Death Angel Headlines the NorCal Tattoo and Music Festival
By Jesse Amazeen
Cal Expo was the scene of last weekend’s NorCal Tattoo and Music Festival, a three-day gathering of tattoo artists, tattoo seekers, bands, and thrash metal aficionados. Featuring over twenty-five bands, the NorCal Fest wisely chose Death Angel to headline the festivities. Clocking in at well over thirty years in the Bay Area Thrash Metal business, Death Angel knows how to deliver the goods, and they didn’t come up short Saturday night.
This was a festival though, and I can’t say enough about the incredible lineup of local and regional bands who filled both stages nonstop before Death Angel dominated the main stage. Sacramento locals White Knuckle Riot brought their politically charged message with songs like “Amurdica”. A blend of hardcore, traditional, and groove metal, WKR delivered an intense set from behind their foreboding black bandanna masks.
East Bay thrash metallers Hatriot sent the mosh pit into high gear with a flawless performance, ripping through “Murder American Style” like a hot knife through butter. Exodus frontman Steve “Zetro” Souza joined his sons Cody (bass, vocals) and Nick (drums), for a heavier-than-heavy version of “Heroes of Origin”, from Hatriot’s debut album of the same name. Guitarists Kosta Varvatakis and Justin Sakagawa sliced-and-diced the song’s leads and solos with renewed ferocity to finish out the set.
Flotsam and Jetsam are also thirty-plus-year veterans of the thrash scene, and have continued to record and perform brilliant, complex, and cutting-edge metal all over the world since their mid-eighties inception. Showing no age in his voice, vocalist Eric “A.K.” Knutsen belted out classics exclusively from Flotsam’s first two albums, 1986’s Doomsday for the Deceiver, and 1988’s No Place for Disgrace. Insane guitar work by the axe-wielding duo of Michael Gilbert and Steve Conley breathed new life into classic tracks like “Desecrator”, and “Hammerhead”, stunning the growing crowd. Flotsam and Jetsam will release their latest, self-titled album on May 20th, worldwide.
Before I tell you about Death Angel’s set, it feels important at this point to take a moment to recognize just what a rarity this band is. Death Angel is the proverbial Peter Pan of the 80’s thrash metal scene. Starting out as perhaps the youngest fully-fledged thrash band to emerge from the Bay Area, they show no signs of slowing down, and are now set to descend upon record store shelves and iTunes alike with what may be one of their heaviest albums to date, The Evil Divide, on May 27th.
But lots of eighties bands still record new material. And, it’s mostly good. Here’s the difference—Death Angel is among only a handful of bands for whom “good” simply doesn’t cut it. Not content to rest on the laurels of their past successes, or continually recycle riffs, Death Angel has now recorded four full-length studio albums since their 2001 reunion, with each one being heavier and more complex than the last.
Vocalist Mark Osegueda takes a visceral approach to not only his singing, but his stage performance as well. His aggression and energy are infectious to say the least, and the audience at Cal Expo had front row seats for this sonic beatdown. Kicking off the set with “Thrashers”, Mark quickly got to work, revving up the crowd in typical fashion. Another opening track followed, with “Seemingly Endless Time”, the heaviest cut from 1990’s critically acclaimed album, Act III.
Fellow founding member, guitarist, and songwriter Rob Cavestany lit up the stage next with his molten-hot fretwork on “Thicker Than Blood”, all the while looking every bit the part of a metal guitar god. Sporting his signature, custom-made Jackson guitar, Rob showed no signs of slowing down as he careened through songs like “This Hate”, and left moshing headbangers in shock with the brutal high-speed riffs of “Left for Dead”.
True to form, drummer Will “Beastman” Carroll, and bassist Damien Sisson absolutely nailed the razor-edged rhythms and airtight grooves of “Buried Alive”, in what may have been the high point of their set. The sparse, warehouse-like interior of Cal Expo’s exhibit hall was the perfect backdrop for the stripped-down speed metal classic “Kill as One”, from Death Angel’s first album, The Ultra-Violence. The intro riffs from that album’s iconic title track followed, quickly melding into “3rd Floor”, fueled by the full-frontal rhythm guitar attack of Ted Aguilar on stage left.
Closing out Death Angel’s brief, but crushing set, was “The Dream Calls for Blood”. Kind of appropriate, for a band who gives it all to their fans, on every song, every record, and sure as hell, at every show!
Seemingly Endless Time
Thicker Than Blood
Claws in So Deep
Left for Dead
Son of the Morning
Kill as One
The Ultra Violence Intro / 3rd Floor
The Dream Calls for Blood