Metal is forever: A night with the Gods of Metal

Metal is forever: A night with the Gods of Metal

Photo credit and copyrights to Shane Collins & Gonzo Okanagan

The night had turned black and the snow wouldn’t stop falling. I was clocking 65 behind a long line of cars heading South along Highway 97.

I’m glad I left early. I had to be at the gate for 6:15 p.m. A van up ahead, coming in the other direction, it started sliding towards me and I veered out of the way. I wanted to turn around and help the commuter that was no doubt careening for disaster behind me, but the steep incline of the sloping turn in the icy asphalt ahead persuaded me to continue on and wish the best for whoever slid off the road. 

When I arrived at S.O.E.C, the ground coated in a slick, heavy, slippery kind of snow. That, snotty snow. Slick, accident enticing snow. Snow to throw snowballs. Snow to build snowmen. Snow to slide upon. Jesus. I hope that poor bastard in that van is alright. 

I snap out of it as a young man named REECE welcomes me. I’ve been allowed access to the MEDIA PIT to take photos for GONZO OKANAGAN. Soon as I walk into the main area, I fumble with my new, EXODUS, BLACK LABEL SOCIETY and ANTHRAX media pass. I attach it to my GONZO laminate, hoping it’d stay put for the show and I could flash the thing like a cop flashes a badge when crossing lines of security.

I’m escorted to the area where I’m to take photos. REECE kindly explained the rules. I’m only allowed to photograph the first 3 songs and I’m not allowed to use a flash. I feel my confidence plummet and my anxiety increase. If it’s a dark and brooding show and I’ve no flash… Well, disaster was in the air. I could smell it. REECE was suddenly called away and I was left to assuring him that I’d be fine. Drenched in sweat, I prepared myself for battle. 

Behind the head, dual guitar solo

EXODUS, one of metal’s pioneers, took to the stage, ripping into the beginning of an onslaught of biblical proportions. That piercing, glass breaking, decibel breaching screech shot out over the darkness of the arena. Like thunder erupting after the strike of lightning, the pure prowess of such a band hugged the audience like a fathers embrace. And the ground shook. The rafters quivered. It was a hurricane that found itself upon the stage. For over an hour, metal was served upon the shoulders of legend. Given like gifts from the Gods, the night began in a gluteny one only dreams of holding. The noise spilled like a great wave and it washed over the audience. It hit me first. I was beneath the band, sandwiched between the stage and the crowd behind me. For a 6:30pm start, the audience was already hungry; frenzied like feeding sharks. I watched their faces as the stage lights danced in whites and reds. I took their photos. The crowd was exceptional. Songs were sung back from the audience and as the set came close to the end of its voyage, the crowd was split by lead vocalist, Steve “Zetro” Souza. He literally instructed the patrons to divide and he screamed, “wall of death!” I ran towards it. Sometimes, I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I hear the call to a wall of death and I just gotta check it out. 

The crowd going wild.

The song was built and elevated and then it crashed down upon the crowd and the two sides came together in an epic collison. The mosh pit became an entity all its own. Thank you, EXODUS, there is no better example of how to get an epic show underway. 

I broke away from the stage after only 3 songs and I loitered around, watching the show with the camera now neatly stowed away in my camera bag. Once Exodus had finished their set, I grabbed a beer, saw multiple friends taking in the concert  and I was able to pass time, catching up with everyone. That’s one of my favorite parts of going to a live show. Reuniting with old friends. It’s a random reunion and I find those kinds of reunions the best kind. 

BLACK LABEL SOCIETY was next and as I was escorted back to the stage, I was alerted that the large banner that was hoisted up during the intermission would be pulled down and cleared. I had to stay clear of that curtain. Safety first. I watched Zakk Wylde appear briefly then disappear behind their massive banner. The lights dimmed. My heart was a jack hammer. The crowd went crazy. Then, the banner dropped to the floor where the crew quickly scooped it up and ran past me. I scampered to the front of the stage and started shooting. 

ZAKK WYLDE had recently filled in for DIME BAG DARYLL of PANTERA. That band had seen a tribute resurrection arise last year and who better than to fill such monstrous shoes that ZAKK WYLDE?  Back on the road with BLACK LABEL SOCIETY (BLS) he stood behind a microphone designed in heavy chain, a crucifix and a mound of skulls. Not only does he shred, but he wails as well.

