Though few tears were shed when the grunge explosion killed off the likes of Warrant and Winger back in the '90s, hair bands weren't the decade's only heavy-metal casualty. After a decade of all-out war with the poodle-heads, thrash metal -- hair metal's uglier, speedier, more psychotic cousin -- suddenly found itself consigned to the same dustbin.
Metallica chopped their hair off and started writing country songs, while their peers in Megadeth and Slayer slowed down the tempos and began to chase hits. Other notable acts, like Testament, seemed to simply disappear into thin air. For years, it looked as if speed metal was a forgotten trend, disdained by the mainstream and unwanted by a metal underground that had moved on to newer sounds.
But that was then. In the past decade, thrash metal has made a resounding, unlikely resurgence, with a whole new generation of speed-worshipping axe-slingers led by bands like Municipal Waste and Skeletonwitch taking up its radioactive banner and plunging forward into the pit.
Tonight at Fitzgerald's, Legion -- possibly Houston's youngest, fastest and most promising thrashers--shove their way to the front lines of the revivalist movement with the release of their debut album, State of Decay, on Ft. Worth's Metal Rising Records.
Appropriately enough for a speed-metal band, Legion's origins lie in the hallways of a suburban high school: Sugar Land's Kempner High.
"We've kind of been doing the whole band thing since I was in 8th grade, so probably 2005," says Legion's lead singer and rhythm guitarist, Drew Habryl. "It's funny; when we first started out we weren't exactly the thrashiest band in the world. We kind of had just straightforward metal songs.
"We saw some of the new wave of thrash bands coming out, like Havok and Warbringer and stuff like that, and that's kind of what we wanted to go for," he continued. "So we changed our sound, kicked out our guitar player and got a new guy, and ever since then we've kind of been more of an aggressive thrash metal band."
Aggressive, indeed. The songs on State of Decay are blistering, finding Habryl and lead guitarist John Fernandez ripping out syncopated riffage over 17-year-old drummer Brian Orta's machine-gun bass drum licks. The sound is classic '80s thrash in the vein of Megadeth or Testament, featuring clean, shouted vocals and even a smattering of blast beats.
So what's the appeal of banging out hyperspeed songs about war, religion and government mind control in a style that went out of fashion before Habryl and the gang were old enough to lift a guitar?
"Well, I don't know," he says. "I got kind of raised on Metallica and stuff like that. Then when you get into high school, you start getting into more extreme stuff like Slayer. It's just really exciting music."
Yes, "exciting" sums up Legion nicely, and all of the energy and ambition so readily apparent in their music appears to be on the verge of paying off. The group has already gotten a taste of the full-time rock and roll lifestyle playing on bills with 21st Century thrash contemporaries such as Havok, Bonded by Blood, Gama Bomb, Evile and more, and Habryl is hungry for more.
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"I'd love to be touring the States," he says. "Maybe a bigger label, get to tour with some of our peers. We'd love to live in a van and play every night. Hopefully we can be doing that a year from now."
State of Decay is a great first step toward that goal. Every thrasher worth his backpatch knows that a speed metal band's first album is always its gnarliest, so don't miss it. But before the impending world domination, Legion must conquer its hometown. Tonight will be the band's first headlining gig at the old club on White Oak, and they're planning to absolutely shred the place. As a special old-school treat, expect to hear a cover of the Sepultura classic "Dead Embryonic Cells" at some point.
Oh, and did we mention that tonight's show is free to heshers 21 and up?
"I don't feel we've had a show in Houston yet that really represents the band well," Habryl says. "Most of the sets we play are 30 minutes. This week, we're playing for an hour. Hopefully everyone comes out to this one and fully grasps what we're all about, and hopefully they dig the album."
Legion and special guests Dysmetria, Metalloyd and Malevolent Force perform upstairs tonight at Fitzgerald's, 2706 White Oak Dr. Doors open at 8:30 p.m.
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