As most readers are well aware, I am old. I grew up in the 80s as a precocious child of metal and still harbor a deep, abiding love for all things 80s and iron. Naturally, I’m the very demographic for a three-day festival mostly made up of bands from those bygone times. This is why Madam X and I decamped to Brooklyn, New York for the third Defenders of the Old Festival this past weekend (the first to be held in the lovely and historic borough of the Empire State). With ancient metallic luminaries like Riot, Exciter, The Rods, Brocas Helm and Liege Lord on the bill, how could this be anything other than awesomely nostalgic and full of good times, good company and good tunes (and Geritol)?
Day one featured a rousing set by Cleveland’s best thrash/speed metal band ever, the unstoppable Destructor. Wearing what appeared to be the same studs, leather and chains from the cover of their cult debut, Maximum Destruction, these middle-aged warmongers forgot about their day to day lives for 40 minutes and ripped through a surprisingly spry and convincing set of speedy gems. Vocalist/guitarist Dave Destructor and the band seemed thrilled to be there and looked to be having the time of their lives, as was the crowd.
Next up was Connecticut’s Liege Lord, fronted by later era singer and sometimes guitarist for Overkill, Joe Comeau. If Destructor seemed to having fun on stage, these guys were having a fucking ball. They put on an immense set of speedy American power metal with prog touches and Mr. Comeau had the crowd eating from his hands. It was all about dramatic sing-a-longs and over-the-top solos and if they were looking to prove they are still vital and relevant, mission accomplished.
Though I’ve been a huge Riot (V) fanboy since the 80s, I’ve never had the chance to see them live. After all these years and elevated expectations, they didn’t disappoint in the least. Taking a stage adorned with dearly departed leader Mark Reale’s guitar case, they rocked the house as the opening day headliner, plowing through selections from Thundersteel, Immortal Soul and the recent Unleash the Fire, while still finding time to reach back to the old days for a few gems. New voice Todd Michael Hall was powerful as hell, hitting all the highs the songs called for and new guitarist Nick Lee was like a more vital and psychotic Kirk Hammet, tearing up the stage and nearly jumping into the crowd on several occasions. The band even brought out old guitarists L.A. Kouvaris and Rick Ventura for sentimental play alongs, which was a cool and nostalgic touch.
Day two saw Chris Black and his High Spirits project attack the stage with real gusto for the weekend’s most lighthearted and jovial set. Their hybrid Thin Lizzy and Blue Oyster Cult sound fit with the weekend’s theme and Mr. Black knows how to work a room for maximum impact. He’s one of the more manic and animated front men I’ve seen in a while and the band really impressed even those wanting harder and heavier fare. Fun stuff indeed.
Speaking of hard and heavy, King Fowley and his October 31 miscreants put on a predictably aggressive and excessive set full of quasi-thrash madness. If you haven’t seen the man on stage, you’re missing a treat. He’s the very model of the metal fan first and musician second and he wears his love for the music on his greasy, denim-patched sleeve.
The star of the second night though, was Canadian speed metal kings, Exciter. The classic lineup came out and absolutely stunned all present with a set every bit as angry, vicious and brutal as those they delivered in the 80s. Seeing these older gents giving 110% and feeding off the crowd to deliver one high-octane thrasher after another was a surreal joy to be sure. Drummer/vocalist Dan Beehler repeatedly remarked how amazing it was to be back together and get such a great response and like every band that weekend, they seemed as happy to be there as the fans themselves.
Though we were unable to attend the tacked on third day of the festival at another location, it was clear the bulk of the event went off gangbusters with little or no mishaps, save a few equipment issues during The Rods‘ set. The festival was the brainchild of one He Wang, and by all accounts, the man bled to make this event (and the two previous ones) a reality. The bands couldn’t stop thanking him, and I’m sure anyone who attended would gladly do the same.
It seems Defenders of the Old is here to stay and I for one welcome it like a sack full of well laundered cash. If you, like me, have a love for all things old and metal, you should be supporting this festival and watching for it in the future. It was a helluva good time and free of the kinds of mishaps, breakdowns and hugger mugger many of these smaller festivals seem prone to. There was also a surprising cross-section of ages present, with 40 and 50 year olds thrashing right alongside folks in their teens and 20s.
Madam X and I are certainly sold and will be supporting and attending any and all future events held reasonably local. I strongly suggest you “Like” the Facebook page, then stalk appropriately for details of upcoming events and above all, prepare to Defend the Old when called upon! We old dudes appreciate it.