The Return Of Thrasho De Mayo

By Andrew Bansal

May 11th 2013, The Vex, Los Angeles CA: After its fifth edition in 2010, LA’s most popular thrash metal festival Thrasho De Mayo took a brief hiatus. Even though LA is never short on gigs, the underground community definitely felt the desire to see the revival of Thrasho. Finally, after 3 years, it became a reality and the 6th edition of the festival was upon us. This time it featured the 25th anniversary celebration of headline act M.O.D., the first ever West Coast appearance of Morbid Saint, Ghoul headlining the Poor Kids Radio stage, and a multitude of other bands part of the 2-stage lineup. The Vex was the venue chosen for the occasion. The doors opened at 3, by which time there was already a line of people waiting to get in. Looking at that, I knew that the turnout was going to be great, and the atmosphere was set for an intriguing 10-hour thrash fest.

The Poor Kids Radio stage was set up outdoors, and Velosity kicked off the show on it promptly at 3.30 PM with their Megadeth-inspired brand of thrash. I’ve seen Velosity a couple of times in the past and guitarist/vocalist Oscar Castillo came across as a talented kid each time. Today was no different as he merrily shredded away on his Dean flying V, with able support from bassist Omar and drummer Abimael Cruz. I thought the sound coming from the stage was decent from where I was standing, facing stage right near the front. Velosity were a bit lucky in that sense because the sound on this stage took a massive downward spiral for the bands that followed. The three-piece band packed a solid punch and proved their worth on this lineup.

It was then time to switch over to the indoor main stage for the first band on there, Madrost. The drums were much too high in the mix, but the band did put on a good show. The diminutive figure of frontman Tanner Poppitt was surprisingly powerful, both in performance and stage presence. His vocals were fun to listen to. It was cool to see the variations in their set with the slower, death metal-style riffs, and their cover of Hirax’ ‘Bombs Of Death’ was a real old-school touch that most people were able to appreciate. In all, Madrost did most things right and warmed up the main stage nicely for the acts to come.

I was digging how there was no gap at all, and the moment a band finished on one stage, the other stage was ready to go. Back outside, Infinite Death were the next band. The singer had corpse paint on, as the band played a very death metal-oriented style, as their name suggests. The sound was downright horrible during their set and this was the start of things going bad on the Poor Kids stage, sound-wise.

Xpulsion took the main stage next, and turned out to be a decent follow-up to Madrost. A good chunk of the crowd that didn’t really enjoy Infinite Death outside were indoors early before the start of Xpulsion’s set, so the band got to play to a larger audience as a result. The sound was better during their set as well, so that worked in their favor too. The guitarist’s yellow Jackson was a cool little visual aspect, as it went well with the largely abundant blue denim at this show. Music-wise they didn’t do anything that would necessarily stand out or be remembered amongst the plethora of bands playing the same show, but they fit in well with the thrash vibe and got a couple of mosh pits going, so it wasn’t a bad set by any means.

Sakrificer followed on the outdoor stage, and unfortunately they couldn’t do much to liven it up compared to the previous band on this stage. There wasn’t any variety in the set with every song following the same Slayer-esque style, and it sounded even worse because all I could hear was bass, vocals and drums. Listening to metal without any guitars is not fun to say the least, and I have no idea why this issue wasn’t addressed.

The band that was supposed to take the indoor stage next was Paralyzer, but they didn’t make it to the show and from what I heard, they got into an accident while on their way to the venue. I hope they didn’t get hurt on the road out there and I’m sure they’ll be playing a show soon somewhere to make up for their absence here. So, this led to a slight lull in proceedings but thanks to the Denver, Colorado-based Speedwolf, it was shorter than expected as they started their set outdoors a lot earlier than the scheduled time of 6.20. As far as this whole lineup is concerned, this is the first band I was really looking forward to seeing, and my goodness, they didn’t disappoint. Speedwolf, rather aptly, were like Motörhead on speed, and this show truly began in full earnest when they unleashed their set onto us. In contrast to almost all of the other guitarists that performed on either stage with their typical old-school thrash tremolo-picking styles, Speedwolf guitarist Kris’ sweet riffs and lead parts came across as a welcome and refreshing change-up. And more importantly, I could actually hear it. The band must have made an effort to take care of the guitar sound, something the other outdoor bands should have done too.

