Friday, January 17, 2003 @ 9:47 AM
Chuck Billy & Co. Live at the
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REVIEW BY: Death_Chronicle
Testament Live In Portland, OR:
A Testament To The Legions
Ah, Inspiration. That intangible, all influencing energy that instills within all of us the will, desire, and motivation to pursue, achieve and articulate our wildest dreams. It is undoubtedly the single most vital component in all of creation, for without it civilization would have atrophied to a state of nonexistence long ago. Every single achievement, be it grand or miniscule, all share the same origin: they are all born of Inspiration. It is the one key energy that allows us to physically manifest the rawest and most pure of hopes and aspirations; the foundation for creation, if you will. It dwells in every person, every animal, every inanimate object. It’s there in its rawest essence, void of intent or specific purpose, but full of power and waiting to be harnessed and applied to whatever its wielder aspires towards. Of course, there’s no standard source of Inspiration, no on-line mail order service that sells Inspiration by the gallon or by the pound. It’s completely relative to the person looking and the kind of Inspiration they’re looking for.
Personally, I spend every day of my life seeking out Inspiration at it’s most potent; and if you’re reading this, chances are you look in the same place I look: MUSIC. More specifically, Heavy Fucking Metal. For me, it’s the only relatively untainted facet of music left in this fucked up world. Metal is full of people like us who place integrity and quality above the greed driven corporate money machines who are bent on extorting every last penny from our hard working hands. It’s full of people who still know what it’s like to bust ass at some shitty, underpaying kick in the balls job for far too little money and way too much petty bullshit. And, it’s brimming with Inspiration-filled with these same kinds of people who, not long ago, were right where we are now, but are now achieving their dreams and bringing a little happiness to our otherwise bleak existence. And in doing so they perpetuate Inspiration and plant it’s seed in the minds of their fans so that they too have a reason for hope. I thrive on that; I live for it, I seek it out, and I embrace it. On December 27th I found myself face to face with the absolute epitome of Inspiration, in the flesh: Chuck Billy.
Cancer is an ugly word. It’s an ugly disease. It’s the polar opposite of everything that Inspiration represents. It devours, it consumes, it destroys life; it bereaves, it afflicts, it devastates, and it murders. It has no conscience and it has no motivation or intent other than to destroy you -- first emotionally, then physically. It threatens to take away everything you’ve ever stood for, everything you’ve dreamt about, everything you’ve achieved and everything you’ve striven towards. It’s a black hole and it absorbs everything that gives you any power in this life: Hope, Inspiration, Desire, Will, Pride, Strength -- even your Dreams themselves. “Loss of function, withering of the will. Condemned to a state of nothing, moving in for the kill. Brain cells slowly boil with memory intertwined; listening to that empty space -- atrophy of the mind.” Sadly prophetic words I’d say. I don’t know if Chuck had any idea that such things were in store for himself when he wrote that incredible song (“Chasing Fear,” just in case you were wondering), but they are certainly words from a man who is aware of the existence of such evil. That evil manifested in a rare form of cancer known as “Germ Cell Seminoma” and began to ravage this man’s very existence. Now, I’m not here to try and speculate on everything that Chuck Billy has endured -- I have far too much respect for this man to make blind assumptions, but I can’t help but wonder just how devastating this had to have been. Wicked chemotherapy and other grueling treatments, the pain and agony of the disease devouring your very essence, the emotional torment and the toll it must have taken on him, his family and his friends… Simply put, it’s too much for anyone to have to endure. And then to see close friends and fellow metal martyrs like James Murphy, Paul Baloff (RIP) and Chuck Schuldiner (RIP) being consumed by similarly wicked diseases and seeing the disease win out over two of them in the end -- I believe it would be unbearable. But somewhere within him, in the love of his family, friends and bandmates, he found the strength and Inspiration to endure. Somehow, some way, he went toe to toe with an evil that threatened his life and happiness and that of those who loved him, and he continued right on Over The Wall. Pardon the metaphors, but that is an absolute Testament to the sheer strength and resilience of the Soul. To overcome such adversity and not only survive, but bring out of it a rekindled love for life and music and the burning desire to continue to create and perform. Such is the beautiful strength and might of an Old Soul named Chuck Billy.
Perhaps with that you have some perspective as to the level of anticipation and eagerness I anxiously carried to Portland’s Roseland Theater on December 27th. This being my first ever opportunity to witness one of the greatest Thrash legends ever, on top of my already prolific amount of respect and admiration for Chuck Billy, you can imagine what an incredible and timeless experience this was. My focus in this review should be blatantly obvious, but there were 3 other bands at the show, and they do deserve some mention.
Arizona melodic death metal band Vehemence opened the show. Some people are offended by their graphic, violent lyrical content, but people-It’s DEATH metal, as in the opposite of life, as in the infliction thereof. I think the name of the genre alone should tip you off as to what to expect. And they were a decent death band with some solid presence and good live skills. The set was considerably short, and the drummer was using drum triggers, which I hated to see (don’t play what you can’t play), but overall they put on a solid set.
