Here’s how I knew Thursday was going to be a great night: First, it was 72 degrees in December for an outdoor gig. Secondly, I hit zero traffic on 635 as I was heading over to Gas Monkey Bar N’Grill to finally, FINALLY see BATTLECROSS live. It was as if the stars were perfectly aligned and The Metal Gods had seen fit to allow me this one thing that had eluded me not once, but twice…seeing BATTLECROSS tear shit up and bring the heavy for the Winter Warriors Tour! Then you factor in that WRETCHED and WAR OF AGES were also on the bill and I could hardly contain myself. All day long I was bouncing off the walls. I created a list of errands, then added more errands just to make the day go by faster. I was insane and couldn’t believe the day had arrived.
As soon as I got to the venue I had a brief conversation with a gentleman in a golf cart who very nicely decided to give me a lift right to the front door. Turns out his name is Chase, and he’s the head of security there. He didn’t have to do that, he was just being a nice guy; something I find happens at Gas Monkey a lot, which is why it has been one of my favorite places to see a show since it opened. Armed with Ronnie Jackson Photography at my side we waited for the show to begin.
WAR OF AGES was up first. When I tell you people I am a new fan of the band I mean that in the truest sense of the word. I just bought their latest album Supreme Chaos on Thanksgiving after hearing one song. How these guys managed to escape my ears for a decade is beyond me but let me tell you something. They’ll never get away now. With a one-two punch off the record they tore into “Renegade” followed by “Chaos Theory”, singer Leroy Hamp unleashing fury with every word, while drummer Alex Hamp pounded out serious beats and made it look easy, which it sure isn’t! Guitarists Steve Brown and Jack Daniels play off of each other with such fluidity there’s no way not to be impressed. One of my favorites in “Lost in Apathy” was next, and the harmonies were good and tight.
The band went back a bit for “Immortal” from 2012’s Return to Life album before another pair of new ones “From Ashes” and “Lionheart” made their presence felt. Their set closer was “All Consuming Fire” from 2008’s Arise & Conquer and I have to say, there were a lot of WAR OF AGES longtime fans in the crowd. This one guy to the left of me was singing every word to every single song with fire and enthusiasm. This brought a smile to my face, and as a brand-new fan it was clear to me why he loves this band so much. They are amazing and now have a fan for life in me.
WRETCHED was up next. This is another one of those “I interviewed at Mayhem but missed their set” bands, much like BATTLECROSS, so I was really looking forward to seeing what they could do. Earlier reports had me pretty pumped up for this one.
Touring in support of latest release Cannibal, they too opened with two from the album, “Gold Above Me” into “Morsel”. Singer/growler Adam Cody is an absolute madman when he gets up there and it’s impossible not to get sucked in. The thrash attack of the guitars on “Morsel” is fast and furious courtesy of Joel Moore and Steven Funderburk, while bassist Andrew Grevey and powerhouse drummer Marshall Wieczorek are dominant. Wieczorek actually filled in for HAVOK earlier on their tour and it was easy to see why they asked him to. Speaking of, he and Cody both wore HAVOK shirts, which was a touch of class. Great to see the bands supporting each other like that. 2012’s Son of Perdition record yielded “Karma Accomplished” which is one of their best tunes, especially live.
“Cimmerian Shamballa” was next, another bruiser of a song designed to provide neck injuries worldwide before new one “Wetiko” provided a temporary reprieve from the sheer insanity onstage, however short-lived it was, because after about 30 seconds the face-punching begins! “Part I: Aberration” from Beyond the Gate was a nice way to show off the technical prowess this band has. As musicians they are first-rate, make no mistake about it. This bled right into “My Carrion” followed by another crushing new song “Cranial Infestation” which is also a personal favorite. By now the crowd had increased in size, so when Cody began the first line of “A Preservation of Immortality” from debut album The Exodus of Autonomy there was a loud chorus shouting it back at him. And with that, the WRETCHED portion of the evening was over.
And now, after a year and a half of waiting and missed opportunities it was BATTLECROSS time. The beauty of seeing them as a headliner is that it wasn’t some 20-minute in and out before you or they even have a chance to warm up. We were treated to songs from both albums starting with a pair from the debut Pursuit of Honor. As the band cranked “Breaking You” and “Man of Stone” I could barely contain my excitement. Guitarists Hiran Deraniyagala and Tony Asta sliced through their riffs like a butcher cutting strip steaks, bassist Don Slater’s fingers moved so fast I damn near got dizzy, and drummer Alex Bent has to be seen to be believed. Add in the ripping vocals of Kyle Gunther aka Gumby and this band is like a Molotov cocktail from minute one. The pits were pretty much non-stop, too.
We were then treated to a heaping smorgasbord of cuts from 2013’s War of Will, starting with “Never Coming Back” a song which Bent truly shines on. Man, this kid is ridiculous! “Ghost Alive” was next followed by one of the best tunes in the BATTLECROSS universe “Force Fed Lies” and then “My Vaccine”. It’s like these guys knew exactly what order I wanted to hear these in, it’s frightening. The menacing tones of “Beast” echoed throughout Gas Monkey followed by MY absolute favorite “Flesh & Bone”. The guitar break at 1:53 has continually floored me since I bought the album and live it was completely and totally jaw-dropping. How on earth Tony, Hiran, and then Don and Alex manage to be in total synch and execute with such precision is totally beyond me. THIS was the SportsCenter highlight for me!
Gumby introduced “Kaleb” as the song he wrote for his son and it’s a great one. One more from the debut in “Misery” and then there was a surprise. The band opted for a cover of SLAYER’S “War Ensemble”!! And guess what? They nailed it. Every single nuance. At this point I started referring to Alex as Lombardo, Jr. because he friggin’ crushed it. They all did. Overall this was one of THE best shows of 2014 for me. The Winter Warriors Tour is running till 12/30 and you can bet your ass I’ll be there for the Philly date on 12/28!! Do NOT miss this one, people!!
LIVE PHOTOS: RONNIE JACKSON PHOTOGRAPHY