Death Angel - Sonic German Beatdown - Live in Germany DVD (Nuclear Blast/Riot)

This is the first live recording in Death Angel's history. It's very well representative of these guys on stage, and is not the sort of DVD you want to miss out on. Thrash fans, and Death Angel fans in particular, need to get their hands on it. Now.

This live DVD features seminal Bay Area thrashers Death Angel at the Rockhard Festival in Germany in 2007. Unlike most DVDs out there on the market, this one doesn't open with titles, or a menu, but launches straight into two film clips as the intro to the disc, both from Killing Season, before getting immediately into the live performance that comprises the entirety of this release.

The first clip is the official film clip of Thicker than Blood. The second clip is, as one might expect from the title of the disc as a whole, Sonic Beatdown. 

Watching the filmclips was great because, although I'm a big Death Angel fan, I'm, perhaps perversely, not generally the type to go hunting for official film clips. If they fall in my way I'll give them a watch, but I don't go out of my way to get them. That probably makes me unusual; but having seen this DVD I'm more likely to go out and see what others I can dig up. They're both pretty good.

As I mentioned above, after the two clips, the DVD launches immediately into the full live performance of the band in Germany, at the Rockhard Festival in 2007. The size of the crowd surprised me because it was big but not half the extent that I had somehow thought it would be. It's also clearly not the warmest: the crowd are all in long sleeves, and most of the band are in hoodies or warm tops of some description. Mark, of course, is in his ubiquitous leather jacket, from which he seems to be damn near inseparable. The production values of this DVD are really high: it's mostly crisp and sharp; the editing is tight and fast-paced, and draws you into the performance in way that being at a show just can't do. Having said that, there are cameras in the crowd, the shots from which are not perfect. Being amongst the crowd, the camera operators are jostled, and the clarity isn't perfect. That has its benefits though: it's far more realistic of a crowd-oriented perspective, from which more live DVDs could benefit.

Notably, some of the camera shots have caught their subjects very quickly, at the end of a pan or a zoom, and so aren't perfectly focused. While one could imagine that this might reduce the quality of the film, or reduce the experience, it's not the case. I think that I prefer to see a bit of imperfection in a live DVD like this one, because a live performance is a long way from the gloss of a studio, and in my opinion DVDs need to reflect that somehow. Besides, fast-paced thrash is so well complemented by furiously paced filming and editing that if you got no imperfection at all, it would be rather suspicious. That said, if the DVD had been poorly edited, things might be a bit different. Note that there was still the occasional blurry fail - so if you're a person who's into absolutely perfect images in a live DVD, you'd do well to note this.

Opening with Seemingly Endless Time, the band dives headfirst into their performance, following the opener with Voracious Souls. But after this second track, there was edited in a very noisy, grainy, black and white shot that, in the context of the rest of the film was a bit weird. In a moment of strange decision-making, these grainy shots recur at certain times throughout the film. Once could argue that there is a need for variety, but I am not a fan of this sort of thing, whether in stills or moving film, because it always appears contrived as hell. It would be better without it.

Of course, this DVD was shot when Andy Galleon was still with the band, so if you missed Death Angel performing with their original drummer, it is sadly the case that a DVD like this one is now quite literally as close as you're going to get to that experience.
The next tracks on the list are Mistress of Pain from The Ultra Violence, which always goes down well with a crowd; as does Ex-Tc, from Act III.

But while the production itself is important visually, the other element that is an absolute must on any live recording is the sound. With Sonic German Beatdown, the sound is so beautifully rendered that it's like being at a show without the noise of the PA - well-balanced and well-mixed - and with the ability to hear everything that's going on in the music, as well as in the crowd. It's got a raw edge that is essential (else one could think that the visuals were live but the music was straight off a recording), and the performance is really very tight and enthusiastic. This latter is something that I - and no doubt other fans of Death Angel - have come to know, dig, and, dare I say, expect. If any band loves performing live, these guys do.

Third Floor is always a winner for me - and it was damn near central in the set. It also went over hugely well with the crowd. As did the killer Thrown to the Wolves. Speaking of the crowd, it was fucking amazing to see dudes in their fifties screaming out 'Death Angel - Death Angel - Death Angel'. It's not something I get to see very often. And it's great to see this type of footage, because it gives you a great sense of the sheer breadth of the band's fans. Of course, Mark had his bottle of grog - probably gin - saluting the crowd. The humbleness of these guys is always touching, but to see it and hear it on a DVD is awesome.

Thrown to the Wolves, off The Art of Dying, was furiously paced, well timed, perfectly tight, and the crowd went bananas, as well they should. And here's me in my loungeroom cranking this DVD, and banging my own head, and enjoying it just as much as I did when I saw these guys earlier in the year.

The remaining tracks off this disc are 5 Steps of Freedom, Thicker Than Blood, The Devil incarnate, Distrubing the Peace, Stagnant, The Ultra Violence, Bored and Kill as One. I'm not going to go through this DVD track by track to tell you how good it is, because I can imagine you've already got a pretty good picture of what I'd say.

The downside to this DVD, and there isn't much that takes away the glory, is that, while it's a great performance, I don't think it's the best they could have filmed. The audience got into it - but it took them damn near half the set to warm up to it, with the band giving their all. Ok, the weather might have had something to do with this, granted, but it was still disappointing to watch the band ask the crowd whether they were up for more. Usually it's the case where the crowd clings to a band for all it's worth, and begs them to play until they can't stand.

Towards the end of the set it started pissing down with rain - which looks awesome on the DVD, especially when you see the steam start to rise from the crowd. I'm sure a lot of people present weren't quite so happy about it! In fact, by the time the rain had stopped, the stands at the back were damn near emptied. A nice touch, though, was a little lyrical tweak during Bored, that went: 'I'm bored... and wet!' followed by an amused and cheeky grin.

I suggest that if you like your thrash then you'll really dig this, and if you're a fan of Death Angel, then it's the sort of DVD that you want to make sure you have as an essential part of your collection. Besides it being the only officially recorded live performance of these guys, it's pretty well representative of Death Angel on stage. If you haven't seen these guys live, then after seeing this performance it's quite likely that you'll orchestrate it to make sure you do.

Death Angel's Sonic German Beatdown is out now on Nuclear Blast/Riot.