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(Live Review) HAVOK + TOXIC HOLOCAUST - Reggie's, Chicago (8/9/23)

By The Beard & Little Johnny

Hello fans and followers, it’s us, your favorite twosome, The Beard and Little Johnny and we are currently reporting from the rooftop of Reggie’s, where we are sipping Purple Haze beers (crack a cold one for Jimi Hendrix) and enjoying an afternoon summer breeze, (no, not the Seals & Croft kind) before tonight’s stop #45 and bands #214-217.

This evening we are entering the Thrash Metal world with:


Toxic Holocaust

I Am

And Hammerhedd

This is a sold-out show, (on a Wednesday no less) so it should be a crazy night in the pits again. Little Johnny has his “Raise Havok” t-shirt and of course his trademark cap. The Beard is supporting Brimstone Coven tonight by wearing their shirt and my ever-present bandanna.

Opening band this evening thrash from Prairie Valley Kansas...


Hammerhedd are three brothers, (again with the family bands), that first came to notice as young kids playing Metallica covers at ages 9,7, & 4. (They are now 21,19, & 16). They got noticed by Metallica who reposted their performances and a few years later they were signed and touring. They are supporting their 2023 release Nonetheless.

The Beard got a chance to meet and talk with Luke and Bridget Ismert, (Parents and managers of Hammerhedd), about life when your three kids are a touring band. The Beard found Luke & Bridget not only musically knowledgeable, but also smart in the business sense. They are helping their kids grow their band organically and in appropriate stages, (even turning down a chance to headline a different tour in favor of the learning that comes with opening on a larger tour with more established acts). Both were friendly and easy going for parents of a metal band. No attitude or sense of entitlement. Frankly just good midwestern folks.

Hammerhead immediately stood out as having excellent timekeeping on the drums from Eli Ismert. That young man not only could drill a fast fill, but he did it while staying on time and always leading the song. In their thirty-minute set, he never sounded fast or slow compared to the rest of the music. In Black Sabbath, Bill Ward was the underappreciated member. Without his in-the-pocket stability, The Beard doesn’t think those first four Sabbath albums are nearly as good. Eli is Hammerhedds' stability.

Vocally, Henry Ismert was stronger than one would think just looking at him. The voice is still not completely all I think it could be, but the uniqueness was in hearing it coming out of a guy that looked like he could be a character on The Wonder Years. This was thrash metal, but at this point it seemed like thrash at about a 5-6 level mainly because Henry still looks like a kid. The standard expectation is hearing THAT voice coming out of a tattooed muscle bound long haired bearded guy in his mid-thirties, and that ain’t Henry.

Bassist (and youngest member Abe) is fine on the musical end, but of the three, he seemed the least confident and needs to be more in the audience’s faces. Thrash is a tough genre for tough crowds and there’s little room for trepidation. Stick your bass in their faces and make them respect you.

Their third number caught an impressive groove filled with good tempo changes. That was their best song. These guys grew on me. They certainly have something solid to work from and anchored by Eli’s really great drumming, and solid support and management from their family, the arrow for Hammerhedd points upward.


Second on the stage were Dallas Texas death/groove act...


Similar in musical attack to Creeping Death, this five-piece act is high energy thrash/death. I don’t know what the songs are about, but the pits were circling, and Johnny was bouncing. Plenty of head banging throughout. They fed the audience, and the audience was hungry.

Points for both guitar tone and vocal energy. These guys were good. No energy drop all the way through the set, and they mixed the speed with the heavy slow parts very well. Johnny only had two speeds, pit thrash or stand and headbang. No pause for the cause. Mark of a good thrash set.


Third up tonight were west coast legends.


Toxic Holocaust have been around over twenty years, but this is the first opportunity for The Beard to see these west coast thrashers. Although not as well-known as the big bay area names like Testament, Toxic Holocaust has released six albums the last full length being 2019’s Primal Future.

This is a top ten pit band. By that I mean they garnered FULL audience participation. Little Johnny was there one minute and then he just vanished under a slew of bodies. High energy thrash and the main floor was essentially “survive if you can” because when the whole crowd pits up, there’s no place to run. I have been looking for Johnnys cap like I was reading a Where’s Waldo book.

Mixing excellent tempo changes with the lightning speed parts, Toxic Holocaust not only brought the mosh, but for many on the floor their set also brought the pain. Even with the established thrash etiquette, (a person goes down in the Pit, you break and get them back up safely), nevertheless, The Beard saw some stiff punches thrown and at least a couple people got the “exit with prejudice” from security. Add in both understandable lyrics and great guitar solos, and these three guys delivered one of the best thrash acts of the year, and THAT is saying something after already covering 214 other bands.

If crowd energy counts (and it does), it’s time to crack open a cold one for 90+ and

Award Toxic Holocaust 95/100 .


All right, after that legalized riot masquerading as a set of music from Toxic Holocaust, the audience had about a half hour to stop the bleeding and pick up wayward teeth before Colorado’s Havok hit the stage.

Having five albums and about twenty different members in their two-decade career, David Sanchez (vocals and rhythm guitar) remains the only original member. With Pete Webber, (no not the pro bowler), next at 15 years.

Mixing thrash, some NWOBHM and hardcore punk, anyone on that main floor not already in concussion protocol is probably going to end up there. The Beard is still searching for Little Johnny after he vanished under bodies during the Toxic Holocaust set.

Havok had very clean vocals and many more effects in the way of additional lighting. Reggie’s is a great club but honestly, they only have so-so lighting. This was a VERY professional set, but not as intense as Toxic Holocaust’s was, (but then I’m not entirely certain anything short of a full-on air raid could have been).

Havok’s third song, “Hang em High”, was dedicated to everyone who locked down our world for a year in 2020. Big pop from the crowd at that introduction. On their fifth number, "Evolution", finally I had a Little Johnny sighting. WHAT THE… Johnny has his cap in his pocket!!! That is the first time The Beard has witnessed that this entire year. The lad is serious tonight.

Havok might have actually brought a show “too big” for the size of the stage it was on. There are so many lighting effects that it overwhelms just watching the band play.

Ultimately, Havok are very professional and very talented. Extra points for good marketing when David Sanchez said, “give us some time after the set and we’ll come out there and sign your hands and shake your records.” Funny. Also, Havok promoted all the other bands, which is normal, but they just sounded more genuine when they did it. Great team attitude from the headliners.

For the encore, Sanchez said “ok. You get a choice. We can play two more songs, or we can play eight more, (crowd screams), minutes of music.” (Crowd boos). The illusion of choice.” Funny stuff.

The actual encore of, "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death" was pretty stellar and of course everyone went pit crazy again. I’m not sure how anyone is even standing anymore after this evening.

Overall, I enjoyed the Havok set, and The Beard will crack a cold one at 90/100 for professional, talented, and everything else thrash is supposed to be, but The Beard still had to give set of the night to Toxic Holocaust.

After the show, I found Little Johnny nursing a fat lip and what might be a black eye tomorrow. He was worn out and admitted “That one was intense Beard”. “I don’t know how you do it little dude.”

We checked out merchandise and then headed for the Metal Bus. Stop #45 and bands #214-217 in the books.

This wraps it up for a couple days, and then we will be right back into it again as The Reviews Never Stop Tour 2023 rolls on. Be sure to read us every Wednesday and Thursday on the best site for metal...

The Mighty Decibel

Then check out all the videos of all the bands on our TIKTOK site.

Thebeard0728 or #thebeardandlittlejohnny

Until next time

Stay Heavy


Horns Up!!!


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