10 years ago last weekend, the Bay Area lost it’s most beloved metal ambassador, the immortal Paul Baloff. Paul lived, breathed and bled metal. He was the godfather of the Bay Area thrash scene and he truly represented heavy metal and all it stood for. For me, legendary album Bonded By Blood is one of my top 5 all-time albums and his prescence on that record is a big factor. Exodus were already a legendary live band in the Bay Area before Metallica came to rule it, and even though Bonded wasn’t released until ’85, Exodus were considered by the old schoolers as the first thrash band here and Paul’s legend as a metal maniac was already well cemented long before the album was released. He could whip any crowd into a total metal frenzy, and he was well known as THE biggest partier, scaring the shit out of poseurs and club owners alike. But despite his reputation, he was a genuinely good guy, always out looking for fun, enjoying life, and of course, listening to metal. No one, and I mean no one has ever had a bad thing to say about him (except for maybe the poseurs he tormented). He was the ultimate metal warrior and his time came way too soon, and even though he wasn’t the most talented of metal singers, he was definitely one of the most charismatic and certainly one of the most loved.
Now to me, old school thrash shows in the Bay Area are really unique and special and always violent as hell, just like Paul loved, so I knew this was gonna be a special show not to be missed!!! The lineup was stacked with Bay Area heavies Heathen, Forbidden, Possessed and of course Exodus, along with a slew of newer school metal bands, most of which I didn’t know. So when I heard this show was happening back in the hometown, I knew I had to fly back to pay my tribute to the man. Not only did he help introduce me to the world of extreme metal as a wee lad, when I heard him sing he pretty much kicked me in my teeth, grabbed me by the back of the neck and made me bang my head (against the stage) until metal took it’s price, and I sold my soul willingly!!!
As always, in true old school fashion, my friends and I were so amped, we ended up hoisting many a beer beforehand in celebration of Paul’s life and as a result, came late to the party. We didn’t find out that there would be two stages going until it was too late, so Heathen and Forbidden ended up playing much earlier than we anticipated and we ended up missing out on their tributes to the legend. Disappointing yes, but did that dampen our spirit? Hell no!!! When we finally got in the doors of the sold out show, we saw that the Metro was filled to the rafters with old school thrashers. There were a few youngsters in attendance but the majority was certainly the old guard. It was a great reminder just how special the scene once was and made for an absolutely electric atmosphere. By the time we got in we were already primed and ready to witness the brutality of original death metallers, Possessed.
The first thing I noticed was the abscence of backing band Sadistic Intent, which had supported original member/singer Jeff Becerra the last two times I’d seen them. It was too bad because they were a pretty good fit, but once newcomers Daniel Gonzalez, Kelly Mclaughlin and Tony Campos started banging behind Jeff, I really stopped caring as they did a fantastic job cranking out the old tunes. Becerra came out in his wheelchair, snarling and howling as the opening evil riffs of “The Exorcist” blared from the stage. The old schoolers started thrashing about and songs like “The Eyes of Horror” and “Holy Hell” got the pit raging. “Phantasm”, “Seance”, and “Tribulation” represented the Beyond the Gates album, sounding so much more savage and raw live than on wax which was awesome, but it was the oldies off seminal classic Seven Churches that had the thrashers in a frenzy all set long. Songs like old classic “Swing of the Axe” and my personal fave “My Belief” were so heavy they had me wondering just how big Possessed could’ve been had they continued on, while others like “Pentagram” and “Burning in Hell” had me working up a lather in the pit. For the encore, “Heretic” and “Death Metal” dropped onto the crowd like a ten ton hammer, ending a really inspired and energetic performance that just served as the appetizer for the night’s main course.
During the intermission, we set out to look for more drinks and take a look at the shirts. To my surprise, one of my favorite hardcore bands from SF were headlining the second stage, and I was kicking myself for not knowing that the mighty Attitude Adjustment were making a surprise performance. I caught two songs including closer and personal favorite “Grey World” so I was happy, but would’ve been much happier had I caught the full set, short as it probably was.
