Soundwave is not a metal festival. As much as some wish that this was not the case, most reasonable people know it's true. However, every other year they are really able to deliver and bring some truly amazing bands down under. Case in point is Testament's much anticipated sideshow in Sydney.
The Oxford Art Factory is an interesting little basement venue that was at once a great and terrible place to hold the gig. It was terrible in the sense that the place was clearly not equipped for metal gigs. With that said, I couldn't think of a better way to witness the world's greates thrash band (yeah you heard me) in action than by cramming a couple hundred people into a confined space and getting really up close and personal with the band.
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The support act for this evening's festivities was local act Metreya. This spirited young thrash act did a good job stepping up to the plate at the last minute after the previous support act spat the dummy and refused to tour here. Metreya's sound is old-school thrash metal played with a modern frame of mind and their set was a half-hour or so of riffy fun. Their sound reminded me a bit of the last Mortal Sin record in that while there was plenty of headbanging to be had, the band also seemed to have written actual songs rather than two to three minutes of d-beats. It can admittedly be hard to play in front of a crowd unfamiliar with you, but Metreya did a commendable job getting the crowd to participate and even managed to get a pit to open up on the last song, which is a bloody hard thing to achieve with a Sydney crowd. They're definitely a band to keep an eye on.
An hour's wait in between sets allowed anticipation levels to rise, drinks to flow and at least one broken glass before Testament finally took to the stage to ravenous adulation. Opening with the call to arms that is Rise Up off their latest release Dark Roots of Earth, Testament promptly set about dominating the night. The tightly packed environment leant itself well to the band's music. It made the middle-eastern tinged riffs to More Than Meets the Eye sound even more massive and started a sing-along from the crowd. The older material was perfect pit-fodder, with songs like The Preacher, The New Order and a particularly intense rendition of Over the Wall all provoking massive moshing mayhem.
It's definitely safe to say that we were treated to an up-close and personal performance. With bassist Steve DiGiorgio fist-bumping punters in-between impressive bass licks and guitarist extraordinaire Alex Skolnick playing those blistering solos of his tantalisingly close to outstretched hands. And I wonder how many metal fans in the world can claim the honour of having Chuck Billy, the man himself, screaming lyrics mere inches from their face?
The set itself was close to perfect with a good mix of new and old material. All time classics like Eerie Inhabitants were recived fantastically and Chuck took the opportunity to dedicate Native Blood to Australia's indegenous peoples. This writer had hoped against hope that they'd omit maybe one of their latest songs to play something off the vastly underrated Low album, but to no avail. Fortunately, their 3 song encore saw fellow diamond in the rough The Gathering get a seeing to with DNR and 3 Days of Darkness before closing out with the title track to The Formation of Damnation.
The set times plastered around the venue originally stated the band was to play for an hour. Testament wound up playing for close to 90 minutes which was an extra treat, as every minute spent in the company of these thrash legends is a minute well spent.