Classic Thrashers Flotsam and Jetsam Joined Helstar For An Old School Throw Down.
Sunday December 4, 2016—
Veteran speedsters Helstar and Flotsam stopped in Austin, Texas for an old school metal throw down. New wave thrashers, Hatchet warmed up the crowd. Hair flew, fists pumped and even a mosh pit or two broke out. From pure speed to concrete grooves, from high pitch vocals to growls, the show was a lesson in true metal.
This was the second concert I’ve seen at Grizzly Hall since Come and Take It Productions recently bought the bar. I saw Oceans of Slumber play there just two days before (my interview with the band will post soon.) Since taking over the club, the promotional company has made some investments and changes. They added a Hoek’s Death Metal Pizza trailer to their back patio. The taxidermy is gone, but the club still has the same comfy, wooden veneer.
I missed the first band, Firestarter ’82, which was a shame because they create an interesting form of throw back metal reminiscent of early Mercyful Fate. Their singer, Dude Man, banged his head and moshed during Hatchet’s set. In between songs, a Hatchet member applauded Dude’s enthusiasm and praised his band.
I may have missed Firestarter, but I came in time to witness Black Thorn Halo. I’ve seen this local act before and was impressed, but this time it really sunk in. The band has a powerful singer with a good range that encompasses sustained high notes and rougher, aggressive lower notes. The finger’s of their guitarist danced up and down frets. The band enlivened the crowd with an excellent cover of Iron Maiden’s “Wrathchild.” The singer was a dead ringer for Paul Di’Anno, but added a touch of aggression not heard in Maiden.
The crowd was a bit lethargic (Austin crowds are generally laid back). Hatchet saw this low energy emitting from the crowd and their singer tried to pump up the audience. When this worked to no effect, their guitarist jumped onto the floor and started playing. The crowd swirled around him in circle pit fashion, even pushing the tempo to a running pace. Many great bands have emerged since the reinvigoration of thrash metal that occurred in the first decade of the ‘2000s, but Hatchet is definitely near the top. The group played with amazing speed and accuracy. Their drummer made a lasting impression with his helicopter head banging while in full drum mode.
One of the forerunners of American speed, Helstar has an international fan base going back over thirty years, but shows in Texas are always special. The group has bonded with so many people in the area and even James Rivera dates an Austinite. Rivera still commands a powerful voice—the only singer that rivals King Diamond in his wicked high pitches. He may be into his senior years, but the old dude still has it.
The group has also found new life in younger musicians such as guitarist Andrew Atwood. There was something magical in his trade-off leads with band original, Larry Barragan. The group focused on vampire material from “Nosferatu” and new album “Vampiro (check the sidebar to read my interview with James Rivera). They played stand-out tracks from their new record such as “Blood Lust” and “Black Cathedral.” Like the last show at this venue, they closed with my favorite track, “Run with the Pack.” I can’t get enough of this song’s catchy chorus, riff and verses. James held the microphone out for the crowd to sing the chorus line. This participation was another jolt of energy.
I’ve been waiting over twenty years to see Flotsam and Jetsam. I had tickets in ’95 to see them open for Megadeth, but due to inexperience driving through Detroit, I got lost and arrived just in time to hear the last seconds of their set. I first heard them on MTV’s Headbangers Ball. I taped (remember VHS?) the video of “Wading Through the Darkness,” which I watched religiously. At the time I didn’t know how classic the band’s early, speedier material was.
A few Metallica shirts materialized, which comes as no surprise as Flotsam was the band that launched Jason Newsted’s career. Fresh from a European tour with Destruction, the group launched into material focusing on their classic first album “Doomsday for the Deceiver” (Newsted played bass on this record) and material from their latest, self-titled record. They played heavily requested songs from “Doomsday” such as the title track and album opener “Hammerhead.” Eric A.K. may look old but his voice doesn’t sound that way nor does his energy. He has to be well into his fifties, but hasn’t lost his passion or his range. I’ve always felt he is one of the most passionate singers in thrash. His eagle-range and emotive croons translated well live. Singers don’t always deliver live, but he didn’t disappoint.
Eric donned a bronze battle helmet during “I Live You Die” from the Iron Tears” demo) and later on the “No Place for Disgrace” album. The song has great bass lines, which one would figure considering Newsted wrote them. Flotsam knew how to unleash Newsted’s talents, while Metallica washed away his contributions to one of the greatest thrash albums of all-time “…and Justice for All,” or played pop hard rock well below Newsted’s abilities. People in the know understand the greatness of Flotsam and Jetsam, but one can’t appreciate it fully without witnessing the group play live. While Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax wear the Big 4 thrash metal tag, Flotsam and Jetsam certainly deserve to be in the conversation. They are truly an underrated band.
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