As an adult, there are many memories you hold dear and remember fondly over the years. Getting your drivers license, turning 18, buying your first beer at 21, birth of your first child, etc. On February 8th, a fortunate crowd of eager metalheads in Corpus Christi got to add another unforgettable moment to that list- watching Anthrax and Killswitch Engage share the stage at Concrete Street Amphitheater.
I’ll admit that at first, the Killthrax 2 lineup seemed to be an odd choice, especially since the bands were co-headlining and alternating who closed the show. But all my doubts were put to rest when Charlie Benante (Anthrax drummer) explained to me that both bands shared a mutual respect and admiration for each other, and everyone had a great time touring together last year on the first Killthrax tour. We, the lucky ones who attended the show Thursday night, were all witness to the results of that heavy metal bond and the spectacular musical spectacle it yielded.
The show was opened up with Havok, a young, hungry thrash metal band from Denver, Colorado. Unfortunately, due to an issue at the box office, I missed the first part of their set, and was therefore unable to take pictures of their wild, inspired show during the time allotment. I was able to catch the last four or five songs, and enjoyed their technical riffs and creative, versatile guitar solos. The guitar attack, coupled with the power of the heavy metal scream emulating from frontman David Sanchez, made for a nostalgic thrash metal sound that had the youthful vigor of the Bay Area Scene’s heyday. The influence of Slayer and Megadeth was clear, but they seem to have come to know their own sound and they play with the confidence of a seasoned metal band. That’s the kind of confidence earned from releasing four well-received albums, including 2017’s Conformicide. They were a fitting band to open the show, and they got the blood pumping and the beer flowing. Sanchez ended their set by reminding the crowd to “take care of each other”, a fitting statement for an evening of headbanging and fist-pumping fellowship.
After a short intermission, “The Number of the Beast”, Iron Maiden’s epic hit, broke through the laughs and screams. It was almost time. When “I Can’t Turn You Loose” came on next, however, the crowd seemed a bit puzzled, if only for a second. You ever see a crowd full of hard-rocking metal heads sing an Otis Redding song? I have, and it’s a pretty impressive sight.
I’ve been wanting to see Anthrax live since the first time I heard Among the Living, so I may or may not have lost it (I fan-girled, ok?) when I saw Scott Ian and Frank Bello emerge from the abyss (i.e. backstage… I was excited, it seemed way cooler than just a curtain). Then Joey Belladonna jumped out, strutting across the stage. The crowd lost it. Beers flew, fists were raised, angels got their wings, devils took a smoke break… it was a Madhouse.
As the opening riff for “Among the Living” was played, the crowd crescendoing to a deafening roar, it was impossible not to feel the absolute joy of this huge group of people. Heavy metal tends to attract a lot of us socially awkward, difficult people. We feel a kinship with one another through the channel of unbridled, emotionally-charged music. It’s hard not to be conscious of how many troubles are left at the door, how many problems are forgotten, when you see a band as masterful as Anthrax. Once Charlie Benante started banging on the skins, the ship went into hyperdrive. We were all in for a wild ride through space and time, the stars and the planets rocking to the beat of classics like “Caught in a Mosh”, “Madhouse”, and “Got the Time”. These longtime fan favorites had everyone singing along, cheering when Belladonna hit the high notes we (most of us) dare not attempt.
The band worked the entire stage, moving from one side of the stage to the other, up to a riser near Benante’s drum set, then back to center stage. They wanted a physical and spiritual connection with their fans, and both band and crowd were satisfied with the mutual energy being shared under the roof of the Pavilion. We were treated to “Fight Em’ til You Can’t” from their Worship Music record, as well as classics like “Medusa”, “Be All, End All”, and “Indians”, the rumbling finale to the set.
The crowd especially seemed to enjoy For All Kings’ “Breathing Lightning”, which is sure to be a modern classic. Scott Ian, the band’s famous goateed spokesman, announced the song was off the new album and encouraged the crowd to go buy it , imploring us to “stop sleeping on it, mother!$@%#$s!” There’s never a dull moment when you’re partying with a dude who has a righteous goatee. Ian and lead guitarist Jon Donais, who was the lead shredder of Shadows Fall before joining Anthrax full time in 2013, had a strong chemistry onstage. Donais is a potent, emotive guitar player, not your run-of-the-mill shredder. He can play haunting fingerpicked intro riffs, rapid fire rhythm guitar, and complex, technical leads in a heart-racing legato, all before he breaks into an old school thrash riff that’ll melt the paint off your barbecue pit. He’s as solid as they come.
