Rich Howells

REVIEW/PHOTOS: Killswitch Engage and Anthrax sell-out Stroudsburg with ‘Holy’ metal alliance

REVIEW/PHOTOS: Killswitch Engage and Anthrax sell-out Stroudsburg with ‘Holy’ metal alliance
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This is one of those co-headlining shows where either band could headline, so you come in expecting that both acts will bring it as hard as they can to try and top the other, driving each other to be better or at least keeping the other on their toes for the entire run of the tour. Those expectations were certainly met at the Sherman Theater on Saturday, Jan. 27.

The Stroudsburg stop of the Killthrax Tour was sold out, with around 1,800 metalheads of all ages packing the place for Killswitch Engage and Anthrax, two bands representing different eras in metal and attracting different generations of headbangers who, at the end of the day, speak the same heavy language.

The lone opener was Havok, who proved to be more than enough to warm up the crowd. With a simple, “Are you ready?” the thrash metal quartet from Denver, Colorado began with “Masterplan” from their latest album, “Conformicide,” and quickly won everyone over. As part of the New Wave of Thrash Metal, their classic thrash sound with harsher vocals, machine gun drumming, and punk rock ferocity was a perfect mix for this bill. Songs like “Out of My Way” had people chanting the chorus, and “F.P.C.” with its funky bass grooves on a light-up bass guitar kept the set interesting.

“We’re aware that you could have spent your money anywhere in the universe today – you decided to come here and see a rock ‘n’ roll show, so thank you very, very much!” singer and guitarist David Sanchez said.

“A fuckin’ metal show!” one fan loudly clarified.

And that’s what Havok delivered, ending their half-hour set with “Intention to Deceive,” another track from “Conformicide” that rails against big corporate media, with Sanchez advising everyone to think for themselves as they exited the stage.

The legendary Anthrax was next, the most underrated of the Big Four thrash metal bands and possibly the most entertaining to watch. Bursting onto the stage with a colorful Alex Ross painting on the backdrop behind them, their pentagram logo shining in an illustrated stained glass window and adorned across the risers they climbed throughout the set, the New Yorkers opened with “Among the Living,” the title track from their third album that is now 30 years old but still sounds fresh when played with so much enthusiasm. And, despite being the oldest guys on this tour, they are absolutely full of it, with vocalist Joey Belladonna leading the way.

Singing into his mic attached to half of a broken mic stand so he could hold it out to the crowd for sing-alongs, Belladonna knows these songs inside out, and his confidence comes through in his soaring vocals as he never misses a beat, despite running all over the stage for classics like “Caught in a Mosh” (which started a massive wave of pushing and shoving), “Got the Time,” “Madhouse,” “Medusa,” “Belly of the Beast,” and “Be All, End All” while throwing dozens of guitar picks into the audience. Whether it’s decades of experience, passion, or both, Anthrax has mastered engaging crowds and never let anyone watching catch their breath, except during the instrumental “Intro to Reality,” continuing to lean heavily into their ‘80s and early ‘90s work in this set with the exception of “Fight ‘Em ‘Til You Can’t,” a song about fighting zombies that mirrored the pits opening up all over.

“I knew it was going to be a good night tonight. I knew everybody was going to be on fire, man!” Belladonna shouted. “Tonight is a good night for fucking metal! We’ve got some metal freaks in the crowd tonight!”

Some of those people included friends and family, guitarist Scott Ian pointed out, joking that they were heading over the long-defunct vacation spot Mount Airy Lodge for a few cocktails afterwards and singing a few bars of the old commercial that’s still stuck in locals’ heads. After plugging their latest album, 2016’s “For All Kings,” and dedicating the song to Joey Z from Life of Agony (who played at the Sherman last year), Ian and the band went into “Breathing Lightning,” the newest song they played that night. They later closed with “Antisocial” and “Indians,” promising to be back in just a few months on what is slated to be Slayer’s farewell tour.

“Until then my friends, for all kings, every single one of you! We love you!” Ian said.

“What a cool night! Thank you very, very, very much!” Belladonna added. “Long live rock ‘n’ roll!”

It’s worth noting that, as Anthrax and Havok showed that gratitude to fans in the front as well as the balconies, both bands went out of their way to acknowledge the handicapped fans in the wheelchairs on the right side of the stage, reaching down to shake hands, bump fists, and toss them guitar picks, which clearly made their nights complete.

It wasn’t over yet, though, as Killswitch Engage came out to AC/DC’s “For Those About to Rock” and kicked off their set with “Rose of Sharyn,” unleashing fan-favorites like “Strength of the Mind,” “Life to Lifeless,” “My Last Serenade,” “A Bid Farewell,” “Daylight Dies,” and “Fixation on the Darkness” one right after the other at a breakneck pace. At this rate, what could the encore be?

“I think it’s official – our favorite band to tour with on the entire fucking planet are the kings of thrash – I don’t five a fuck what anyone says, the kings of thrash – Anthrax!” singer Jesse Leach, wearing a bright red vest covered in patches, said. “Nicest fuckin’ guys, killer fuckin’ band.”

Guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz, wearing shorts and a sweatband with “TRASH” written across it, was his usual goofy self, saying he knew that the crowd was here to party because an “inflatable tit” floating around was popped and crushed by the second song.

“Where do we go from here? How can we make it better from here?” Dutkiewicz asked.

“It’s all downhill from here,” Leach replied. “We peaked.”

“Speaking of inflatable tits, this is called ‘Hate by Design,’” Dutkiewicz cracked as they jumped into the song from their latest album, “Incarnate.”

Playing an even mix of songs from every album except 2009’s self-titled record, hits like “My Curse” and “The End of Heartache” were among them, making a few fans wonder if the Massachusetts metalcore band had actually peaked for the night. They neared the end with “In Due Time” as Dutkiewicz ran into the crowd and played near the soundboard as someone poured a beer down his throat – what could they close with that could top these songs?

“Thank you all from the bottom of our hearts. We could not do this shit without all of your support. Thank you … for supporting live music, for supporting metal – it’s a fucking pleasure to be here,” Leach said, promising to make everyone smile with one last song as he asked them to put Ronnie James Dio’s signature horns in the air.

It was time for Killswitch’s great cover of “Holy Diver,” which would have been a fine ending, but it was made so much better by the surprise inclusion of Belladonna, who joined the band on stage to add his tenor vocals to this epic cover.

As every band mentioned, it was a great night for metal that proved that, even as rock music struggles to chart and sell as well as rap and hip-hop in 2018, there will always be diehard fans who will show up and support heavy concerts all over the world, especially in Pennsylvania.

See NEPA Scene’s photos of Anthrax performing at the Rock’N Derby festival in New York in 2016 here.

Photos by Alex Seeley Photography