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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.