Testament Live in Birmingham

What a massive tour this is. Ever since we heard that Vader, Annihilator and Testament were teaming up for one explosive thrash bill, we wanted to be here. And here we are, stood in a queue for three different gigs snaking up the Digbeth High St. in the drizzling rain. Lovely.

A mad dash up the stairs and we find that Vader are already underway unleashing some frightfully evil sounding death/thrash amidst a stage enveloped in dry-ice and glowing red light.

There is plenty of love for Vader on display in an already packed out room and the crowd lap up everything the band lay down for them.

We saw both Testament and Annihilator at BOA last year but it seems ages since we caught Vader live, so tonight proves a most welcome reminder of just how devastating the band can be.

It’s only a short blast from the Polish crew, but one that leaves a lot of smiling faces down in the pit. We knew they were going to be the most brutal band on the bill but we’re not sure we were ready for that!

The intro tape rolls and Annihilator hit the stage with the house lights still shining brightly, all “Metallica Style”. As the band rip into ‘King of the Kill’ Jeff looks a little confused as to why they are playing under the full venue lights but shreds on regardless. We’re just as unaware down the front, but when one of Jeff’s crew finally grabs his attention the show is stopped abruptly…

“Sorry, we’ve got to stop, there’s an ambulance in the pit because someone is hurt”

We didn’t see any flashing lights but we assume there was a paramedic in there somewhere. Rather than an ambulance. You’d never get it up the stairs.

A short stoppage and the band pick up where they left off mid-song, while the lights slowly retreat to that of a thrash metal show. And what a show it is! Annihilator are only handed thirty minutes in which to impress tonight but they make the most of every second.

‘One to Kill’ is one of the harder hitting cuts from the latest release and gets heads banging around the Institute. Jeff prowls the stage from side to side as he unleashes juddering riffs and scorching solos but his six-stringed colleague to his left is just a lively. Aaron has brought new life to the band since his arrival and is a huge personality and noisy comrade for Jeff to dual with up on stage.

The English contingent that make up the rhythm section also inject life into a band that just hits so hard in the live arena. Something demonstrated only too well by the opening battery of ‘Set the World on Fire’.

It’s almost criminal that we only get half a dozen songs from Canada’s finest thrashers tonight but that means we make the most of what we get to hear. Closing up the show with the inevitable ‘Alison Hell’, we get the chance to scream out the “Alison…” chorus line. All twelve of them!

Jeff signs off with a promise to be back in November. Stick our names down for that!

The stage area vastly increases in size for the arrival of Testament. The now iconic snake artwork flies high, a couple of red-eyed goblins have appeared and the dry ice canons are in place. Now all we need is Chuck Billy and his band.

We don’t have to wait long and Testament hit the stage one by one as the intro tape slowly builds to the explosion of an opener ‘Brotherhood of the Snake’. No matter how good Vader and Annihilator were earlier on tonight, the atmosphere notches up to fever pitch from the moment Testament kick off their set. We’re in the company of true legends who are still on top form in the thrash game.

The Institute is a fitting venue for the thrash legends with ornate décor and plush surroundings providing a wonderful backdrop to a relentless thrash metal show. It’s an intimate show but not in a dark sticky floored cave and it’s not too big that it loses the in-your-face aspect that you need from a good heavy metal show.

The band all have beaming grins as they batter us with their 30+ years of material and those grins are infectious throughout the venue. Testament own the stage and so they should in the middle of their busy schedule of dates. They are a well-oiled machine, but never appear to be running through the motions.

The stage is a constant scene of action with Alex Skolnick taking centre stage for just about every solo up on the podium. He unleashes pure fury with a mild-mannered smile on his face while Chuck plays along note for note on his microphone stand. Chuck is the air guitar god of heavy metal. Apart from when he picks up a drumstick to tackle the air drums, that is…

We get an all-encompassing set list tonight with all bases covered. ‘Low’ makes a rare appearance in honour of the recent re-issues and we get a shedload of title-tracks from the past. ‘First Strike…’ ‘Souls of Black’ ‘The New Order’ and ‘Practice What You Preach’ all get worked into the set alongside the various guitar solos that punctuate the show. Alex and Steve both tease a little Sabbath into their pieces to acknowledge the Birmingham soil on which we are standing.

Of course, we get the live favourites too. ‘Into the Pit’ is always one to make the crowd start moving but it’s the closer of ‘Over The Wall’ that finally gets the security working overtime.

If there is a better way to spend an Easter Bank Holiday than in the company of this line-up of thrash monsters then we’d love to know about it. That was a monstrous night of heavy metal.