You would be hard-pressed to find a genre of music more viscerally energetic than thrash metal. Born of a combination of speed metal, UK street punk, and good ol’ American hardcore, thrash dominated the global extreme music scene in the eighties with the emergence of the so-called Big Four (Slayer, Anthrax, Metallica, Megadeth). Then, just as quickly as it exploded onto the scene, thrash disappeared from the public eye. Time went by. Old thrashers gave up, got jobs, got serious and relegated the thrasher era of their lives to scrapbook memories. But then, 15 years after thrash was written off entirely, it came back huge in the mid-aughts. Riding a retro wave, Re-Thrash became so massive it threatened to implode into itself like a neutron star. A couple of bands that have risen to the forefront of thrash metal’s second wave thanks to relentless tour/record/tour-some-more schedules will be putting on performances at this weekend’s rebooted Formoz Festival in Taipei.
Tomorrow night’s headliner on the Rock Stage (石舞台) is Evile, a UK four-piece that has come of age in the time of thrash’s reemergence. Formed in Huddersfield, Yorkshire in 1999 as a cover act with the Metallica-inspired moniker of Metal Militia, the band changed its name in 2004 and recorded a pair of demos independently, earning a deal with seminal metal label Earache Records. They’ve since put out four full-length albums under the Earache banner including their latest, Skull, which came out in May. The title might seem a bit on the nose, but it’s not what you might think, explains bassist Joel Graham.
“It’s a strange concept actually, and bizarrely nothing to do with a skull. Although you can’t deny it’s the most heavy metal cliche name we could have ever chosen! Ol [Drake, lead guitarist] was once told as a small child that when you got to the edge of space, you would then enter a place called Skull. [He] told us, and the album art and concept for many of the songs grew from that idea — a void, an unknown place.”
Also on the Rock Stage bill tomorrow night are American thrash stalwarts Warbringer, a band from Los Angeles that counts among its many fans legendary Bay Area thrash guitarist Gary Holt of Exodus fame, who produced the band’s sophomore effort Waking Into Nightmares. Warbringer had a chance to do its first full North American tour alongside Exodus following the album’s release in 2009, and Holt was there to provide a bit of fatherly tough love, says guitarist and founding member John Laux.
“On our first tour, [vocalist] John Kevill got into plenty of trouble with ladies and boyfriends. Gary had to knock him around. I loved every minute of it.”
All joking aside, the mentoring Exodus provided on that initial foray has helped Warbringer get through the slog of constant worldwide touring the band has endured for the past six years. It’s not always a given that the elder statesmen will be so accommodating with a young up-and-coming band.
“They were kind enough to give us some positive motivation and kind advice that really helped us pull through and stay focused,” Laux says of the Exodus crew. “I can’t believe some of the bad attitudes and ego hell some of my teenage heroes tossed around when I got to tour with them. If we went out with one those ego-maniacs, we probably would have disintegrated within weeks.”
Warbringer has always been a band that has embraced the old school both in terms of its sound and “Get In The Van” work ethic. Case in point, Warbringer departed for a quick Asia tour that took them to Bangkok last night and to Hong Kong tonight before wrapping up in Taipei tomorrow. All of this comes mere days after the band completed the recording process for its as-yet untitled fourth album.
On the local front, hometown heroes Infernal Chaos will get the thrash crowd warmed up tomorrow night with a sound that is best described as Pantera meets the melodic Scandinavian riffage of At The Gates, with a touch of the emotive chorus in the vein of Killswitch Engage. Founded by Chthonic (閃靈) guitarist Jesse Liu (劉笙彙) in 2004, the band quickly formed a rabid following in Taiwan. Though dormant for the past four years — a product, said Liu, of the usual band infighting that can come with prolonged proximity — Infernal Chaos mended fences and returned to the stage earlier this year after its self-imposed hiatus. As Liu says, even when things looked their darkest, he was never ready to give up on his creation.
“I never wanted Infernal Chaos to disappear. Sometimes people just need to calm down and think straight, and I think after three to four years of calming down it’s time for us to get back on the stage again.”
Infernal Chaos has renewed its commitment to treat local audiences to the occasional display of utter devastation, and tomorrow night promises to be no different. Plans are also in the works for the band to record a long-awaited follow-up to its last record, 2007’s Vision of Disorder, by the end of this year.
Check out all the thrashing madness tomorrow evening as Taiwan’s premier outdoor music festival marks its return.
■ Formoz Festival (野台開唱) takes place this weekend at Taipei Children’s Recreation Center (台北市立兒童育樂中心) and Taipei Expo Park (台北花博公園). Performances are from 11am to 10pm. Evile closes out tomorrow evening at the Rock Stage (石舞台 ) at 8:50pm. Warbringer plays the same stage at 6:30pm, and Infernal Chaos gets the thrash-themed night started at 5:20pm. Advance tickets are available at 7-11 ibon stands or at The Wall, B1, 200, Roosevelt Rd Sec 4, Taipei City (台北市羅斯福路四段200號B1), with one-day passes going for NT$2,500, three-day passes NT$3,600 (prices valid until midnight tonight). One and three-day passes are available for purchase at the festival grounds for NT$2,800 and NT$3,900 respectively.