That time of year again, where Australia is treated to a more metal, hardcore, punk and alternative bands than it knows what to do with. With Soundwave, we are also treated to a bunch of ‘Sidewave‘ gigs where different bands from the tour get to headline their own sets with support from similar bands on the tour. With this years inclusion of thrash giants Slayer and Anthrax, and newcomers Sylosis, I was looking forward to a smaller night of thrash to sink my teeth into, rather than catching these bands during the day for smaller sets with bigger crowds at the ‘Main Event’ on the Friday. Lucky for me, it would be Anthrax playing a headlining show in Melbourne the night before Soundwave. Having only seen Anthrax in a festival environment in the past, I have long waited to experience them in their own environment like I had done with each of the other ‘Big 4’ thrash bands, with their own core fanbase, doing what they do best.
Somewhat surprisingly, it would be fellow Soundwaver’s Fozzy that would accompany Anthrax on this night of metal, but I wasn’t to complain. In more recent years, Fozzy have worked hard to shed their gimmicky image of being a semi-cover band with WWE wrestler Chris Jericho on the mic, and have put out two satisfyingly serious albums to boot. From the balcony, Fozzy seemed to get the crowd going with a setlist that heavily featured material from those two most recent albums (‘Chasing the Grail’ & ‘Sin and Bones‘), a blend of Pantera and BLS styled groove metal, with modern metal drumming and a nod to the old school with Judas Priest like vocals and licks. Fozzy wrapped up with the only older song in their set, crowd favourite ‘Enemy‘, and the brutal ‘Blood Happens‘ from ‘Sin and Bones’. Mingling with the crowd after their performance, I noticed a real mix of reactions to Fozzy, some punters really enjoying the energetic performance of group leaders Jericho and axeman Rich Ward, with others unable to wrap their heads around the bands popularity and ‘poser’ image.
After a short break, it was Anthrax time. In the lead up to this tour, I was disappointed to hear of Charlie Benante‘s absence behind the kit (along with Rob Caggiano‘s exit from the band!) and within a few weeks, former Slayer and Testament drummer Jon Dette went from being a footnote in the thrash genealogy, to one of the most spoken names in metal. There was a lot of talk as to whether Dette would be up to the task to fill the massive void left by both Benante and Dave Lombardo from Slayer (but that’s another story I’m sure you’re all familiar with!) for the Soundwave tour, and I am happy to report that his performance was seamless. After a tease with the introduction to ‘Earth on Hell‘ from the latest disc ‘Worship Music‘, they launched straight into the sweaty 80s classic ‘Caught in a Mosh‘. Crowd reactions were intense, with more crowd surfing than I’ve seen since the late 90s, consistent throughout the entire set. ‘Worship Music‘, the triumphant return of Joey Belladonna to Anthrax and one of best metal releases of 2011 was well represented, with crowd pleasers ‘Fight em til You Can’t’ and ‘The Devil You Know‘, with emotions running high during the fitting tribute to fallen heroes Ronnie James Dio and Dimebag Darrell in ‘In The End‘. Having been close friends and collaborators with Dimebag for many years, Anthrax have as much right as anyone to tribute the man, and they did so with grace. Belladonna’s Dio impersonations also managed to send a few shivers to the back of the neck.
One of the set highlights for me personally was the somewhat surprising inclusion of ‘In My World‘ from the 1990 album ‘Persistence of Time‘. Each Belladonna era album was represented, and even ‘Deathrider‘ from ‘Fistful of Metal‘ featured, with Scott Ian declaring that it was the ‘first time the song had ever been performed in Australia‘. Performances were top notch, with Belladonna working the crowd, Ian and Bello thrashing the stage, and fill in guitarist Jonathan Donais of Shadow’s Fall enjoying his small piece of the stage more than Caggiano ever seemed to.
Rounding out the night, Ian introduced the encore with a cover from the bands forthcoming ‘Anthems’ EP, a song by his ‘favourite band in the world’, before launching into the familiar riff of AC/DC’s TNT. The crowd loved it as much as they loved all the thrash classics, with Belladonna’s Bon Scott impersonation as good as any I have heard. Closing the night was the most obvious choice from the bands back-catalogue ‘I Am The Law’, which left many fans only hungry for more at Soundwave the following day. As Ian said on stage at Melbourne Soundwave, ‘two gigs in 12 hours has to be a record for us‘, but neither performance was lacking in energy.
Having now fulfilled my desires of catching each of the Big 4 bands in their own environment, I have to hand it to Anthrax for being able to play in the smallest of venues, and rock the crowd in the most intimate of ways. Sure, it is spectacular seeing a band like Metallica or even Slayer rock a big stage with pyro and such, but being able to connect to your audience the way Anthrax do is a spectacle in itself. They are still one of the best live bands around, with a new album that has fans and critics on-board the world over, Anthrax really are on fire, even despite the lineup issues that will continue to plague them into the future.Setlist (from setlist.fm):Caught in a Mosh
Fight ‘Em ‘Til You Can’t
In the End
In My World
The Devil You Know
Got the Time
Among the Living
I Am the Law