Pantera tribute

He adorned black boots, a yellow, plaid kilt and I couldn’t tell where his beard began and his long head of hair ended. Song after song, he broke out guitar after guitar. I knew some of my metal head, guitar playing friends in the crowd were drooling at the mouth over the guitars that shredded the metal right in front of them. Seriously. ZAKK WYLDE is hands down one of the most talented axemen on the planet. They covered an array of hits. Face melting solos attacked the senses all night. I did my best to photograph those fingers on those frets. It was like photographing Jesus while he pulverized power cords.  It’s a wonder anyone could see straight when being bombarded like that. There were piano ballads, dual guitar solos played behind the head and even a tribute to the fallen brothers of PANTERA. What an incredible kick off to 2023. 

Slaying that guitar

After another break I took a walk around the arena. Merch lines stretched out long and far. Beer lines were zig-zagging across the platforms. It felt like old times and I reveled in that feeling, casually walking about. 

When I returned to the floor, I was ushered up front to the stage again for the last time of the evening. I watched ANTHRAX take the stage. I’ve been following them since the 80’s. I couldn’t believe I was about to photograph them. This was their 40 year anniversary tour. What an accomplishment. What a moment. 

Their banner, just like BLS, dropped to the floor and the metal shot outwards. Like a nuclear explosion, the music obliterated everyone in front of it. I ran to the center of the stage with my camera in hand and started firing. The lights were a blood red. In my mind I knew they’d make excellent black and white images. 

Lead guitarist, SCOTT IAN walked right up to me, bent into position and started slaying. It was like watching GODS appearing in front of me all night long. The absolute pinnacle of the profession’s prowess was on full display and the audience ate it up. Word for word, the songs were sung back with bravado. It’s impossible for me to articulate how amazing the chops of this band are. It’s something you truly have to experience to understand. ANTHRAX ripped through their hits and displayed a level of musicianship worthy of their legendary status. 

Metal at its finest

Live music is truly back and in the wee month of January, the year is off to a fantastic start. 

I’ll leave it with the words of EXODUS’S lead vocalist. At one point during their set, he yelled out, “METAL IS FOREVER.” I couldn’t agree more. 

The crowd loving it
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The Okanagan’s been my home since I was born. Life has taken me across the planet several times and through that transient lifestyle I developed a journalistic style to my photography and to my writing. My influences would be that of James Nachtwey, Annie Lebovitz, Ashley Maile, Hunter S Thompson, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Tom Robbins, Wes Anderson and Charles Bukowski. The world outside this incredible valley, its cultures and its mystery is what’s kept me working and trying to save my money, so I can keep getting back into the world. That’s the way it used to be. Covid has opened my eyes to the land I call my home and there are so many tales to tell right here in BC. From tales of the impoverished to the neglected to those who overcome adversity, to the spirit to overcome fear, the power of storytelling has never been more relevant. I’ve always been a storyteller. There’s a tale worth telling in every neighborhood. I just happen to write about what happens to me along the way and I’ve kept them close to my heart, hoping one day I’ll have an outlet so I can tell those stories the best way I know how; by writing them down. From adventures of long ago, both here or maybe far away, future interviews with musicians, artists of all kinds, the coverage of events, the people I meet along the way, whatever I get up to I intend to have you as my guest as I go back in time and dig up the bones of those old adventures or chase down new ones. Through the alchemy of storytelling, you can come along with me if you like. Before Covid-19 I was really coming into my own photographing live shows; punk rock bands, hip hop showcases, tattoo portraits, rock climbing adventures, Femme Fatale burlesque performances you name it, the phone was finally beginning to ring. Then Covid showed up like a hurricane and I guess it wiped us all out in one way or another. I have a real bone to pick with Covid-19 and if I can share some stories for our readers to enjoy, I’ll do that and when we can return to live music and to foreign travel and we can safely get to working on mending what’s been damaged I tell you I want to be ringside like Joe Rogan commentating on Covid getting its ass whooped. I want to see it tap out and watch us overcome this hardship, raise our collective hands triumphantly and move on into whatever new normal is waiting for us. I’ll be there and through my eyes, just like the boss man, Hunter himself, I’ll do it in Gonzo fashion and bring you kicking and screaming along with me. So hold on tight and dig in. It might not always be pretty but I won’t call it all ugly, neither. That’s for you to decide. My name is Shane Collins and I hope you’ll read along with me and our team here at


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