January 13, 2016 Enforcer & Warbringer Thrash Gramercy Theatre, NYC 1-5-16 w/ Cauldron & Exmortus
The eighties was a pivotal time for Thrash Metal where influential and legendary acts formed such as Metallica, Overkill, Slayer, Kreator, and Anthrax, to name a few. Leaving a mark in Heavy Metal history, the era inspired bands across the Rock-Metal spectrum, and is still considered top of the Headbangers food chain. Over thirty-five years later, a new era in Thrash Metal has risen, and not only is the sub-genre revived, but it is revamped with a fresh crop of talented bands. Speaking of the new age of Thrash Metal, it was early last Summer the announcement came down of Enforcer’s co-headlining tour with Warbringer returning after a year hiatus. This monstrous tour will last for nearly two months with just under fifty dates and kicked off January 5th in New York City before concluding on February 21st at Raleigh, North Carolina. In support, the mighty Cauldron and Exmortus would join forces for a modern day thrashing no one would want to miss. Regardless of it being a Tuesday night, a large crowd was ready to launch the tour at the Gramercy Theatre with an evening of non-stop Metal.
Heating up the stage first was local supporting act, Surgical Strike. These metallers hail from Oceanside Long Island, just a short train ride away. Together since 2012, the trio consisting of Phil Fasulo (vocals/guitar), Anthony Fasulo (bass), and Josh Bundra (drums) defines their music as “Metal from Space.” No stranger to live performances, they have opened up for bands such as Dying Fetus, Sworn Enemy, and Dehumanized in the past. While Gramercy Theatre was not full yet, these guys ignited a decent moshing crowd from the get-go. Anthony’s performance stood out as he simply killed it on bass as the rest of the band rocked hard. Their Thrash and Death Metal influence was certainly displayed, especially during one of their newer tracks.
As the house started to fill up, including many fans wearing Motörhead t-shirts in honor of the late great Lemmy, it was time for Exmortus to dominate the stage. Coming together originally back in 2003, it has been nothing but a journey for this Southern Californian band. Stylistically influenced by all aspects of Metal, including Neo-Classical, Thrash, and Death Metal, they refuse to pigeonhole themselves into one particular category. However, their traditional approach to Metal is what built them a devoted following through the years. Co-founded by cousins Jadran “Conan” Gonzalez (vocals/guitar) and Mario Moreno (drums), the rest of the band consists of David Rivera (guitar) along with Michael Cosio (bass). A member of the Prosthetic Records family, it was 2014’s Slave to the Sword that brought them on tour with Omnium Gatherum and Dark Tranquility, along with booking a spot at 2014’s Knotfest. Now in 2016, they return with their brand new album, Ride Forth, set for release just three days after this New York City appearance. With that in mind, it was time for them to awaken the crowd in hopes to display their one-of-a-kind dueling behind the back guitar performance.
Bringing excitement to the stage with “Rising” and “Immortality Made Flesh,” from 2014’s Slave to the Sword, the music brought waves of headbanging, as well as ignited the first unique circle pit of the night. They then moved into newer numbers off Ride Forth with “For the Horde” and “Relentless.” Gonzalez, in his Mortal Kombat T-shirt, asked the crowd if any fans wanted to hear some Classical music as they crushed into their take on Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata (Act 3).” During the rendition, Rivera and Gonzalez did their infamous shredding over each other’s backs routine, which had the crowd screaming in excitement. Carrying this duel into “Hymn of Hate,” they soon closed their set with “Metal is King.” It has been wonderful to see the growth of Exmortus and hopefully they will return as headliners soon enough.
Up next was the Canadian band known as Cauldron. Also set to release a new album on January 8th, Cauldron would be dropping their fourth overall studio record, In Ruin, via The End Records. Born in the year 2006, when founder Jason Decay (bass/lead vocals) stuck with his determination to form a Heavy Metal band of his own, the band has traveled a long road since. After being heavily influenced by bands such as Venom and Judas Priest, Decay formulated Cauldron in his own vision. Building the name for a solid ten years, the group currently consists of Decay, Ian Chains (guitar), and latest member since 2012, Myles Deck (drums). After touring with acts such as Municipal Waste, Nevermore, along with receiving a special invitation in 2013 to play for Metallica’s Orion Festival in Detroit Michigan, a dedicated fanbase was on hand for this New York City performance.
Opening with fresh tunes from In Ruin such as “Both Ends,” followed by “Empress,” left a hint of a ’70s Black Sabbath vibe in the air. Showcasing a heavy instrumental medley, the set continued with “End of Time” and “Nitebreaker,” from their 2012 album, Tomorrow’s Lost. Taking a moment to thank the crowd, Decay appreciated their energy, especially those who were in the back of the venue as he asked if it felt good to be ignited, seguing into the slower tempo of “Queen of Fire.” Progressing along, “No Return/In Ruin” picked up the pace right before “Burning at Both Ends” chimed in, and fans chanted out “Cauldron!” Decay, receptive to the positive feedback, smiled and kindly said, “Why thank you.” They closed their throwback styled set with “All or Nothing,” from 2011’s Burning Fortune. Those who missed Cauldron, not to worry, shortly after the tour they will return to New York on February 22nd to play at St. Vitus down in Brooklyn.
