Destruction Decimates Small but Loyal San Antonio Crowd
Band Photo: Destruction (?)
One of Germany’s Big Three thrash bands, Destruction, once again brought its unique brand of thrash/speed metal back to San Antonio, Texas. With nearly 30 years under their bulleted belts, the Teutonic veterans hoped their longevity and legendary cult status would result in a massive gathering of denim-n-leather-gauntlet-fisted bangers.
This would not be the case, though. Even an impressive array of suitable acts that included the return of second-wave Cali Bay thrashers Heathen, the Texas thrash collective Warbeast, German black thrashers Nocturnal and more thrash in Witchhaven failed to bring in the masses on this Tuesday night. However, the dismal turn out did not stop the small-but-loyal crowd from acting like complete maniacs.
What might turn out to be the best thrash tour of the year encountered problems at its Central Texas stop a couple weeks before the event. Originally slated to appear at the Dirty Dog in Austin, the show moved to Backstage Live in San Antonio. Austinites complained about the drive, the lack of quality beer and parking fees. Many from the area with plans of attending the Austin show didn’t make the trek to SA. Those close to the promoter, Motorbreath Entertainment, stated that Austin would have resulted in an even poorer turnout. San Antonio is a bigger city and supposedly, the metal capital of the world, but it didn’t live up to its name on this night.
The doors opened at an unheard of early time, 5:30. After making a U-turn and driving around the block to avoid a malfunctioning railroad crossing, we arrived at the venue around 6:30. Witchaven had already played and Nocturnal (not to be confused with the Austin-area black/death outfit, Nokturnel) had just started their set.
One of the members of Hod pointed out the group has a hot female singer. Indeed, she did possess a beautiful face, and her commandeering stage presence further added to her sex appeal. The one known as Tyrannizer alternated between brief, high-pitched wails, ala Schmier of Destruction to middle range, blackened growls. Using the mic stand as a prop, Tyrannizer seemed possessed with the spirit of Chuck Billy and King Diamond. The kick drums overshadowed her voice, and what I could hear of her low range reminded of Angela from Arch Enemy. For some reason, extreme female vocalists always seem to sound this way.
The group’s style is akin to black/thrash artists such as Nefelheim and fellow Germans Desaster, who actually hails from the same town. Nocturnal’s spikes-and-leather look and homage to early speed metal such as Exciter, Destruction and Motorhead proved a worthy opener for Destruction. Even a good portion of the handful of fans who made it out of work in time for this set stood up front, banging their heads and pumping their fists to Nocturnal’s catchy style. None of the band’s several CDs showed a familiar label, so these guys and gal are doing it underground style. Hopefully, they’ll make it out to the States again.
Local openers Hod and Birth A.D. were next in line for the stage. Hod played its well-known style of death/black/speed metal with exhausting speed. On a night tailored to thrash, Birth A.D. represented the crossover brand of this metallic style. The three-piece featuring members of the black metal group Averse Sefira left all traces of melody behind in their old-school-hardcore-and-grind fueled attack. Machine-gun vocal deliveries, gang choruses, blinding fast speed picking, plundering bass notes and the occasional blast beat revealed more notes in thirty seconds than most bands can achieve in the average three-minute song. Fans of S.O.D., Nuclear Assault and Napalm Death take notice.
Warbeast took the stage with worried minds. After playing their home area of Ft. Worth, Texas the night before, guitarist Bobby Tillotson failed to show up to travel with the band to San Antonio. A post on vocalist Bruce Corbitt’s Facebook page notes that Tillotson rejoined the band for its Houston performance the following night. One of the major dynamics of Warbeast’s sound is their trade-off leads. They weren’t able to bring that this night, but the group played as if this weren’t a problem. Decked out in a spiked gauntlet and studded leather, lone guitarist Scott Shelby resembled a young, vigorous and fully haired Kerry King.
The former Ripping Corpse and Gammacide member didn’t seem to lose a step without Tillotson. His classic thrash and speed metal riffs took front stage, and his solos were wild and malevolent. In a recent interview with Metal Underground, Bruce Corbitt (also of Rigor Mortis) spoke on how Phil Anselmo taught him many tricks to make his vocals better, and how to make the best of Corbitt’s range. These comments range true as the stage-stalking front man put together an impressive vocal performance, punctuated by a blood-curdling scream on set ender “We are the Vultures,” which has become the band’s customary set closer.
Touring in support of their 2010 revival “The Evolution of Chaos” (read more about Heathen in buickmckane's interview), many in attendance, especially the younger fans (and yours truly) saw their first glimpse of the Frisco Bay thrash act. Heathen presented a more commercial formula on the night’s featured metal style, paying more attention to dynamics and melody. Their brand of metal and the younger crowds’ unfamiliarity led to a mixed reaction.
Once featured with long, flowing curls, David White (formerly David Godfrey) no longer sings with the ear-piercing highs of his youth, instead opting for a smoother, updated middle range in league with Phil Rind of Sacred Reich and Eric A.K. of Flotsam and Jetsam. White’s lungs were mighty; he projected his voice with astounding sustainability. Kragen Lum and Lee Altus (of Exodus) combined their guitars into a tangible concrete chorus.
The brief, muffled guitar rhythms that opened “No Stone Unturned” opened to a guitar harmony in line with Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” “Arrows of Agony” and “Fade Away” offered fast rhythms and memorable refrain. Although the band’s set mostly focused on newer material, the group played a few oldies including set closer “Death by Hanging,” which seemed to receive the best crowd response.
Arriving on stage 45-minutes later than the scheduled 10:30, Destruction treated its fans to a set culled from throughout its long history. Destruction’s ‘80s output is some of the best thrash ever pressed into wax. The band knows it, as does their crowd, so the group made a wise decision opening with two of of their classic songs—“Curse the Gods” and “Mad Butcher.” Pits broke out, heads flailed violently, and then the crowd settled with the oncoming new tracks.
Destruction’s last couple of records have been sub-par (still better than new Metallica and Slayer). There have been some highlights from Destruction’s second era (the years without vocalist/bassist Schmier don’t count), and these were represented. “Nailed to the Cross” with its infectious chorus line “nailed to the fucking cross!” was one of these tracks. “The Butcher Strikes Back” from the group’s 2000 return opus “All Hell Breaks Loose” was apparently good enough for an encore track.
Amidst a kaleidoscope of stage lights, Destruction trademark skull canvases, and a Mexican bandito-style bullet belt backdrop, the power trio took its fans back to the second part of the 1980s. Songs such as “Death Trap” and “Bestial Invasion” highlighted Mike Sifringer’s diverse, trademark fret play. Gallops, muffled speed picking and twangy harmonics showed the band’s compositional brilliance. Schmier’s upfront bass added a thick bottom to Sifringer’s catchy guitar rhythms.
After the crowd shouted the band’s name with lukewarm enthusiasm, the trio descended upon the stage for an encore. “Release from Agony,” “The Mad Butcher Strikes Back” and “Total Desaster” put an end to this thrashing madness. Kragen Lum of Heathen joined the group during “Release from Agony.” Warbeast’s Scott Shelby had participated on “Bestial Invasion” at his hometown the night before.
I’m not sure if the reason for such a dismal turn out was due to change of venue, the show falling on a weeknight, poor promotion or Destruction lacking a big name. Judging by Kreator’s draw across town a couple of years ago, Destruction is not the most popular of Germany’s thrash titans. They have never gotten the MTV exposure of Kreator, and their songs lack the accessibility of Kreator’s. However, those looking for classic break-neck thrash found it.
Check out the photo gallery for visual evidence of the show.
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