Image Credit: Scott Legato/FilmMagic.com; Steve Thorne/Redferns/Getty ImagesLast night in New Jersey, a few folks in black t-shirts got together and pretended like grunge never happened. The American Carnage tour, which brings together Slayer, Megadeth, and Testament to relive the glory of old-school speed metal, came through the New York area last night. Slayer played their 1990 classic Seasons of the Abyss and Megadeth ran through 1990’s Rust in Peace, both in their entirety.
Sort of a second coming of each band’s last hurrah before alt-rock swept in and changed the hard-rock landscape. Metallica, who actually joined Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax for a show in Bulgaria earlier this year, would have fit right in on American Carnage if 1988’s …And Justice For All were only recorded two years later. The difference between Metallica and Slayer (and to a lesser extent Megadeth), of course, is that while Metallica cut off their hair, slapped on eyeliner, and recorded Bob Seger covers in response to alt-rock, Slayer is, and always has been effing SLAYER. No apologies, no compromise, no mercy.
That’s certainly what the freakishly dedicated fans at the Izod Center came to see. Is there such a thing as an ex-Slayer fan? You may have never liked Slayer. But anyone who ever did very likely did a lot, and almost certainly still does today. It’s a (Reign in) blood-in, (World Painted) blood-out fandom that last night attracted everyone from the teenage outcast who wasn’t even born when Seasons was released to the 50-year-old bald dude who threw on cargo shorts and a tattered Hell Awaits t-shirt and ran out of the office so quick he didn’t even have time to change out of his black dress socks.
Singer-bassist Tom Araya, drummer Dave Lombardo, and guitar players Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman have been doing this for three decades now, but those extra years didn’t prevent them from effortlessly finding the groove on Seasons in songs like “Expendable Youth” and “Dead Skin Mask,” even in a huge, echoey stadium like the Izod Center. And if there’s one Slayer record to hear all the way through, it’s Seasons: Along with South of Heaven and Reign in Blood, unquestionably indicative of the band’s heyday, but the more varied and (dare I say) melodic of that unholy triumvirate, it’s the most interesting to see performed as a single work of art.
After the 45-minute smoke-filled run through Seasons, the question as to what else we would hear was answered by Hanneman plinking the cryptic riff to “South of Heaven.” And then—as it should be—the set closed with a Reign in Blood orgy of “Raining Blood,” followed by “Angel of Death.” No chit-chat. No encore. Good night, New Jersey. As one testosterone-flooded fan said in the hallway afterward: “Who does encores? F*** encores. Encores are for p***ies. SLAYERRRRRRR!”
For a metal fan, all is right in the world when you see Araya, now a married father of two, calmly banging away on his bass while screaming bloody murder just as horrifically as he did 30 years ago. In the preceding Megadeth set, frontman Dave Mustaine had a harder time recreating the vocals from 1990’s Rust in Peace, however. The band was tight, and the set provided a welcome opportunity to hear live performances of some of the deeper cuts on that excellent record. But Mustaine clearly struggled to hit some of the high notes, opting for a flat, clean tone instead of the snarl that tore through the original record.
Fortunately, that flaw was a distant memory after the blistering end of the set, which included “Symphony of Destruction,” a new thrasher “Head Crusher” (from last year’s Endgame), and, of course, “Peace Sells.” The increased energy level during those closing numbers exposed the chief flaw of the album in its entirety concept: lack of spontaneity. The identical rendition of “Holy Wars”sprung upon you in the middle of a set elicits a rush that you just don’t get hearing it as the predetermined opening song to a full-album performance. Mustaine himself acknowledged the limiting factor of the format, describing the process of deciding what additional songs to add as such: “They only gave us 70 minutes to play and we have 13 f***ing albums. It’s like the ship’s going down and we have to decide which of our children to put in the life boat.”
A minor gripe, though, as the fans, pummeled into a calm, wide-eyed submission after nearly four hours of vintage metal, seemed to relish the chance to celebrate the 20-year anniversary of those two classic albums and the enduring bands behind them.
As openers for this leg of American Carnage, Testament capably got the crowd stirred up with old Headbanger’s Ball favorites like “Trial By Fire.” The band’s rapid-fire riffing skittered across singer Chuck Billy’s memorable melodies, and reminded us that this band too was once a titan of late-’80s metal. Guitarist Alex Skolnick is an amazing virtuoso (he also plays first-rate jazz guitar) and though his flashy between-verse fills felt mired in the Reagan-era, that doesn’t mean they weren’t appreciated.
In case the first few songs of their (way too short) set didn’t do trick, just before closing with “Into the Pit,” Billy split the lunatics moshing on the GA floor down the middle for a little lawsuit-waiting-to-happen insanity. “Okay, I want all of you on this side, to kill the motherf***ers on that side,” he directed from the stage, “and all of you motherf***ers to kill the f***ers on that side. Ready? One, two, three GOOOOO!” And go they did. But the machismo didn’t lend itself to fighting or injury. Just a blissed out group of metalheads basking the afterglow that can only come from a good thrashing.
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