But this night was all about Exodus’ tribute to Paul and everyone in the house was fired up and rarin’ to go. Exodus has always been one of the best live bands, hands down, and I have to say after over 25 years of seeing this band in action, this very well may have been one of their best performances. They came out firing with classic opener “Bonded By Blood” and instantly chaos broke out in the pit. Back in the day Exodus pits were legendary and I never left an Exodus show without some kind of bloody nose, bruised up body part, sprained limb, etc…. At 40 years of age, I expected nothing less than some sort of ailment by the end of the night and even though I was hurting badly by the end thanks to some karate chopping douche, the funniest (saddest?) part was the fact that all the old timers would run out of steam after about 30 seconds into a song, then bail to the side while another wave would come in. These days I just don’t have the same stamina I once did (in the pit), and neither did most of the rest of the old schoolers apparently, but damn if all us old geezers didn’t try like hell to keep it real!!
Things were just getting started and the bodies really started flying when classic “Exodus” dropped. Every song from Bonded was played of course, while no non-Baloff songs made the cut. Even classics “Pleasures of the Flesh” and “Brain Dead” were performed (Paul originally sang these on a demo for “Pleasures”, just never officially recorded them as he was replaced by Zetro before going into the studio). The jagged, shredding riffs of “Piranha” sank its hooks into those who hadn’t planned on jumping into the pit, dragging them in like lambs to the slaughter. Then it was on to the first “oldie” of the night as the band launched into pre-Bonded classic “Hells Breath”. After blood-curdling renditions of “Deliver Us to Evil”, “Metal Command” and personal fave “No Love” (complete with acoustic intro!), the real fun began starting with original rhythm guitarist Rick Hunolt joining the band for a devastating version of “And Then There Were None”. It’s no secret that Rick, as well as most of the band, had serious drug problems back in the day. The last time I saw him with the band was for their record release for Tempo of the Damned and he looked like he weighed maybe 80 pounds wet, at the most. So it was really good to see him looking as healthy and strong as I’d ever seen him and you could tell he was extremely happy to be back on stage once again trading riffs with Gary and slaying the old classics like “A Lesson in Violence” and “Strike of the Beast”.
But the real surprise of the night came when original, ORIGINAL lead metalli-guitarist Kirk Hammett joined them onstage. The crowd went bezerk as he was introduced while poor Jeff Andrews (original bassist) was also introduced. Everyone was straining to catch a glimpse of Kirk as he kicked off riff-tastic old school classic “Whipping Queen” which got all the old timers racing around the pit like teenage NASCAR drivers. Kirk absolutely killed it and looked so comfortable with the band, like he was back home after a long, long journey abroad. After all, he did start Exodus, even “borrowing” a handful of riffs that would become parts in classic Metallica songs, but most importantly he was the one who befriended Paul and introduced this beautiful metal soldier to the world, so it was a fitting tribute with Kirk there and for a couple of hours it really felt like we were all transported back to a better, simpler time. The band brought the house down with final classic “Impaler” and every last body in the place squeezed the last few remaining drops of blood out of their battered bodies. The band was visibly honored to be dedicating this special set to their fallen comrade in front of their hometown crowd and they were definitely feeling the love that only us bay area old schoolers could give them. The one glaring omission was former singer Steve “Zetro” Souza, who I was sure would join in on the fun, but he never showed which was too bad because that would’ve been a great touch. Other than that, this was the perfect tribute to a special guy whose metal legend will live on forever.
Even though I didn’t know Paul personally, I miss in some small way everyday. As silly as it might seem to some, he touched my life in a way that is hard to describe, but makes all the sense in the world to me when I hear Bonded By Blood. He’s someone who embodies everything I love about extreme metal and he had one of the truest metal spirits ever. If there was one man I would choose to represent heavy metal and all it stands for, it would be Paul Baloff. Rest in Peace brother, your spirit lives on and you will never be forgotten….