Similar things can be said for Exhumed -- they’re a Gore metal band, and again the lyrical content can be deduced based on the type of music they’re playing. I’d seen them once before, and at that time their set involved self-induced vomiting and the drummer drinking “blood” from a “severed head,” which in the context of an extreme metal concert was acceptable (if not somewhat cheesy). This time around, the “blood” was water, and there was no vomiting-one of many indicators that this band did not belong on this bill. I think they’re a fair band, but they’re a genre-specific band and need to tour with similar styled bands.
Then came Vio-Lence, whom I had never heard. I can’t say the singing impressed me, but the singer’s presence did. He loved the crowd and the crowd loved him. At one point he was in the front of the crowd working people up on a very groovy, riff-laden song called “Bodies on Bodies,” and was letting the fans sing along into the mic. That’s great-I like to see a band including the people that are responsible for them being there in the first place. The whole band had good presence and played tightly together, complete with the Eddie Van Halen-esque perma-grin smile on each member’s face. They definitely got the crowd good and ready for the thrashing that was about to commence.
Then comes the part where you fight your way as close to the stage as you can possibly get and wait impatiently while the techs set everything up at 32 RPM like a stoned snail with a limp. After what seemed like an eternity the lights dimmed, the smoke machines began belching thick, ominous clouds of fog and the strobe lights began their seizure-inducing serenade. Slowly several shadows began to permeate the gray haze with their intimidating, dark approach, advancing with all the leisure of a predator assured of it’s kill and savoring the scent of death rendered by its own jaws. The silhouettes of these predators worked their way towards the front of the stage, instruments in hand and poised to deliver a killing blow at any given moment. And then the imposing black shadow of Chuck Billy worked its way forward, the lights peering hesitantly from behind and through his nearly waist long dreadlocks as if the light itself was not safe from the wrath of such an imposing symbol of power. And then he stepped into the light, a forcefully intimidating yet somehow serene look of extreme satisfaction on his face as he scoured the balcony left to right, then the crowd below, as if to look into each and every person’s eyes and assure them that Testament was back with a motherfucking vengeance and about to shove it in our faces with more fury and intensity than we could possibly fathom. And then, as if to hammer the final nail into the coffin of that prophecy, smooth as silk the band launches into instant riffing madness as Chuck screams, “I’ve been a prisoner, trapped in by fear, ordered for the rest of my life……….Over the Wall!” And thus the execution began, slowly and methodically rending every apprehensive fear and concern over any possible loss of ferocity and power this great band may have incurred.
It didn’t take long for any of us to realize that no illness could impair the fierce dominance and skill that Testament exudes in every song and that all ill, be it malignant or benign, merely cowers in fear and awe when confronted by the sheer strength and dominant permanence of a Soul such as that of Chuck Billy and the rest of Testament. Such was the luminous glow of health and well-being that hung from the smile and shining glare of Chuck Billy that those who had not known would never know how the man had been accosted by a great evil, and had emerged victorious with the pure energy and emotional fire that they were witnessing then and there. He absolutely triumphed in every sense of the word, at every moment in every song and every instance in between. And at the end of each song we were greeted with a sincere and appreciative broad smile and solid beat of his fist against his heart as if he were dedicating his very Soul to the supporting smiles and cheers of every single fan in attendance.
After riffing brutally through their extensive library with classics like “Souls Of Black,” “Into The Pit,” “Low,” “DNR,” and “Down For Life” (and later in an encore, “Dog Faced Gods,” “True Believer” and the ultimate classic “Disciples Of The Watch”), Eric Petersen approached the mic and informed us that we were in for a treat of sorts, something to the effect of: “This is only the second time we’ve played this one live.” Then the guitar begins a very familiar riff and chills hit me like a ton of fucking bricks as I recognize the most appropriate song from their entire inventory of greats, and by the time Chuck begins delivering his wicked vocals I’m matching him word for word at the top of my lungs -- “Paralyzed and never coming back, even when your eyes are open everything turns to black. Soon forgotten senses, incubates the soul, hiding from the light fantastic waiting for the show. Chasing Fear, human mind unglued, unaware that fear is chasing you!” The appropriate subtlety of that song completely hit home at that moment, as did the actual depth of my appreciation for everything this man is and what he has both become and overcome -- Fathomless. As is the Inspiration he provides me, and as it should be for you. Beyond the metal, beyond the brutal yet beautiful and technical music and insightful, intelligent lyrics is a man whose friends, family and his own inextinguishable will to live have overcome the greatest of adversity and danger to return revitalized, reinvented, and reunited with the music and fans that he loves complete with a sincere smile and silent salute to all that he has Inspired.
So I implore you -- the next time you start to bitch about the line at the drive thru at McDonald’s or cold coffee or that slow asshole in front of you who still has his blinker on, take a double shot of 100 proof perspective, courtesy of the trial and hardship of Mr. Chuck Billy, choke down that spoiled, complacent, contemptuous remark that’s teetering on the tip of your tongue and be thankful that that’s all you have to bitch about. Then take a handful of that ever-potent Inspiration, make a few dreams come true for yourself and those you love, and spread it around. Remember that such Inspiration comes at a price, and Chuck Billy paid it and returned with a smile. The least we can do is perpetuate it with respect and make this life worth living. Chuck Billy -- I thank you on behalf of anyone who has ever lived, loved, laughed or lost, for you remind us all why we continue to fight this seemingly losing battle of life-because we thrive on Inspiration.
(Photos Courtesty of Chris Slack (c)2002)