Death Angel's first album, The Ultra-Violence, recorded when band members were still young (drummer Andy Galeon was 14), is a stone classic in a genre that would never get anywhere near mainstream success. Of the kindred thrash bands in the Bay Area metal scene circa 1987—Metallica, Megadeth, Exodus, Legacy (later Testament), Possessed, etc.—only one exemplar would truly graduate to household-word American megastardom, and then only by self-consciously removing thrash from its music. In 1987, a band started five years earlier by four cousins from a close-knit Filipino community in Daly City, Calif., seemed as likely or unlikely as any, and at least as game, to carry thrash to a wider audience. In a mostly white male genre, here was a bracing splash of melting-pot exoticism: a diminutive phalanx of thrashers with tag-team buzzsaw riffs, gang-shouted choruses, a 3-footed teenage drummer and windmills of fine black hair.
Death Angel found an early champion/producer in Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett, though when Hammett listed Frolic Through the Park, the band's 1988 follow-up to The Ultra-Violence, among his recent faves in a Rolling Stone roundup, the writer got it wrong and the title appeared in print as Frogs Through the Park. Not bad press, and better than no press, but for Death Angel's first brush with the mainstream they deserved better than to get the rock equivalent of Charlie Brown's misspelled bowling trophy. (The Independent would have liked to know how this bit of anticlimax went down in the Death Angel camp, but the only member consenting to interviews on this tour did not join the band until 2001.)
If not quite as frolicsome as its title would indicate, Frolic Through the Park certainly boasts more fun than the relentless Ultra-Violence. Though not a concept album, it begins with a short trip in an elevator, motor noise and three beeps announcing the listener's arrival at the titular étage of opening track "Welcome to the Third Floor." When the doors open, in pour the Arcadian sounds of tweeting birds and laughing children—and then an ominous wheedling guitar lead to suggest the approach of a two-stone mosquito. By the time the doors slam shut at the end of the ferocious "Mind Rape," there's been drill-sergeant chanting, slow dirge, queasy metal-funk and a romp through "Cold Gin" by KISS. "Road Mutants" hints at good times—metal concerts, even—in a postapocalyptic landscape where suppurating zombies actually start their own speed-metal bands. When were Megadeth ever that fun? Metallica?
Third album Act III was well-reviewed and moderately successful on its 1990 release, but a nighttime tour bus crash in Arizona left drummer Galeon critically injured and the band reeling on the eve of two ambitious tours and the recording of a live album. New label Geffen was unsympathetic; when Death Angel declined to find a long-term replacement for Galeon, whose recovery took a full year, the label dropped them and the band fell apart in 1991.
There have been reunions and new incarnations since 2001, with guitarist Rob Cavestany the only remaining original member (vocalist Mark Osegueda "only" joined in 1984). Newer albums boast more production polish than the tinny roar of Frolic Through the Park, but perhaps less fun. Fittingly, Death Angel's first Missoula appearance finds them reunited with Slayer and Anthrax, with whom they were slated to go on tour before that fateful night in Arizona.
Death Angel, Anthrax and Slayer play the Wilma Thu., Oct. 13. Doors at 6:30 PM, show at 7:10. Sold out.