Live Review – Must Kill

The Castle Tavern, Luton, 23 June 2023

Support from King Abyss, Thrasherwolf and War Grave

The Castle Tavern in Luton is like a homecoming for Must Kill. This is where they learnt their chops as fresh-faced teenagers in cult band, Abadden. It surprised nobody when they chose the venue for the debut Must Kill show back in 2019. Tonight, they grace it once more to launch their sophomore EP, Cause & Effect, in the heat of a late evening summer.

England’s thrash metal scene is a proud fraternity where artists can network, share equipment, discuss their studio experiences, and arrange gig swaps all over the country. First on this evening are NWOBHM thrash hybrid, Wargrave, who have the unenviable task of emptying the beer garden of punters on a glorious hot evening. They do a good job of raising the bar for the acts that follow with an electrifying set full of energy, speed, and shredding. For every Judas Priest inflection, you can hear the counter of a Megadeth fretboard assault. One of the songs sounds identical to ‘Madhouse’ by Anthrax and the one that bears the band’s name is about as subtle as ‘Voivod’ by, uh, Voivod, which makes it so gratifying. “What’s our name?” roars the vocalist in a moment that feels like a Rocky III epiphany. “War Grave!” we shout back at the top of our lungs.

Above: War Grave are a traditional heavy metal band, but they sharpen the edges of their music with thrash metal stylings.

Next up are thrash metal warriors, Thrasherwolf, who released a superb debut album in 2020. They spent most of the afternoon stuck on the M1, which means they have no time for a soundcheck. Most bands would dread the scenario, but Thrasherwolf’s passion for old-school thrash is infectious enough for them to have the audience hanging on their every word. Daniel Lucas is one of the most recognisable and likeable frontmen in the English scene. Every swing of the guitar and parting of the legs for another blaze of Ride the Lightning riffing produces an uptake of oxygen in the room as we get ready to circle our heads and assault the air guitar strings. “Come forward,” he says before the rough audio siege of their closing song. I’m eye-to-eye with him during the middle eight. The bleach blonde bassist looks like his hand might fall off as he molests his strings with the force of a machine-gun operator. The hardcore woman next to me bounces on her toes like a boxer and wants to break out into the two-step motion. Fuck, this is euphoric!

Above: Daniel Lucas and the boys from Thrasherwolf don’t need a soundcheck to blast through their infectious brand of thrash metal.

King Abyss are Staffordshire’s premier thrash band and veterans of the Metal 2 the Masses circuit. They produced a strong debut album earlier this year called Snake Oil, leading Scream Blast Repeat to remark that ‘King Abyss symbolise the resilience and fortitude of thrash metal’. I don’t remember them having a brutal hardcore streak running through their music, but tonight they seem like a different band. Vocalist, Dom Bould, commands the floor from the first note, scaring the shit out of anyone who dares to step forward. It’s unintentional, and Dom is one of the most approachable people you’ll meet at a metal gig, but it suits the group’s muscular dynamics. The sound engineer tonight is at the top of his game. Every roar from Dom comes with the clarity of crunchy guitars and crisp snare beats. ‘Weapons of Mass Delusion’ sounds like Slayer in the hands of Employed to Serve. ‘Snake Oil’ is clever enough to incorporate Machine Head into the blender of thrash and hardcore. I could swear there’s a deathcore breakdown towards the end of the set, although I cannot remember if they deliver this in ‘Fear the Dead’ or another new song. Dom Bould rips through a succession of pig squeal noises as his bandmates swing their heads in unison to the triplet rhythms. I look around the room – many people try to hide the fear on their faces. Whoa! Job done, boys.

Above: King Abyss frontman, Dom Bould, steps onto the floor to unleash his vitriolic aggression. Would you want to get in his way?

Must Kill are the aspiring thrash metal kings of England’s commuter belt regions in the southeast. Like Greater Manchester prodigies, Tortured Demon, they thrive in a live environment, yet they enjoy the recording studio just as much. I’m chatting to the gents from King Abyss in the beer garden when I hear them plug in and flood the venue with a rising volume of guitar distortion. “Shit! Let’s go inside,” I say to Dom Bould.

I didn’t know this tavern could squeeze so many people into its stage area. Black-clad people – most of them tall and hairy – stand in front of me like giant bodyguards. The bassist and lead guitarist from Thrasherwold watch the action from the windowless alcove in front of the mixing desk like Victorian street urchins overlooking a London terrace. I feel disconnected from the action during ‘Ghost Malevolent’, so I push my way past the head-nodding brigade towards the female hardcore fan and the chap who wears the Must Kill t-shirt and plays air guitar with great concentration. ‘Your Last Breath’ and ‘Septicity’ showcase a gold standard ear for rhythm from drummer, James Bell. Lead axeman, Daryl Cooper, rips through his solos with a satisfied grin on his face. Dan Pool puffs his chest out for the ferocious high-range death metal lines as his right hand holds his plectrum like a dart and his left one frets the rapid note changes.

Above: Must Kill’s vocalist and guitarist, Dan Pool, raises his chest for another blast of death metal vocal inflections.

The band’s decision to play their catalogue of two EPs in exact order is a wise one. I can feel the heat in the room rise with the scent of sweat and stale lager. ‘My Scourge Sentence’ delivers six minutes of riff soup with an invigorating chorus of gang vocals for the crowd to shout back at them out of tune. The reset from mid-tempo thrash to a Megadeth flamboyance after the first chorus of ‘Bête Noire’ is an orgasmic moment for my alcohol-infused mind. My shoulder blades tense up in anticipation of follow-up, ‘No More’, which is already a fan-favourite and a good opportunity to move my neck like a giraffe as the down-picking riffs kick in. Words leave my mouth as if independent of my brain. I shout out “I fucking love thrash metal,” at the top of my lungs as I lift my eyes to the ceiling.

You’ll not find a tighter unit of musicians on the live underground scene than the boys in Must Kill. The only complaint at the end of ‘Cause & Effect’ is that they have no more songs left to play. A few of us consider shouting for an encore. Right now, I want a Kreator or Sepultura cover to sustain my euphoria. On later reflection, I realise that eight originals executed with the finesse of a seasoned heavy metal machine are more than enough to satisfy my desires. I know I’ll be back here in two years for the launch of the band’s debut LP.