This past Friday Anthrax and Testament took some time off from supporting Slayer on the thrash legend’s final world tour to deliver a night of sweat, speed and metal their stable of Knoxville, Tennessee area devotees will likely remember for decades to come. Although the night ultimately provided a platform to celebrate all things metal, the evening’s festivities also served as the International’s swan song as a venue.
Following over thirty years of being one of eastern Tennessee’s premier live venues, the 1,500-person capacity music barn, situated mere feet from the University of Tennessee’s doorsteps, will be closing its doors permanently come the end of the month.
The owners couldn’t have chosen a better send off for the venue than to have the likes of metal royalty in the form of both Anthrax and Testament, perform on the International’s stage one last time.
San Francisco Bay area thrashers Testament, much like their metal brothers in Anthrax, have been carrying the proverbial metal torch for close to four decades now. Frontman Chuck Billy has always possessed an innate ability to form instantaneous and unique bonds with any crowd Testament plays to and the band’s performance in Knoxville did little to dispel that long-standing notion.
Billy, founding guitarists Eric Peterson and Alex Skolnick as well as 90’s era additions to the band bassist Steve DiGiogio and metal drumming demigod Gene Hoglan, all played with the type of enthusiasm and sheer force you’d expect from Testament had they been performing at Wacken Open Air.
The band’s passion and energy carried into the International’s crowd throughout the evening as Testament would go on to tear through a twelve-song setlist largely comprised of their early career hits such as “Disciples of the Watch,” “Into the Pit,” “Practice What You Preach” and “The New Order.”
Whether it was Billy launching into countless epic air guitar solos, Skolnick performing gold medal deserving rhythmic gymnastic moves with one of his signature ESP axes or Hoglan simply engaging with audience members in a series of evil stares and gestures, Testament more than proved that smiles and fun can be a part of any sublime metal performances too.
Still touring on what many consider a return to form, 2016’s For All Kings, the evening’s performance in Knoxville turned out to be primarily a metal time machine journey through Anthrax’s early catalog.
Nothing could possibly hammer that sentiment home more so than the fact that Anthrax closed their performance at the International out with the all old school run of “Medusa,” I Am the Law, Be All, End All, “Antisocial,” and “Indians.”
At 56 years of age, Joey Belladona’s voice has not only not degraded, his level of energy and overall performance appears to actually be getting stronger.
This same sentiment holds true for the entirety of the band, especially in terms of Frank Bello and Scott Ian’s frantic antics while up on the lighted stage. Ian, Bello, and Belladona were whirling dervishes of energy, with all three constantly darting from stage end to stage end and up, then back down, the elevated stage platforms, while also regularly interacting with another and the crowd.
When not crashing and banging into one other the band members regularly created connections with individual audience members via more than a handful of directed nods, finger points, and or the flashing of the metal horns.
Belladona personally interacted with a few of the photographers, even grabbing one of the photographer’s cameras to take a few choice images of the Knoxville crowd himself.
It’s these connections and the genuine heartfelt interactions Anthrax makes with the audience that ensures their performances end up being unique experiences their fans will remember for the rest of the days above ground.
It’s difficult to know for sure how much longer Anthrax will continue the glorious metal journey they began in Queens, New York back in 1981.
What’s not up for debate, however, is that Anthrax has more than earned their place in the “Big Four,” they continue to put out metal records that are more than relevant and their live shows always end up making you feel as though you’re still a teenager.
What else could really ask for? Well, besides Slayer not retiring of course.
All Writing and Photography: Robert Forte