on – for better or worse. The young, new energetic bands of the 80s that turned everything up louder than everything else are now as middle-aged and mediocre as their audience. These days Chuck Billy, the tattooed giant front-man for Testament, looks like a Thrash Metal pork sausage, grilled to a turn and ready to pop but give them their due – they have more good songs than Megadeth even if the “Whooah-Ohooah” chorus crops up far too often. But as songs like “Over The Wall” and “Into The Pit” transport me back to the fleeting lost summers of adolescence the pleasure is tempered by the knowledge that Thrash Metal ran aground in the execrable stadium-metal of Pantera, Machine Head and Korn, the wilderness years of Metallica’s long dark night of the soul and Slayer’s transformation into no-brain parodies of themselves. I saw a lot of Trivium shirts last night but nobody seemed to be wearing a Witchtrap shirt? The Thrash Metal “revival” as peddled again by labels and magazines is wafer thin, a veneer of fashion and form that is devoid of substance. Two decades after Thrash Metal was usurped by stronger, more virulent forms and it’s figureheads were exposed as just another bunch of rock stars chasing the dream of free pussy and drugs I have to ask myself why is it that seeing The Lamp Of Thoth in a pub in Wakefield can be one of the most life affirming, fist-in-the-air heavy metal experiences of your life and seeing Megadeth in a huge hall can leave one feeling like your cultural pockets have been picked? Galling though it is to admit it – Lars was probably right about Dave.


The Temple of Nihilismus said...

I'm really looking forward to seeing this at Wembley on Saturday. Oh, wait... I was. Your cultural analysis of this cash cow event is spot on. Were Judas Priest not on the line up for Newcastle? That's going to add a whole new dimension to the nonsense on display.

mikeofdoom said...

One of the best pieces of writing about metal that I've read in decades. The truth hurts.