Sunday’s Thrashfest supposedly started at 4 p.m., but things didn’t get underway until well after six. Of the nine bands billed, two didn’t show, and the sequencing of those that did left something to be desired. No one seemed to mind, though, as the bar opened at five, giving the 100-strong crowd plenty of time to become sufficiently intoxicated. Furthermore, we had two good reasons to be there: first, the reunion of Virginia’s gun-toting speed-metal forefathers, At War; second, the first New York appearance by Canyon Country, California’s Merciless Death, who unleashed a complete onslaught, fast, brutal, and precise—in short, everything thrash metal should be. Following in a long line of California bands (including Exodus, Dark Angel, and, yes, Slayer), they make you wonder what the hell they’re drinking over there, and whether or not it’s legal.
After a pill-hazed and somewhat awkward set by Bludwulf, At War took the stage with all the subtlety of Ted Nugent singing the national anthem. Their speaker cabinets draped in red, white, and blue—plus a machine gun perched on Dave Stone’s drum kit—the band broke a 15-year-silence here, ripping into a romantic ballad called “Rapechase.” One of the originators of what has become an entire genre you could call “war metal,” the band shares little with the more technical leanings of the sound’s modern purveyors—At War remains locked in 1983, primitive and fast, equal parts Hellhammer and Motörhead. And while his band makes no secret of their allegiance to Lemmy, singer Paul Arnold had to gently remind the crowd that they were “not a cover band,” although two covers, “The Hammer” and “Ace of Spades,” were (weirdly) the highlights of the set.
And then came the headliner, Brooklyn’s Early Man, another band playing uninspired Sabbath rip-offs—an approach that’d be far less annoying if they actually possessed an ounce of Sab heaviness. Sadly, this Iommi-lite stuff is still a trend; these guys should’ve played first or, better yet, not at all.