After the stage had heated with Cauldron and Exmortus, it was time for Warbringer to take the torch. Hailing from California, Warbringer have been spreading their music around the globe, seeming as if they tour for almost every day of the year. Making their return to American soil for the first time since the Fall of 2013 opening for Overkill and Kreator, their followers here could not be more happy. Sustaining ongoing lineup changes since their beginnings in 2004, they currently include veterans Vocalist John Kevill, Guitarist Adam Carroll, and a returning of Drummer Carlos Cruz after a brief exit. Rounding out the touring lineup for this run are Bassist Jessie Sanchez and Exmortus guitarist Gonzalez. Ready for their grand return, eager fans were revved up and ready to go in the moments prior to the set’s start.
Energetic from the first note, prior to a long-anticipated introduction, they crushed in with cuts such as “Total War” and “Severed Reality.” Headbanging in unison, Kevill circled the stage with furiosity. Haunting the room with his piercing screams, the heavy instrumentation of the rest of the band engulfed the crowd. People forgot how many songs went by, or what time it was; it was all about the music and Warbringer’s mesmerizing stage presence. Thereafter, a unique circle pit formed which was brutal and barricades tumbled down during tracks such as “Future Ages Gone.”
Kevill later conversed with the crowd, stating how Heavy Metal is still alive and that, “It’s not fucking Rock,” as they moved into “The Turning of the Gears,” from 2013’s IV: Empires Collapse. Firing in with tracks such as “Jackal” and “Living Weapon” kept many bodies moving along where some would even dare say the pit was merciless. Kevill enjoyed every moment of it all, sparking the energy as they continued with “Shoot to Kill,” from War Without End, and the instrumental jam of “Nightmare Anatomy,” from 2009’s Waking into Nightmares.
Kevill’s sinister facial expressions hooked the crowd in even further as many were howling for “more!” Giving the audience just what they asked for, they bolted into “The Towers of the Serpent,” and it was at this point when Warbringer appeared to be done with their set. Momentarily departing, they returned for a ruthless encore where Kevill had everyone raise their fists in the air for “Living in a Whirlwind.” The circle pit spiraled out of bounds, the barricade knocked over once again, but this crowd was battle tested. Shortly after, they lifted themselves back up, raised their fists, and yelled for more as Kevill told everyone to prepare for combat as they closed with “Combat Shock.” Maintaining a mighty set, this was an epic return by Warbringer. Thus far, this tour is the only one announced for 2016 as the band has plans to head back into the studio to record a new album, so be prepared.
Many had just enough time to catch their breath and grab a quick drink at the bar before it became time for Enforcer to close out the night. Having first North America back in 2009, at that time they were performing at small pubs such as the Traxx bar in Ronkonkoma, New York to the Dive Bar out in Raleigh, North Carolina. Seven years later, they have returned, and this time were ready to take reign of New York City to support 2015’s release of From Beyond. Known for their no nonsense approach, Enforcer produced pure Heavy Metal albums in a traditional style such as pioneers before them like Exciter and Anvil. Similar to their recording attitude, that is also how they controlled the stage. Leading a new generation of Heavy Metal with a modern twist since 2004, Olof Wikstrand (vocals/guitar), Jonas Wikstrand (drums), Joseph Tholl (guitar), and Tobias Lindkvist (bass) were ready to thrill fans who would unanimously agree the appearance was long overdue.
With a display of From Beyond in the backdrop, they cut directly to the new tracks “Destroyer” and “Undying Evil.” The adrenaline sparked in from the first note, as many fans raised their fists in Heavy Metal glory. Stampeding along and maintaining their speed, they crushed in with “Mesmerized by Fire,” from 2013’s Death by Fire, followed by “Live for the Night,” from 2010’s Diamonds. Momentarily, Olof caught his breath to speak to the fans as he mentioned the new album and went on to the title track, “From Beyond,” which gave a glimpse of Thrash mixed with Hair Metal; think Metallica meets Mötley Crüe.
Moving forward, the crowd response intensified during “Death Rides This Night,” and many even sang along. It was here the circle pit took a different turn as some appeared to be swinging and dancing around. Olof had everyone raise their fists in the air once again until many screamed out “hey” as the tempo slowly progressed into “Below the Slumber,” which showcased sweet squealing vocals. Fans continued to devour the music as the band went into “Scream of the Savage,” from Into the Night, and “Run for Your Life,” from Death by Fire.
Still not satisfied with the audience’s reaction, Olof yearned for more brutality in the pit as as he demanded everyone to, “Bang their fucking heads” as they rattled the room with “Mask of Red Death.” Continuing to speak with everyone, Olof introduced the next track by expressing, “We are going to sing about Japanese warriors and stuff. All right, you got this, it’s called Katana.” With that, they went into the song to a grand reaction. As the set wound down, the crowd’s distinctive circle pit came back to life, and this time it was heavier than ever. During “Take Me Out of This Nightmare,” the excitement was in the red. It brought back the riveting circle pits and Enforcer could not have be happier. Then “Midnight Vice” was the ultimate finale as everyone let it all hang out with no regard for self-injury, one last time.
In enough words, the lineup of Enforcer, Warbringer, Cauldron, and Exmortus was a close to perfect recipe of Metal acts. Each band brought their A-game for the opening night, and chances are they are continuing to do so each night thereafter. Fans were able to experience Thrash Metal at its finest and it shows that the spirit of the genre is still alive and well all these years later.