Kings of Thrash 2023 – Metal Masters and Upstart Talent – So Far, So Good…So Epic

A freshman in college in 1990, I came up through what some might call the golden era of thrash metal. The ’80s saw iconic albums from Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax, and so many more – all coming to prominence with big arena shows right around the time I graduated high school in 1990.  I mean – I had posters of these dudes, variously bought at Kensington Market in London, UK, or plucked from the center of Metal Hammer, Kerrang, or Guitar World – walls and ceiling. My musical heroes, I still have my fire-engine red B.C. Rich Ironbird from that era, bought for their pre-Jackson years. We all had our favorites, but Megadeth were head and shoulders above it all for me.

Ellefson is at his level best in 2023

So when I hear Ellefson and Young are putting the band back together – hitting the road again as “Kings of Thrash” – and coming to my home state on the east coast of the USA – it was an opportunity not to be missed. Roll on 10th March, 2023, the Jefferson Theater Charlottesville, Virginia, and a VIP ticket – and I’m all set to relive the last times I saw them – 1990, variously at Poole Harbour, Hammersmith Apollo, and Wembley Arena, all in the UK – at the height of the “Holy Wars…” tour.

Commercially these fellas have it dead right – just about everything a super-fan would love to acquire, from used guitar picks, to used stage basses, to signed pictures, are all available to buy, and who wouldn’t at this point?  Top that with my literal musical heroes being genuine, vulnerable, just…really nice guys, who spent 30 minutes pre-show chatting with the 15 of us that snapped up the VIPs – on top of a grueling multi-day bus schedule and highly technical set.  It’s quite something that musicians of that stature are leaving a virtuous footprint, to be engaged with people that love their music, and them, alike.  Karma will tell, mark my words.

Hatriot; a furious and worthy opener

The show kicks off with Hatriot, out of Oakland California – a furious onslaught of a set, a lovely opener for a newer metal sound to contrast with the playthrough of Megadeth’s first two albums we’re all hanging on.  They are metal family and have a distinguished lineage, with Kosta Varvatakis and Miguel Esparza on guitars, Cody Souza screaming the living bloody hell out of the vocals and shredding the bass, Nick Souza on drums, they make a formidable entrance.  Judging by their press and footage, they’ve been having a load of fun, and well-deserved air play to a seasoned metal audience on this tour.  Full marks for holding the crowd’s attention throughout.

Chaz Leon giving it some

On to the main act for the night – an intimate but rowdy venue, all high ceilings, no crush barrier, and what felt like open access to the band throughout.  Combining two metal masters, veterans if you will – proud of playing “clean”, and clearly still at the top of their game – with two incredible talents in vocalist and incomparable ax man Chaz Leon, and the lofty Lombardo or Menza-like strains of Fred Aching – they’re clearly here to give it their all, and not give anyone an excuse for ripping “Kings of Thrash” as second best – it’s a profound, unique, and modern take on the Megadeth classic lineup – and I’d say frankly, better.  The talk of the evening was playthrough of the foundational albums, “Killing is my Business…” and “So Far, So Good…So What” and they hit it with a well-thought through set list that delivered the lot.

Chaz and Jeff killing it…it’s their business

Setlist (as written)

Orange Light (Intro)
Lungs of Hell/ World Afire
Anarchy in the UK
Mary Jane
502/ In My Darkest Hour
Hook in Mouth

Bridges Burn (Kings of Thrash original)

Last Rights (Intro) + JY
Loved to Deth
Skull Beneath Skin
Killing is my Business
Looking Down the Cross
Chosen Ones
These Boots

Dawn Patrol
Polaris/ Holy Wars
Wake Up Dead
Peace Sells

Jeff shredding it up big-style

As you can tell by now, it was a monster of an evening, classics that I didn’t even hear live in 1990/1991.  To be honest I was so full of wonder for seeing this material being played, I can’t say there was any “downtime” – maybe highlights of a snarling “Anarchy in the UK”, my personal favorite “In My Darkest Hour” played immaculately by Jeff, Ellefson shouting “it’s time to rattle your goddamn head” preceding a super-fast version of “Rattlehead” – Vic would be proud.  A unique event, punctuated between albums with their first original (they’ve been writing on the road, building on material that was first conceived 30 years back between Jeff and Ellefson), may there be much more to come.

Undeniably, hearing them ripping out an encore of  “Holy Wars…” material was a genius move, partial songs, vicious-fast, but playing to my era at exactly the right time, before rounding it out with the iconic Ellefson bassline of “Peace Sells” – it was an unselfish set that gave Jeff his heyday material, but gave us enough of the back catalog to satisfy everyone.  Complimented by two fabulous newer musicians in the genre in Chaz and Fred, Jeff and Ellefson are in top form, and show no sign of backing down or calling it quits.

This thing could have been a showcase to 40-year old material as a glorious archive moment.  But it isn’t.  It was unexpected to feel like I’m here at the start of something, that Kings of Thrash have this commercial and human element so well thought out and executed, as well as focusing on delivery of a fabulous product, that they will be keeping it coming for years to come.  Bring it on fellas, you’ve got your early fans and the new folks dying to hear more, and we’re with you all the way.

Pre-order the new album here.

Chaz says “time to rattle your goddamn head”