Bay Area Thrashers Tear Down The Red House

By Avinash Mittur

June 16th 2012, The Red House, Walnut Creek, CA: It’s been a long, long time since I’ve attended a small local metal show in the Bay Area. The local groups around here are good enough to justify going to out to see them without a national headliner, and I was more than happy to spend twelve dollars on a fun night of heavy metal. I had seen many of the bands performing tonight before, but I had never been fortunate enough to see them all on the same bill. Needless to say, I was extremely excited to see some of the best young bands the bay had to offer play together in one show. Even though the classic era of Bay Area-thrash is long gone, there are still many young bands in the area playing fantastic music, and this show was proof of that fact.

This was my first time visiting the Red House in Walnut Creek. This place is not only an all-ages concert venue, but it also features a rehearsal space, recording studio and even offers music lessons for kids. The sound at this place was mostly excellent, and they even offered free earplugs for everyone who wanted them. Simply put, I absolutely loved this venue, and I would be more than glad to give my patronage to the Red House many more times in the future. As for the crowd, they were small in numbers but spirited-there was little moshing to be had, but there were plenty of fans piled up the front row ready to bang their heads off throughout the night.

The first band on the bill that I arrived to see was Demon Seed. Much to my surprise, the band was made of up musicians who couldn’t have been older than 14 or 15. What the boys onstage lacked in height, they more than made up in instrumental talent though. Every member was astounding proficient at their instruments given their young ages, although the band was pretty stoic onstage. Bassist Alan Lucero managed to keep the audience entertained by occasionally swinging his axe about though. Demon Seed played a style of death metal that stuck to thrash’s musical framework. Imagine if David Vincent and Alexi Laiho decided to sing trade-off vocals for Warbringer for a day. Their four songs were entertaining enough, and it’ll be interesting to see what direction these guys take as their musical tastes grow and change. These kids still have a bit of a ways to go in terms of their stage presence and songwriting, but they’re off to a great start and I really look forward to where they’ll go from here.

Next up was Zombie Holocaust. The quintet delivered a fun set of thrash that definitely was a change from the other bands playing tonight. The band had a relatively silly presence onstage compared to everyone else, and it gave some variety to a show full of dead serious thrash bands. Zombie Holocaust mainly focused on newer material on this night, but the fans didn’t seem to mind. In fact, the track Wagon Burner drew a great reception from the crowd, who ended up giving the most energy of the night for this set. ZH’s bassist, Big Joe, was an absolute delight to watch. His playing was virtuosic to put it bluntly, and the Red House’s fantastic sound allowed him to be heard very clearly. However, Zombie Holocaust’s triple guitar attack that came off as a little much to me. In fact, I have to say that I enjoyed the band a bit more when vocalist Nicholas Gomez dropped his guitar for the last song, “Here’s to You” and dedicated himself purely to singing. He seemed more energetic during this bit, and the song, basically a big thank you to their fans, was very much appreciated by those in attendance.

Zombie Holocaust Set List:

1. Dry Flower
2. Pedal to the Metal
3. Be True Arrow
4. Wagon Burner
5. Strike Force
6. Here’s to You

After Zombie Holocaust came Fog of War, an institution of the Bay Area thrash revival movement. True to their name, the band began the set by filling the Red House with a light layer of fog. Like Zombie Holocaust, Fog of War also featured three guitarists onstage, but I feel that they made better use of them than the prior act. The songs and solos were very harmony-heavy, and having a rhythm guitar to drive the band forward during these sections was very beneficial. Once again, the Red House’s great sound allowed every solo to cut through with ease and the set was all the better for it. It wasn’t hard to hear some Kurt Brecht in Mosh Branum’s shouts, and his dueling solos with Jon Fryman and Alex Winkley were truly a treat to hear. Many of the band’s fans cheered when the band played their self-titled song, but the more unknown new material still went down well with the small crowd. The whole set was extremely tight; although Fog of War only played five songs, I can easily say that I enjoyed every minute.

Fog of War Set List:

1. No Evacuation
2. The Glow
3. Fog of War
4. Victims of Progress
5. They Live, We Sleep

Hatchet played next, and they gave Walnut Creek a twenty minute dose of jackhammer thrash. After seeing the band a few times now, I’ve seen every song they played last night at least a couple times, but their sets still manage to be a good deal of fun. Out of the four songs that the band managed to get in, “Signals of Infection” was easily the most ferocious. Guitarist and frontman Julz Ramos announced that they were going to play the song a bit faster than usual and he certainly wasn’t kidding. Simply put, the five minutes or so that the band played that track for were the most visceral and adrenaline charged I’ve ever seen them. Hatchet is as tight of a live unit as they’ve ever been, and I know that they will provide the Bay with a good time on many occasions this summer. It’s truly a shame then that their set was cut short due to time constraints. If I had one more minor complaint, it’s that the fog became a bit excessive during Hatchet’s set. It became thick enough to where fans in the middle of the floor and back could hardly see what was going on onstage. Besides these small complaints, I can still easily say that I enjoyed Hatchet’s set.

Hatchet Set List:

1. Silenced By Death
2. Screams of the Night
3. Frozen Hell
4. Signals of Infection

Last on the bill was Brentwood’s own Hysteria. As always, Hysteria gave a lively performance of their brand of thrash laced with power metal elements. Jake Nunn’s vocals were fantastic as always, and their songs are some of the best power-thrash that one can find anywhere. Although I liked that the band was having fun onstage, cracking jokes and interacting with the audience, I feel that they could have cut their downtime enough to squeeze in an additional song or two. Considering that Hatchet were forced to cut their set due to time, Hysteria could have probably taken shorter breaks in between songs. It didn’t help that Jake’s vocals were barely audible until the last few songs. This was the only real sound issue throughout the entire night, but it was made all the more jarring because of the generally phenomenal sound during everyone else’s set. Luckily, Hysteria’s energy and taut execution of their songs managed to make up for it. Jake and Brandon Hanson’s catchy riffs still manage to get heads banging, and bassist Bernt Strom was a consistently active and manic presence onstage. Even though the new tracks were well received, the band’s classic, “The Useless Key,” perhaps drew the biggest cheers of the night. Overall, Hysteria still gave a very fun, if imperfect, set.

Hysteria Set List:

1. Full House
2. Probed in 1984
3. DDT
4. Blank Faces
5. Galloping Schobbagonoosch
6. The Useless Key
7. Soldiers of Tribulation

On this Saturday night, I could have paid about $12 to see a 90 minute movie, or see a full night of fun Bay Area heavy metal. Needless to say, I’m happy that I spent that money at the Red House last night. Every band ranged from enjoyable to downright vicious, and I can happily say that the Bay Area heavy metal scene is alive and thriving as long as bands like these keep playing. No matter where you are, go out and support your local shows. You may not get a lineup as great as the one I got to see last night, but the chance of seeing talented musicians in such an intimate setting will be worth it.

Overall gig rating: 9/10