Metal Madness: ‘X Fest’ Marks the Spot at the Regent

Review by Erik E. Wrath
Photos by Albert Licano

January 6 2018, The Regent, Los Angeles CA: The folks behind ‘Show Your Scars’ have been organizing an amazing festival-type show in the first week of January for the past couple of years, and this year they left no stone unturned in making it their best one yet. Christened ‘X Fest’, the 2018 edition featured Nuclear Assault, Hirax, Toxic Holocaust, Evil Dead, Expulsion, Thrown Into Exile, Pounder and Brain Dead, and our man Erik E. Wrath was in attendance to review it for us. Read his words along with Albert Licano’s images below.

(Erik missed Brain Dead’s set, but here are Albert’s photos of them:)

Brain Dead photos:

I made the effort to arrive early to see Pounder, Matt Harvey’s new band.  There was already a decent crowd in front of the stage while they plied their take on early ’80s style metal, with excellent riffs and solos. Matt sang well, and handled rhythm guitar duties, whilst Tom Draper on lead nailed it with a black Les Paul. The rhythm section seemed tight, although, and this was an ongoing compliant of mine throughout the evening, the house kit was mixed with a loud yet very dead snare, and the house stage right bass rig seemed like it was also too loud and had at times a distortion that wasn’t pleasing. But these guys carried through it with a good attitude,  playing a bitchin’ cover of Def Leppard’s ‘Wasted’, and  overcame these technical details. Excellent for a second show  — I look forward to hearing more from this promising outfit.

Pounder photos:

Thrown Into Exile took the stage next, with the vocalist displaying quite a potty mouth, directed, oddly, at the crowd. If you like getting verbally abused, and you like nu-metal, you might like these guys. I’m into neither. But some folks apparently are and there was a fair bit moshing about to prove it as they chugged through their set.

Thrown Into Exile photos:

Matt Harvey of Exhumed fame returned to the stage with Expulsion, featuring Repulsion guitarist Matt Olivo (Exhumed meets Repulsion, get it?) Grindy death ensued, a genre I can’t say I know a ton about, but I was impressed by enthusiastic Harvey’s stage presence, and ability to sing in a  completely different range than Pounder’s style. Olivo had some very interesting, almost groovy guitar riffs, plus short but very nice solos sprinkled in at just the right moments. Menno Verbaten’s bass playing and Danny Walker’s drumming were top notch and the house sound seemed amiable to them. Expulsion only have an EP which I believe they played in its entirety, plus a few new songs they rolled out. The set seemed too short, which is a good sign, especially with the sometimes challenging nature of music this chaotic. I actually took notes on each song, another good sign. There was by this point a large and active crowd – probably the best sign of all. Strong songwriting harnessed all that energy to create something special, hard to explain, so go check them out!

Expulsion photos:

Next up, old pros EvilDead took us back to 1897. I was immediately engaged by their old school Venice style thrash, featuring excellent guitars by founding member Juan Garcia along with Albert Gonzalez. Special kudos to Albert for some very nice technical ability that still packed a street tough urgency. The same could be said for vocalist Phil Flores, really handling the stage and delivering the incendiary (and insightful) lyrics clearly over the solid riffing.  Karlos Medina was obviously enjoying smashing it up with drummer Rob Alaniz. The short but well received set included ‘FCI’, ‘Awakening’, ‘Word of God’ (an excellent new song,) ‘Run Again’, ‘Napoleon Complex’ (very timely political statement!)  ‘Sloe-Death’, and ‘Annihilation’. These guys are definitely back, with a new album upcoming, well timed for resurgence of this style of music, so I expect we’ll be seeing more of them soon.

EvilDead photos:

Toxic Holocaust stormed the stage next, bringing their thrash punk sound to a madly moshing audience. These guys are tight and fast and definitely making an impression on the scene. Unfortunately, from where I stood (right next to the sound board) the early unbalanced mix issues were apparent. The dull sounding snare and too loud bass crowded out Charlie Bellmore’s precise guitar work. I actually yelled at the sound guy to turn it up – he looked at me like I was crazy and went back to looking at his phone, then wandered away completely (insert Los Angeles shitty live sound rant here). It probably sounded better up front cuz the kids were going nuts. The hard working Joel Grind rallied the crowd with his energetic stage moves. Drummer Nick Bellmore kept it clicking along, tirelessly setting the neck snapping pace.  Overall a most excellent set from this popular trio.  The energy of this sold out show  was sold out was only building…

Toxic Holocaust photos:

… up to Hirax. Vocalist and founding member Katon De Pena exemplifies the spirit of metal. His wild eyed enthusiasm is contagious, whether leading the charge on the band’s classic cuts, or chatting up the audience in between songs, you know you are part of something when you stand in front of this band. Flanked by solid members and string slingers Lance and Steve Harrison (guitar and bass respectively), Katon evokes a tableau of epic metal mythology, heroically poised at the front to the stage, fist in the air. Stage diving is encouraged and the place went truly insane with activity. Lance’s guitar fits the bill perfectly; ambitious solos and chunky grinding pit riffs, alternated with fast-tempo thrasher riffs. Brother Steve fills it out with creative bass lines and no shortage of technical prowess. Drummer Mike Vega easily adapting to the tempo changes, laying into the skins with power and speed. Maybe I did get through to the sound guy because after a few murky moments the guitar climbed to its proper place in the mix. It was great to see them perform a full set, killer tune after tune – ‘El Diablo’ was a personal favorite, everything great about this band in one song. The newer tune ‘Black Smoke’ was a real spine chiller, proving a strong capacity for continuing the legacy. More Hirax!

Hirax photos:

The crowd remained pumped for Nuclear Assault – everyone I talked to was stoked have a chance to see these thrash legends. Unlike some older bands, these guys definitely were not phoning it in. Bassist / co-founder Dan Lilker laid it down with a crisp, overdriven sound, his lean form striking a menacing figure on the stage.  The other original member, vocalist/guitarist John Connelly attached his flying V with gusto, really getting into it whether on rhythm or frequent lead breaks, snapping a string part way through the set. Longtime drummer Glenn Evans, seemed unstoppable. Rounding out the lineup is Eric Burks on lead and rhythm, exhibiting some mad chops of his own. They delivered over an hour of irreverently punishing tunes and the LA thrashers were ready for it.

Nuclear Assault photos:

Truly an amazing night of metal and great to see it so well attended. As Katon stated ,“we’re putting Los Angeles back on the metal map” with events like this.

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