Review by Paul Castles, photos by Rich Thompson
When, in the early 80s, would be thrash legends such as Metallica, Slayer, Testament and Exodus were gradually carving their name into the very fabric of metal, Hirax were right there in the midst of the burgeoning Bay Area scene. Not everyone can go on to conquer the musical planet like Slayer – let alone Metallica – and it’s fair to say that if such a thing as the thrash radar exists then Hirax, fronted by the indomitable Katon W DE Pena, sadly slipped under it.
Not everyone’s prepared to throw in the towel though and so 30 years on from their tempestuous debut release Raging Violence, Hirax finally journeyed to the UK for the very first time. Having hit the ground with both barrels blazing at Hammerfest, the Hirax headbanging hit-squad rolled into Birmingham to be greeted by an Asylum crowd that was pure old school. As if going back a generation, they were welcomed on to the stage by a sea of hair, denim, patches and skin tight strides, the majority of which were sported by fans who probably weren’t even around in the early 80s.
First up though, were the former Metal to the Masses winners Incinery who laid down some rasping thrash rhythms of their own. The Nottingham crew also performed at Hammerfest and were clearly still fueled by that high as they careered through a selection of tumultuous thrash tracks from their just released debut album Dead Bound & Buried.
Greeted like warriors returning from victorious battles, Hirax repaid the faithful by launching into ‘Hellion Raising’. With neck muscles immediately creaking from a devastating opening volley, Katon placed his fingers behind his head, like devil’s horns, hollered ‘Welcome to Thrash Metal Hell’ and then cracked straight into ‘Lucifer’s Rising’.
Katon is an enigmatic livewire of a performer, endless fistbumps with the pit, manic eyes staring into some distant land where thrash is king. In fact if you split this fella down the middle ‘thrash’ would be chiseled into his DNA. With the leather, studs, chains and even a pair of cuffs dangling from his belt Katon looked the archetypal thrash titan, either that or a fan on his way to a 50 Shades convention.
The first few numbers blitzed by with tyres burning like a getaway driver after a bank heist as the Asylum was transformed into a worshipping temple of thrash metal. There was a poignant pause for breath when Katon proceeded to tell us the story of a young fan from the old days who sadly is no longer around. That kid grew into Napalm Death guitarist Jesse Nintado and Hirax then dedicated ‘Hate, Fear, Power’ – to the much-missed Mexican.
Hirax have always operated in the subterranean metal world away from the glitz of the big arenas and all the trimmings associated with that. Their sustainability, even during the darkest hours, was helped and encouraged by the underground scene made up of fanzines, websites, tour promoters and radio stations who continued to hold a candle for Hirax. The rampaging ‘Hostile Territory’ was dedicated to those who keep the faith. With the Asylum faithful savouring every scorching guitar solo, Hirax served up old favourites as ‘La Bocca De La Bestia’ and ‘Destroy’ from their debut album Raging Violence, the significance of which was not lost on Katon who declared that the UK was really the first metal audience to fully embrace that release, back in 1984.
Determined to savour every second of his first trip to the UK, Katon waved a Union Jack aloft before inducing some fist pumping mayhem in the pit as he launched into ‘El Diablo Negro’. This song even saw gig promoter Chris Fear engage in a one man crowd surf with the delighted punters keeping him afloat. Another number from Raging Violence, the explosive ‘Bombs Of Death’ ended the set. Katon made his way through the crowd back to the dressing room but as every other member of the band remained stock still on stage, you kinda knew they weren’t done with yet. True enough, the singer re-emerged a minute later, pats on the back as he weaved through the pit, hopped back onto the stage and then threw another stick of dynamite into the mix with ‘Assassins of War’. It may have been a 30-year wait for UK thrash fans to get a taste of Hirax but hopefully it won’t be another 30 years before they return!