Speedwolf definitely tore up this place and gave it a new lease of life, with a vast majority of the crowd indulging in head-banging, circle pits and surfing. I was thoroughly impressed by all aspects of their performance, and they might have been the best thing to happen to this show. The Speedwolf fans had turned up here in large numbers, and the band obliged them by ending the set with their favorite tune Denver 666. In a surprising turn of events after they were done with that song, the singer Reed announced that they were going to let local heroes Witchaven take up the rest of their set time. Witchaven were originally supposed to play this festival but were then taken off it, so it was a pretty unique thing to see another band letting them back on like that. It got the crowd absolutely pumped, and Witchaven’s 3-song onslaught consisting of ‘Terror Storm’, ‘Black Thrash Assault’ and ‘Unholy Copulation’ was one of the highlights of the evening.

As I walked towards the indoor stage to catch the long-awaited one-off return of Pittsburgh thrashers Mantic Ritual, their guitarist Jeff Potts was behind me and got stoked to see the Mantic Ritual patch on the back of my vest, telling me that it was the first one he’d ever seen. I bought that patch when the band opened for Destruction at the Key Club in March 2009, and have had it on the vest ever since. It was one of the first things to go on that vest, and it was a cool little conversation with Jeff as we made a connection on that story. The band took the main stage, and needless to say, I was super-excited to see them after such a long time. The sound wasn’t up to the mark, but it didn’t matter too much as fans reveled in the band’s spectacular thrash tunes. With Jeff Potts, bassist Ben Mottsman, and drummer Carlos Cruz part of Warbringer as well, it was like infusing the power of 3/5ths of Warbringer into a Mantic Ritual set. It was a major surprise though to see them include a cover of Mercyful Fate’s ‘Gypsy’ in the set. For a band that’s returning after nearly 4 years and apparently not playing a show ever again, it didn’t make sense to play a cover, specially of a non-thrash band. Anyhow, the set was very enjoyable right up till the final moment, when they ended with the song ‘One By One’ and frontman Dan Wetmore smashed his guitar to pieces. People in the front couple of rows weren’t really expected that and were a little freaked out by it as it could have been dangerous. May be Dan was like, ‘I’m never going to play this guitar ever again, so might as well be done with it now.’ Nonetheless, it was a rather nostalgic performance by this killer thrash metal outfit that brought back some great old memories from past shows, and it will be sad to see them disappear again.

Cleveland, Ohio’s Nunslaughter was next on the outdoor stage. The band has been around for more than 25 years, have a fan-following of their own even here in LA, and this set had a lot riding on it but unfortunately the sound yet again ruined everything. Out of all bands that played this stage, Nunslaughter probably got the worst sound. I mean, the fans didn’t seem to care too much and were having an absolute blast out there, but for someone seeing the band for the first time, it wasn’t exactly the kind of experience that would justify the band’s stature in the extreme metal underground. So I’ll have to reserve judgement on their live performance until the next time I see them at a better venue.

There was a sizable gathering inside to see Fueled By Fire, and they lived up to their billing by performing an extremely solid set. The guitar sound was meaty, and I was enjoying Rick Rangel’s style of vocals. He showed that you can have your own identity as a vocalist even in a death/thrash band and it doesn’t necessarily have to be the cookie-cutter version. I was honestly not familiar with their music that much, but after seeing them here, I’m more than inclined to check out their recorded material. They played a couple of new unreleased songs which I thought sounded pretty cool. This rock-solid set from Fueled By Fire led perfectly into the final band on the outdoor stage.

