Anthrax, Fozzy, This Is Hell, The Hi-Fi Bar, Melbourne - 28/02/13

Melbourne worshipped music beneath the pulpit of Anthrax ahead of the Soundwave Festival, Fozzy providing their own brand of explosive devotion.

Melbourne's Hi-Fi Bar takes decorating advice from none other than Mick Jagger. It's painted black. All over. Even the green room is painted black. Everything is painted black. It conjures up memories of high school drama rooms. More accurately, incendiary heavy metal gigs. Christ help you when it sells out, though.

You get friendly with people. Fast. It’s awkward trapezoidal structure slopes downwards, stepping into another odd polygon's worth of dance floor. Dance floor. The moshpit literally stomps atop a surface intended for grace and poise. Related: I've never seen grace nor poise exhibited at the Hi-Fi Bar. Ever.

A fair chunk of the venue cast its eyes and ears forward to crossover thrashers This Is Hell. Comprised of a mix-and-match membership, it looks as if they all met at a late 90s trend support group in downtown Long Island. Vocalist Travis Reilly sports a reformed emo jet-black dye-job, recovering nu-metallers Rick Jimenez and Christian Beale take up guitar duties with pint-sized Bret Michaels aficionado Pieter Vandenberg handling low-end duties. They were hefty enough opening a night of thrash mayhem, doling out scuzzed up hardcore slashed up by NY thrash which Anthrax rightly takes credit for inventing. Rolling drum barrages laid shaky foundations upon which our axemen could chugg and weedle beneath the shadows of Mustaine and Hetfield, their obviously absent tutors. Travis laid down Metal 101. "You can't lie to me," he said, catching his breath. "We play fast, you run around - simple!" Simple is as patronising does, Travis.

Not one to trust his audience, Travis jumped into a hollow of bruisers, the remainder of the band play acting it was new year 1986 down in some side-street cage rattler on the outskirts of Los Angeles. This Is Hell appropriated Slayer's hard as anvil riffs, tossing them into an acidic 'core bath. You can't hate on their work ethic though - as soon as they pulled up leads from this show they'd be scurrying off to open for Cancer Bats and Kingdom of Sorrow. Really.

Taking an extremely informal T-shirt poll, it looked about an equal split between Fozzy and Anthrax fans. Detractors of Fozzy doubtless attribute their cultish popularity to frontman Chris Jericho, a veritable one-man entertainment factory. WWE Superstar, author (he did take communications at university), businessman, philanthropist, broadcaster, television personality...need I continue? Prior to their set, a friend of mine, Peter, spotted guitarist Rich Ward up on stage, faithfully disguised in black hoodie. His expert soundcheck was probably the most meticulous of the entire festival thus far. A stealthy tech he proved to be - almost no one in the crowd noticed him up there; certainly not any of the Fozzy acolytes.

Chants of “Y2J” - one of Jericho’s fulsome WWE crowd hypes rang out as lights dimmed. Creepy music box notes twinkled out into the darkness. Fozzy fans were enthralled. Anthrax fans carried on, unfazed by the hullabaloo.

Undoubtedly one of the most versatile showmen in the business of show, winning grin topping up his buff physique, Jericho leaps out of the darkness and into the fray. Cutting a lean yet no less potent frame, Rich Ward began his frenzied headbang-fu, choreographed to hermetically tight riffs. Bounding about fleet footed unlike any other rocker, it takes a rare breed to match Rich’s boundless athleticism on stage. Jericho’s southern fried rock voice switches to full throated rasp early in the set as Rich roundhouse kicks an invisible punching bag. Working the crowd with trademark Jericholic charm, thrasher Spider in My Mouth brandished devilishly heavy harmony in tandem with big ol’ swamp rock jammin’. Chris ambled up alongside Rich to perform ultimate bro duets – it really is love between these two men.

Rich Ward, as I’ve said time and again, is the most genuine man in rock n’ roll. He doesn’t greet you with handshakes, its hugs or nothing. He speaks plainly about his craft all the while with ten-mile wide grin. His down-to-earth persona is so foreign to our concept of rock stardom, one has to constantly remind himself that yes, he is a guitarist for a globe-trotting rock n’ roll band.

Fozzy thrilled with nonstop entertainment, cutting through Sandpaper stuck in a brutish Stuck Mojo groove; Enemy, their giant refrained radio hit; Sin & Bones, pub rocker dipped in a glitter vat of glam. As the band caught their breath, chants of Y2J began apace. Jericho ignored them. He isn’t wrestling, he’s rocking. Jericho held fast through Martyr, bouncing to his band’s cage-rattling stomps, helicoptering into the furious thrash section. Jericho’s rock n’ roll fantasy is our gain – bands preoccupied with art and craft are seldom appealing live.

The wait grew between the end of Fozzy’s set and the triumphant return of Anthrax to Melbourne town. Moth-eaten thrashers who refused to at least pass the time in company of a rock-happy Jericho and Ward show squeezed into what was now verging on a fire code defying capacity crowd. The place was palpably buzzing, rivetheads standing shoulder to shoulder. Booze mules awkwardly ferrying four cups of domestic hop cordial to friends ahead had their work cut out for them.

Cutting to stage right, the storm gathered. Darkness. Electricity. Before realizing it, we were Caught in a Mosh. It’s a tune that only really makes sense in the present tense. Moshing we can enter into, yet we abandon ourselves to it. It’s a furious, bruising experience. When Joey Belladonna, leathery faced yet spry in foot and throat gave flight with forceful pipes. Even the most sceptical metalhead could see Anthrax proving their worth as one of the Big 4 of American Thrash. Scott Ian’s salt-and-pepper inverted spire of a beard barely wobbled as he snapped his neck in time to Fight ‘Em Til You Can’t, moshpit losing all vestige of control.

Frank Bello, more like Frank Zappa sporting wavy shoulder-length ‘do and razor thin mustache approached peak circle windmill velocity for Indians, a song dear to Belladonna’s rapidly beating heart. Trust cover Anti-social saw the crowd drowning him out despite his most strident efforts, pinch-shredder Jon Donais casually wailing away compared to Scott’s constant stomp and thrash. Crowd controllers were caught dozing as moshers stole past them to leap into the war dance. In The End Belladonna held his half-mast mic stand above his banging head in dedication to Ronnie James Dio (RIP.) The entire band brimmed with youthful piss and vinegar, an energy we’d almost resigned ourselves to forget in full view of Anthrax’ thrash metal vintage. The stage drenched in red ahead of Madhouse, you’d almost believe it was ’83 all over again as it rippled with groove. “We were on Married…With Children playing this song,” Belladonna said, grinning. “you might not have got that shit but we were on it!” Donais and Ian rallied their ultra-heroic self-pleasuring solos between them, ramping up their fleet fingers for crowd favourite Medusa. “It’s about some crazy snakey fuckin’ bitches,” Belladonna shouted.

Belladonna’s harlequin mood continued into Ian’s scripted announcement of their upcoming covers album, Anthems. What’s that? A thrash cover of TNT? What’s better than that, you might ask?

Not much, as it turns out.

Belladonna’s steel-belted lungs screeched out the boozy lines that everyone knew, cul-de-sacs of pits ballooned out away from the mother-pit in appreciation. Pumping fists and shredding steady, Frank showered us in a hail of pics as Scott Ian leaned in, instructing us to “always worship music.”

For a great many of us, in about twelve hours under the scorching Melbourne sun, that’s precisely what we were gonna do. Anthrax may look the junior partner of the Big 4 on paper but in person, they loom just as large as the other three.