In true Slayer fashion, there was no sanctuary for anyone within earshot when the band came through town for a killer show along with Suicidal Tendencies and Exodus this past Saturday night.
Yes, some might only assume that Comerica Theatre was overrun with fighting and headbanging boozers and lowlifes. Others may only hear "rawr rawr rawr" -- double bass, double bass -- "rawr rawr rawr." And, yes, there was plenty of that. To be honest, the soundtrack of killer heavy metal had a completely separate soundtrack of its own: fistfights, incessant shouting ("SLAAAAYYEEERR!!"), and the constant click of lighters behind cigarettes and joints.
But this was a lineup that was not to be missed by anyone who has truly been a fan of heavy metal. First off, all three bands collectively have 100 years of writing, recording, performing, and influencing the genre. Secondly, the array of hits that spans across these acts are enough to get anyone headbanging. Hell, my neck is still sore.
I hadn't encountered such a large crowd of hardcore heavy metal enthusiasts since I made my way to Indio, California, about five years ago to catch Slayer, Metallica, Anthrax, and Megadeth at the Big Four concert.
Exodus kicked off the show at 7:30 p.m., projecting a half-hour set that was balls-to-the-wall heavy with some of their greatest hits, including "Bonded by Blood," "A Lesson in Violence," and "Strike of the Beast." The place was packed from the get-go and the pit sold out early on in the night.
Suicidal Tendencies was one of my personal favorites of the night, kicking things off at around 8:15 with a set that almost lasted an hour. They launched into a rendition of "Can't Bring Me Down," with some killer guitar solos punctuating the performance. This is a band who helped pioneer crossover thrash, and the members seem as agile today as they were back in the mid-' 80s. Vocalist Mike Muir and guitarists Dean Pleasants and Nico Santora bolted around the stage in front of the simple backdrop, a giant graphic of the 13 album cover, the band's newest album. As usual, the members projected fantastic charisma. Bassist Tim Williams passed away this August, and the band is still somewhat reeling from the lost. However, bassist Michael Morgan has been filling in as of late, and did a solid job.
The crowd was fist-pumping and chanting the lyrics throughout the entire set, going particularly nuts during "Freedumb," when Pleasants and Santora jumped around and headbanged as the crowd was blinded with flashing strobe lights.
It was close to 9:40 when Slayer took the stage. Their opening was simple yet super-metal -- a slow reveal of a the band's silhouettes behind a curtain that was lit up in blood-red lights with spinning Slayer emblems. The reveal was sweet and slow; one that quickly changed pace with the start of "World Painted Blood" and a background of four giant inverted crosses hanging from the ceiling.
As the band charged through favorites like "Seasons in the Abyss," "Black Magic" and "Mandatory Suicide," the crosses slowly moved upward and changed position, constantly highlighted by blue, purple, and red strobes. And of course, there was plenty of fog to last the entire show, creeping out into the crowd and causing bloody noses. Although that could've just been the cocaine issues of those hardcore '80s fans.
And then -- ah, for the love of double bass, tattoos, and crazy-fast tremolo picking.
There constantly seemed to be fights throughout the evening. While people were very excited -- many started drinking much too early, it seems -- others just seemed to want to fight, which is pretty normal at shows known for violent mosh pits. Speaking of, the pit was an ever-evolving area all night long. People from all walks of life circled and pushed and swung and fell and stomped. I also hadn't seen so much crowd-surfing in quite some time. A notable moment was when a guy in his 20s, donning a two-foot-tall mohawk, crowd-surfed to the front and proceeded to try and mosh with the security guards once he was directly in front of the stage. They were not amused, to say the least.
As I watched Slayer, I couldn't help but think about the last time I saw them, at the Big Four show. During that performance, Jeff Hanneman came on stage and played a few songs with the band. It was a bittersweet memory, one that had me contemplating the current state of metal and such thoughts as, I wish Pantera was still touring. However, Gary Holt has been doing a fine job of filling in on guitar since Hanneman's death.
So I admit it. As I avoided getting taken out by the very large man who fell off the stairwell into my row, I got a bit nostalgic at the Slayer show, regardless of the lyrical content dealing mainly with death, war, religion, and murder -- I mean, there's a lesson about the strength of the human spirit in there somewhere.
Kerry King was impressive as always, nailing his killer guitar solos and giving fans up front a fantastic vantage point. The one thing I will complain about is that the guitars were hard to hear at times, overcome by the drums. And while you could hear King's solos the best, you could rarely hear Holt's parts.
"Dead Skin Mask" came about halfway through the set, after frontman Tom Araya, for the second time out of three times, stood in front of the crowd for about an entire minute and stared into space, soaking it all in. He scanned the crowd and began to slowly speak the lyrics to "Dead Skin Mask":
"I say... Dance with the dead in my dreams.. listen to their hallowed screams.. the dead have taken my soul... temptation's lost all CONTROOOLL!!"
That specific lyric that Araya chose to focus on during the entire set was a good summation for the entire evening. The crowd were all lost in the heavy metal glory, letting loose (or losing control) from their everyday lives and embracing their dark sides.
What: Slayer, Suicidal Tendencies and Exodus on Saturday, November 15
Where: Comerica Theatre in Phoenix
The Crowd: A mix of old and young extreme metal heads. Lots of denim patched backs and metal studs. Way too many guys who had pickup lines from the '90s.
Overheard in the Crowd: "Where did you lose your earplugs?" "Fucking Little Rock, Arkansas."
Personal Bias: I knew I was going to enjoy this show no matter what: the lineup was versatile and solid, and the people watching is on an entirely different level. My only complaint was some of the sound issues with Slayer's guitars.
Random Thought: What is it with random joints and Slayer? Slayer concerts are the only ones I know where joints are just passed through the crowd like Paris Hilton.
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