The mighty Ghoul marauded this outdoor stage and what ensued was 60 minutes of full-on entertainment. This was another band I’d never seen before and was very curious to find out what exactly garners them their rabid fan base. Well, last night I did find out. The guitars still weren’t sounding as good as during Speedwolf’s set, but it was decent enough and much better than some of the other outdoor bands for sure. Judging from this performance, the theatre of it all was truly great, but their music alone would be sufficient for them to have the same kind of fan-following, and that’s the major difference between them and the other theatrical acts of our genre. Their speed/thrash/crossover punk tunes went down extremely well with the fans as well as with first-time listeners like me. Various stage props and mascots were used throughout the set as ‘blood’ was sprayed onto the thirsty audience several times. Stage diving hit its maximum level, and security staff had to come out on stage to control it. Overall, an incredible show by Ghoul. They do ‘theatrical metal’ the right way. I’d take them over the likes of GWAR and Ghost any day.

The outdoor stage was now done, and although none of the remaining three main stage bands could live up to the visual awesomeness of Ghoul, the music certainly didn’t let anyone down, and people still had the energy to go around in mosh pits and bang their heads. Idolatry from Texas, featuring the original members of the band Devastation, played next. Devastation had basically reformed into Idolatry but were still playing Devastation songs for this set. As with one or two of the early bands, I could definitely appreciate the death metal element in Idolatry’s thrash. They drew a huge applause from the crowd when they finished their set, and people will look forward to what the band has to offer in their new incarnation in the near future.

Morbid Saint, all the way from Sheboygan, Wisconsin, making their first ever West Coast appearance were up next and they seemed genuinely thrilled and happy to be playing in Los Angeles for the very first time. The manner in which LA crowds respond to thrash took them by surprise a little bit, and they definitely got pumped by the energy coming from this huge crowd. A lot of people were mentioning before the show that Morbid Saint was the main band they were here to see, and it showed in the kind of circle pits that broke out, and the raucous cheers they gave when the vocalist announced a couple of the better-know songs. An absolutely brutal performance by Morbid Saint, and I do not understand why they haven’t been to LA before this. They were inactive for a long time, then started back again in 2010, and based on last night’s show they’re excited to be back, and mean business.

Headliners M.O.D. finally took the stage at 10 minutes past midnight to bring an end to this long thrash festival. They had that old Anthrax/S.O.D. kind of crossover punk/thrash vibe, as you would expect from a band fronted by Billy Milano. Besides Milano’s beastly vocals, the bass sound was pretty massive and it was a different ending to Thrasho as compared to previous editions. Sadly a lot of people left after Morbid Saint’s set, so M.O.D. didn’t really get the kind of audience they should have as a headline act. They were almost rendered an ‘after-hours’ type of band last night. Their performance was certainly top-notch though, and it would have made for a fun atmosphere had they played a bit earlier in the night. It was still great to see these New York stalwarts play an LA show.

Besides the actual music, there were several other aspects and elements of this entire event that were both positive and negative. The crowd had its own colorful characters too, specially this one guy who had his t-shirt perfectly tucked into his jeans, and was part-headbanging part-dancing away throughout the entire day. He just never got tired, stood by himself in the middle of the floor, and enjoyed his day. Dancing is not metal, but the way he did it, it sure was. The other positive was the merchandise. There were plenty of stalls in there with an entire range of merch items to choose from. Both the indoor and outdoor areas were spacious enough to accommodate this large crowd, most unlike the dingy sweatbox of a venue that was the Ultra-Violet where Thrasho 5 took place. The biggest positive was the lineup, and I take my proverbial hat off to the promoters for putting together these bands from all over the States, and not cheaping out with an LA-dominated lineup.

But that’s where the positives end. The sound was absolutely the most glaring negative of the day. It was bad indoors, but much worse outdoors. I think it was the venue’s fault, and looking at the list of metal shows they have coming up, I really do hope they get their stuff together sound-wise. They were constantly running out of food and drink supplies too, and I’m not even talking about beer. Even the water and soda were a rarity at most times during the day. For an all-day event, shortage of such supplies was uncalled for and a little bit unprofessional.

Nonetheless, I’m glad this festival made a return because LA has a huge following for thrash metal, but the event overall could have been so much better than it ended up being.