Flashback: Megaforce Records Fifth Anniversary Show at The Ritz – August 10, 1988

The Ritz in New York City played host to Megaforce Records fifth anniversary show on this day 32 years ago, August 10, 1988. The show featured S.O.D., Anthrax, Overkill, Testament, M.O.D., and King’s X.

Megaforce Records, of course, was the great east-coast underground metal label from the gods.  Technically, Megaforce was a New Jersey label, not a New York label, but its founders, Johnny and Marsha Zazula, were New Yorkers, and later in the 80s when the label became associated with Atlantic Records, they became more New York-based.  Like the UK’s Neat Records which defined the northern British metal scene in 1980-83 or Minneapolis’ TWIN/TONE or Seattle’s SUB POP later in the 80s, Megaforce was the label that defined the East Coast, North American (and beyond) underground/thrash scene.

In the early years, almost every release was flawless, you could buy the record based on the label alone: Metallica’s ‘Kill ‘Em All’ and ‘Ride The Lightning’, Raven’s ‘All For One’ and ‘Live At the Inferno’, Anthrax’s ‘Fistful of Metal’, Exciter’s ‘Violence & Force’, Overkill’s ‘Feel The Fire’, the great ‘From The Megavault’ compilation, and S.O.D.’s all-powerful ‘Speak English or Die’, just to name a few. Classic after classic after classic.

Megaforce Records

By 1988, when this gig happened, Megaforce had expanded well beyond the literal mom-and-pop operation that had organized gigs by bands like Anvil and Brooklyn’s Riot, brought Venom and Raven over from the UK for the first time, brought west-coasters Metallica out east and released the first Metallica records and first Raven records in the States. By now they were bigger-time, associated with major label Atlantic for most of their acts (except New Yorkers Anthrax, were on Megaforce-Island Records). I was doing a college radio show at WCDB up in Albany and we played piles of new and old Megaforce stuff and the Megaforce folks who serviced college radio were very cool gals. So this show – a Megaforce 5th Anniversary party with a bunch of bands – I had to go.

I remember I drove down to NYC in whatever crappy old car I was driving in ’88, and met my buddy Steve K, a Brooklyn-ite who did the radio show in Albany with me but had a summer job in Manhattan. I think we got food and drinks at some place Steve knew that would serve underage kids like us, and then found a parking spot and went to the Ritz – and saw Scott Ian from Anthrax walk by with his guitar case. A good start.

There were numerous bands – see the flyers attached. I think New York legend and KISS guitarist Ace Frehley, who’d just become a solo Megaforce act, was going to play but didn’t, which was fine with me. I love Ace, but it didn’t really fit in my mind what “Megaforce” was. The band all played short sets – either 3 or 5 songs, I think. I was hoping there’d be a surprise Metallica set or something, or maybe Raven or something, but it was not to be – the bands were as advertised, and S.O.D. was playing, which was unusual enough.

Megaforce Records

I don’t remember first band Prophet, but they were a bit more lightweight, commercial metal than the usual Mega-bands from what I recall about them, so we either missed or ignored them while getting beer. We managed to figure out how to get served, despite being underage – I’d just turned 20, Steve was younger – and blagged our way up to the balcony “V.I.P.” section. Beer was free up there, and you’d look around and see Danny Lilker from Nuclear Assault over here, Billy Milano from M.O.D./S.O.D. over there, Doug Pinnick from KING’s X walking by (I stopped him and told him how great their debut record was, he could not have been cooler), Rob “Wacko” Hunter who’d just left Raven at a table over there, and most memorably, Joey Ramone, hammered as the day is long, staggering by with a couple of punk rock chicks on each arm. I had to go over to Wacko and let him know I’d always considered Raven one of the great bands ever and he testily said “yeah … USED TO BE,” but was cool and shook my hand.

Anyway, the bands. Recollections are dim and general, as the ale was flowing, but I remember being blown away by King’s X. This was my first time seeing them, heavy rock with melodic vocal harmonies everywhere, I loved that debut ‘Out of the Silent Planet’ record, and they didn’t even slightly fit on this bill. I recall them opening with “King” and closing with “Visions” and playing one other song. Fantastic band, and one I’ve loved since.

West Coast thrashers Testament are a great live band, and I’d seen them play with Anthrax the summer before, but they sucked this night. I think they made it through not even two songs before having sound problems, having hissy fits onstage, knocking over their amps mid-song and stomping off. Lame.

Megaforce Records

M.O.D. played either before or after Testament (or maybe even after Overkill), were a big Megaforce push in the ’87-88 years, and were good, but I always thought they were a poor-man’s S.O.D. And the real thing was playing later.

New Jersey thrash kings Overkill ruled, maybe the band of the night. I think they played a couple songs from the then-current ‘Under The Influence’ album, but they definitely played “Rotten To The Core” from the first record, and the place went off – I was down in the pit by then.

Queens band Anthrax were a very big deal by 1988, so seeing them in a club already seemed unusual and special, even though they’d just graduated to the bigger halls less than a year before. They stuck mostly to the hits (“Indians”, “I’m The Man” I think), but I recall they played “Metal Thrashing Mad” from their debut Megaforce record, if I’m not mistaken, which brought down the house.

And then: S.O.D. By now everyone in the house (including me), and the band probably too, were well into their cups. I remember Billy, Danny, Scott and Charlie walking on stage, starting with “March of the SOD” and the place exploded into a giant pit, bodies flying everywhere – S.O.D. had only ever played a handful of late ’85 shows when that record came out, and this was the first-ever show after the ‘Speak English or Die’ album had graduated to legendary status. It was like the crossover Beatles had reformed. “United Forces” had the whole place roaring. It went too quick and the gig was over.

We made it back up to Albany alive somehow. I think I asked Steve to get us out of the city and I’d drive the rest of the way, passed out, and I dimly remember waking up and seeing him driving manically up I-87 with a giant cup of coffee, a Budgie mix-tape that was in my car cranked, and all the windows open. So I left him in charge and passed back out until we reached Albany – I think I had to work in the a.m. anyway. A mighty night. All hail Megaforce Records. 

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