Packed Like Sardines: D.R.I., Excel & Hirax play Sold-Out Show at Union

Review by Erik E. Wrath
(Photos by Albert Licano)

November 11th 2017, Union, Los Angeles CA: Last Saturday, the Union nightclub in LA hosted a sold-out event featuring D.R.I., Excel, Hirax, Deathwish, Cryptic Slaughter and Witchaven. Our man Erik E. Wrath was in attendance, and here is a recap of the event from his perspective.

My first time at Union – not knowing what to expect, I was impressed overall. The joint was bustling with metalheads and thrashers of all stripes when I rolled up around 6:30. Large bar area / merch zone, well-staffed bar, so lines were not too bad. The stage was in the stuffed-to-beyond-capacity large room upstairs.

I missed the first band, but by the time I was done introducing my pal to Sean from Excel and bumping into other folks, it was time for Witchaven. The critique I can offer here of their set is really of the poor sound they received – it sounded to me like a chicken squawking over a broken sub-woofer tuned up past the redline. The guitars were absent from the mix. I was about halfway back in the large, low ceiling room, but right in front of a secondary PA stack, so I’m not sure why it sounded so horrible, but it did. May be it was better up closer where the moshers were bouncing around.

Witchaven

Next up, Deathwish. They too suffered from a boomy mix with little guitar definition, but it was somewhat better. I enjoyed their Motörhead vibe and almost vintage rock n’ roll chord progressions over a nice driving rhythm section. Great sense of humor, with songs like “Who’ll Fuck the Drummer”. I would enjoy seeing this band with better sound engineering.

Deathwish photos:

Hirax – wow! I’m not sure what I was expecting but when these guys took the stage it was a time capsule back to the days of hot, sweaty clubs, leather and spikes, rabid fans and good ol’ fashioned thrashering (new word?). I had worked my way up to the side of stage and was graciously allowed a perfect perch. The sound was markedly better, whether due to my position or other factors is unknown. They opened with a metal fanfare, the Harrison brothers, Lance and Steve (guitar and bass, respectively) and drummer Mike Vega serving up a true barrage of noise. Instantaneous intense pit, and mobs of stage divers – literally mobs. A wild-eyed Katon W. De Pena then led the charge through an energetic set with over the top crowd participation – at one point Katon somehow organized a “group stage dive”, with at least a dozen troopers taking the plunge. The throwback performance was galvanizing, Katon taking advantage of some guitar cable troubles to talk about the history and the community of SoCal thrash. I was on Lance’s side of the stage and it was a real treat to watch this dude shred it up, throwing rad stage shapes and obviously enjoying himself, although he did threaten to “make a popsicle” of the next mosher who jumped on his failing cable! The temperature and excitement just kept going up in the room as they plowed on through technical difficulties, serving up close to a headliner’s set worth of tight old-school thrash tunes. I have only respect for this outfit and hope they return soon!

Hirax photos:

Excel exploded onto to the stage to, if possible, even more crowd enthusiasm. These hard working local legends knocked out a set of what they are known for – awesome crossover skate thrash. Everyone’s playing was in great form. Sean has a killer bass tone, like huge piano strings being hit with a sledgehammer – really one of the best I’ve ever heard, ringing top end, overdriven mids, and full bottom. Alex Barreto’s guitar work was a perfect counterpoint to the aggressive, popping bass lines, grinding out thrashy metal riffs and intense solos over longtime drummer Greg Saenz’ manic drumming. Seemingly dozens of fans launching into the packed crowd as they smashed through crowd pleaser after crowd pleaser. Dan Clements remained calm and supportive, making public service announcements and helping lost shoes find their owners. These guys gave the love back to audience in an inspired performance.

Excel photos:

After the one-two punch of Hirax and Excel, it seemed like the energy ebbed a bit for DRI. I had drifted back towards the rear of the room by this point, but the mix seemed OK (although the kick drum was too dominant). As my pal’s son had puked (due to being over excited, not drunk!) and gotten expelled during the break, we had to pull up stakes but it seemed like DRI was doing a professional job of capping off the evening. As we straggled out into the cool night air, drenched in sweat and beer, we knew we had an epic night of thrash!

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D.R.I.

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