There is an annual music industry pilgrimage to Anaheim, California. A chance for insiders to get a peek behind the curtain if you will, at all the equipment, instruments, gadgets and numerous other items with which one can conduct the business and pleasure of creating music. That little get together is known as NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants, in case you thought it was just a cute name). The convention also attracts musicians from across the globe, who come to demonstrate the wares of the products they endorse, and give admirers a chance to rub elbows, create a quick Instagram moment and acquire autographs from a who’s who of music. With all of these troubadours populating one city at one time, you might guess that a few hootenannies might occur and you would be correct in that assumption. One such affair would be the once yearly tradition of paying homage to metal and hard rock by Metal Allegiance.
Calling Metal Allegiance a “super-group” seems a bit of a misnomer. Whereas a good name for this type of group has not apparently been coined, it may be more appropriate to refer to them as a “turnstile-group.” The project is the brainchild of industry exec and metal devotee, Mark Menghi. Menghi recruited Alex Skolnick of Testament, Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater and David Ellefson of Megadeth, otherwise known collectively as the Core 4 to help him realize his vision, but the dream does not stop there. The cast of characters who participate on their records as well as this event is not only a page out of the metal society pages, but is akin to what Hollywood would call an ensemble cast, a production in which there are so many stars, there is no “star.” Metal Allegiance’s 2020 commandeering of the Anaheim House of Blues was no exception.
With upwards of 20 participants, M.A. could probably play for four hours and nobody would get tired, because they could substitute players like a hockey team changing lines. Each of the last three years however, they have had a stable of three support acts. The first of the evening is Trauma, a five piece originally formed in 1981 in San Francisco, was inactive for a few decades and reformed in 2013. Led by vocalist Donny Hillier and drummer Kris Gustofson, the only two holdovers from the 1980’s version of the band, Trauma light the burner on the evening with a half or so set. Rounding out the band are Greg Christian on bass and Joe Fraulob with Steve Robello handling guitar duties.
The next knob on the stove is New Jersey-based Weapons of Anew, who turn the burner up a bit higher. Weapons of Anew were formed back in 2015 by former HavocHate guitarist Freddy Ordine and former Spread Eagle vocalist Ray West. They bring their various sonic weapons to bear on the attendees. They use grungy guitar riffs, pounding drum beats provided by Chris Manfre and a vibrating deep bass massage from Stefan “Reno” Cutrupi as their ordnance. They weave a web of intricately layered contradictions, that range from gritty guitar riffs to melodic vocals from West. Sundown from their debut record The Collision Of Love And Hate is a good example of the range of ammunition they have at their disposal. They also break out a new song called Demons, presumably from their forthcoming sophomore effort.
The room heats up even more at the set of Exmortus, the Whittier, California formed metal outfit, who hit the stage at full speed and never take their foot off the gas. Fronted by Jadran “Conan” Gonzalez who delivers lead vocals and rhythm guitar, and is the only continuous member of the band, they set the stage for the headliners very aptly. Joining Gonzalez in this incarnation are Chase Becker on lead guitar, Adrian Aguilar on drums and Phillip Nunez on bass and backing vocals. One of the highlights of their set is a short jam in which they play a VERY hard version of the intro into Boston’s Long Time, Foreplay.
When Metal Allegiance takes the stage at around 9:30 pm, they tear into three M.A. originals, The Accuser, Bound By Silence and Can’t Kill The Devil. Armored Saint’s John Bush delivers the vocals on the first two, with Testament’s Chuck Billy taking the third. Billy gives way to Overkill’s Bobby Blitz, who takes a few numbers, including his own band’s Wrecking Crew and insults the concertgoers all with a voice containing the subtlety sandpaper rubbed over metal spikes, yeah, it’s a metal show. Mastodon’s Troy Sanders lends his voice to the proceedings and a rocking rendition of including UFO’s Lights Out, which pleases the room. Death Angel’s Mark Osegueda assumes the microphone for a few tunes, and is the last of the vocalists to take his turn in the rotation.
Now while there were five vocalists who graced the stage throughout the set, the rest of this may sound like the disclaimer of a pharmaceutical commercial. Guitarists performing on the evening in no particular order: Alex Skolnick of Testament, Andreas Kisser of Sepultura, Phil Demmel of Machine Head, Gary Holt from Slayer and Exodus, Dave Davidson from Revocation and Arch Enemy’s Jeff Loomis. Those who gave the bottom to the performance on bass guitar were Menghi, Jack Gibson from Exodus and Sanders doing a little double duty. Absent is Ellefson, who is currently on tour with Megadeth. Typically Portnoy mans the drums throughout the entire performance, but had help this year from Jason Bittner of Overkill and Flotsam and Jetsam as well as original Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo on a few songs. The entire assemblage unites on the stage for a few tunes culminating in Overkill from the band of the same name. All of the members are introduced and bows are taken, a group photograph is snapped and that concludes Metal Allegiance’s 2020 assault on Anaheim.
CLICK HERE to view more METAL ALLEGIANCE pics from the show.
CLICK HERE to view more EXMORTUS, WEAPONS OF ANEW & TRAUMA pics from the show.