For the last thirty-three years the iconic band, Slayer, have maintained a momentum and work ethic that is not only impressive, but truly a standard to meet. With unforgiving imagery serving as a darkly romantic catalyst to equally brutal music and painfully sharp lyrics, it’s no wonder they are considered one of the forefathers of death metal. Although they have dealt with and publicly denied a fair share of controversy concerning interests in Satanism and accusations of sympathies to Nazism, two-time Grammy winning, Slayer, remains one of The Big 4 (The Four largely popular thrash metal bands that formed in the 1980’s and dominated the thrash scene;Metallica,Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax) and have become a household name both in praise and condemnation. Their influence spans decades and the number of bands directly citing them is in the hundreds. In recent years the band has been through some personal hardships with the third-time departure of drummer and co-founder Dave Lombardo over a pay dispute in February 2013, as well as the death of guitarist and co-founder JeffHanneman due to liver failure on May 2, 2013. Undeterred, Slayer continues to write and tour with the same dedication to both their music and fans, as they have since 1981.
Opening night of the tour was originally scheduled for Wednesday, November 12th in Oakland at The Fox Theater. When it was quickly sold out, fans were so determined to not miss the show that they demanded a second show be added. Thus, Tuesday, November 11th was the updated opening night for Slayer’s tour of monstrous proportions; with supporting bands Suicidal Tendencies and Exodus. It’s not the first time these bands have been on the road together but sometimes a taste of the old familiar can be essential in reconnecting with faded passions.
There are many myths and misconceptions about attending a Slayer concert. Although most of the audience was dressed in black, pentagrams and reversed crosses were spotted in abundance, as well as random screams coming from all directions; it worth noting that the energy in the room was very positive and full of excitement as well as a lot of laughter. There was a swell amongst the already charged Fox Theater audience when a large white sheet ascended from the stage to the ceiling, blocking any further view. Eventually the theater lights dimmed and instrumental track, “Darkness Of Christ” began oozing from the PA speakers. The packed theater was filled with adoring applause. Suddenly appearing on the far left side of the thin white curtain was the image of a giant vibrating gold pentagram with the name ‘SLAYER’ in red, stamped on top. The crowd got louder. Then a second Slayer stamped pentagram and almost immediately a third, as the fuzz from the speakers grew louder and more uncomfortable. Rhythmic “Slayer! Slayer! Slayer!” chants could be heard over the fuzz that was steadily becoming distortion bleeding from the monitors. A fourth convulsing logo blasted onto the curtain before all electric sound ceased for only a moment before the vocal wave from the audience would succumb into obscurity, overpowered by the opening six notes of “Disciple.”
Like the flight of Icarus, the curtain rapidly descended to reveal the band of the hour, Slayer. Sound engulfed all available space in the theater along with an explosive array of strobe lights shooting all directions. Starting off the set with one of their most fan favorite and widely known songs caused the mass of humanity on the theater’s floor to gyrate and sway before opening up like a void straight to hell. An immense heat rose as it escaped from within the confines of the once tightly contained bodies as they broke apart from one another. There were those that ran to get as close as possible to the band while others, in unspoken unison created the evening’s circle pit. It was a scene of perceived chaos amongst the swirling mass commandeering the main floor but, surprisingly, little to no true moshing took place. No matter how intense or seemingly violent it may have appeared, it was as if those in the thick were equipped with radar; as multiple people worked together to help anyone that fell return to their feet and proceed with the dance. It was later reported the impact of physical force exploding from the fans on floor could be felt in the feet of those one level up on the first standing tier.
Looming over those on the far right and sporting a Oakland Raiders jersey with four large chains hanging from his belt, guitarist Kerry King’s glass piercing solos shredded auditory frequencies. On the opposing side of the stage, guitarist Gary Holt continually pumped up the crowd into a fury with both intensity and speed while complimenting King’s leads. With an iron backbone steadily behind the drums, Paul Bostaph played with diamond precision at break neck speed. Bassist Tom Araya commanded center stage with ominous presence and vehement vocals, most of which were met with choir like response from the devout audience.
The penetrating vibrations of Slayer’s music could be felt from tiptoe to hair and even with earplugs wedged in deep, there was no denying the reputation earned as one of the loudest live bands of all time. It was clear within the first eight songs of the band’s set list that any attempt in predicting what may come next was futile. From the opening song off their 2001 album, God Hates Us All, they blew through the 80’s and 90’s with songs like “Jesus Saves”, “Spill The Blood”, and “War Ensemble”; even reaching way back to “Die by the Sword” off their first record Show No Mercy. The only newer songs that made the set were, “Snuff” and “Psychopathy Red”, from the band’s 2009 album World Painted Blood. Career defining songs held their place, as even the novice fan would recognize tracks like, “Raining Blood”, “Hell Awaits”, and “Seasons In The Abyss.” There were interchanging banners towering behind the band that would eventually drop throughout the set. After the third banner dropped to reveal the Heineken label inspired Jeff Hanneman tribute, the band played no encore but would take whatever the audience had left to give and blistered though, closing with “South of Heaven” and “Angel Of Death.” It was truly a minefield of both hits and deep album cuts from a legendary career.
It was a night of deafening fun and communal rage release with a soundtrack by one of the best bands ever heard live. Avoiding an opportunity to see Slayer out of fear, or being skeptical as to whether they’ve still got it, would be of a huge personal disservice. With all the advances in modern technology and evolving promotional strategies, it’s nice to see a stripped down band of four friends get on stage and do what they’ve done best all their lives, play some fuckin’ metal.
Words Jordan Wolfe