Anthrax gave the show 110%, and the crowd was with them the whole way. It was inspiring to watch a band who has been through so many lineup changes and difficulties over the years come out and play such a solid, fun set. Anthrax is a band who has always been unapologetic and steadfast in their confidence in themselves and who they are. It is that uncompromising honesty and belief in their product has put them back on top of their game and gained them new legions of fans. Despite the progression of time through a new decade, century, and millennium, Anthrax is a band that continues to inspire and define heavy metal, and they have plenty left in the tank, I assure you.
Speaking of a fun set, did I mention that Killswitch Engage was on the bill? They might be a photographer’s nightmare, but they’re a band that will bring the party with them, guaranteed. No matter where you’re standing, you’re going to have a good time if they’re onstage.
The stage shook when Killswitch Engage appeared, and all hell broke loose when lead singer Jesse Leach screamed the intro to “Rose of Sharyn”. A favorite from the band’s seminal album, the End of Heartache, it was the perfect song to open with, even if it was originally sung by the band’s former singer, Howard Jones. The whole crowd knew the words, and if anyone had concerns about Leach singing songs from the Jones era, they were quickly dismissed. In fact, Jesse Leach won himself many new fans with his enthusiasm and vigor during the performance of songs that were written when he wasn’t in the band anymore, especially since he and the rest of the guys could’ve denounced those songs like so many other bands do during line-up changes. Fortunately, Killswitch is bigger than that, and we thank them for it.
That’s not to say that Leach wasn’t impressive throughout the entire set. He had a strong connection with his band, and when they went though their heavy, chugging breakdowns, his voice stayed strong and powerful. His performance of “My Last Serenade” was a high point of the entire night, the emotional weight of his lyrics and delivery leaving a lasting impression on the crowd. Fans went nuts when he asked if we knew “Hate by Design”, a single off of their most recent album, Incarnate. Running back and forth across the stage, standing as close as he could to his people, Leach made the night one to remember. He wasn’t the only one, though.
Adam Dutkiewicz, the famously loud-mouthed, wild lead guitarist of the band, also gave the crowd an impressive performance, both on the mic and through his amplifier. His backing vocals, lead riffs, and solos were all full of the passion and life that fans have come to expect from the band. Donning short gym shorts, a cut off t-shirt, and a sweatband around his head, Dutkiewicz playfully entertained the crowd all night, the comic relief to Leach’s passionate performance. He joked with the crowd between songs, encouraging audience participation and antics. He wanted the energy of the crowd to match the energy of the band, and the combination of the two was intense! He capped off the night by sneaking offstage during “The End of Heartache” to go down a drink at the bar. Then he jumped on the picnic tables, playing his riffs without missing a beat. He photobombed concertgoers, surprising the people in the back of the crowd. He tapped random fans on the shoulder, shocking everyone who still had their eyes on the stage. No one knew he was gone! Throughout this entire spectacle, which had us in stitches, he never stopped playing. That’s the definition of an artist, folks!
The rhythm section of Killswitch can’t be left out. Joel, Mike D, and drummer Justin Foley were on their game the entire night. They never rushed a song, never lost focus, and played with pure precision. There’s a reason Killswitch Engage has such a full, in-your-face sound, and these guys are the unsung heroes of metalcore.
There are sure to be some fans who are still raw about the split with Howard Jones. After all, he did write the lyrics to some of the band’s most popular and beloved songs. But watching Killswitch Engage perform with Jesse Leach at the helm is an awe-inspiring experience. The intimacy of their early songs like “Vida Intra”, “Life to Lifeless”, and of course,”My Serenade” is not only seen but felt. Old school metal heads who stood with their arms crossed at the beginning of the set were screaming, head banging, and singing along by the end of the show. Their positive message, catchy arrangements, and powerhouse delivery make them a must-see band for any rock music fan, even if you’ve never seen a heavy metal act before.
Killthrax is one of the most powerful heavy metal concert combos I’ve ever seen, and I don’t say that lightly. Though they may cater to different generations of heavy metal fans, the admiration the two bands share for each other is surpassed only by the love the fans gave to both bands after their respective sets. Regardless of who headlines, the old school or the new, the powerful 1-2 combination of Anthrax and Killswitch Engage is sure to be a deadly one, and the live experience of Killthrax is one that will be remembered for years to come.
Special thanks to Robert Paz, my concert buddy, to Heidi Robinson-Fitzgerald and Selena Fragassi of HERfitz PR, as well as Amy Sciarretto of Atomsplitter PR.