Slayer / Megadeth / Testament
UIC Pavilion –Chicago, IL
August 20, 2010
By Anthony Kuzminski
- Read my review of the Big Four simulcast HERE
- Read a different point of view review from the None But My Own Blog HERE
Thrash metal has always been widely misconstrued by the masses. However, in a perverse position of paradox, 100-years from now, it is doubtful that other non-metal genres of music will be able to fill stadiums across the world. The impact that metal has made in the last few decades on a worldwide basis is incommunicable; you simply have to witness it to believe it. As long as there are disaffected youth, there will be metal. As virtuous, pure and pleasurable other genres of music may be, far too many of them fail to dig deep or attempt to put the world and its tribulations on a stage. Artists on Top-40 radio are ephemeral and while they take you away fleetingly you’re still secluded when the moment passes. Thrash metal doesn’t just make you face up to those issues head on, but in concert, it’s a surly exorcism. Over 10,000 fans observed and took part in one at Chicago’s UIC Pavilion recently on the “American Carnage” concert tour. Three of the most cogent thrash bands to ever walk the Earth (Slayer, Megadeth and Testament) decimated the Chicago faithful with a 4-hour antiestablishment show.
Testament stepped up to the plate first. Despite several line-up changes over the years they threw themselves into the middle of a jolting tsunami of ferocity. With the return of guitarist Alex Skolnick a few years back, the band is now touring with what is largely their classic line-up (only drummer Paul Bostaph isn’t original but was Slayer’s drummer for nearly a decade) and with the release of The Formation of Damnation they are back to set the record straight substantiating their existence. For nearly 40-minutes the band delivered a set high on technique opening with the one-two punch of “More Than Meets the Eye” and “Dog Faced Gods”. “3 Days in Darkness” found some exceptional four finger magic by Greg Christian on bass. Like lines on a highway, he helps steer the band through treacherous turns keeping them on the road. “Into the Past” featured some frantic fret interlock by Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson who played off one another with burly grace. “Practice What You Preach” was hypnotic and hellish. A song that has not been a regular staple of shows was brought out and it was welcomed. Back in 1989, underground Chicago metal station 103.1 WVVX and its listeners voted Practice What You Preach metal album of the year. To this day it stands as an acme of their catalog and its absence from recent set-list is head scratching. More bewildering is the inclusion of a pair of songs from The Gathering, an album that didn’t feature Alex Skolnick. They’re both indisputable tunes but with a abbreviated set and so much landmark material missing from their early records and only two from The Formation of Damnation, one would hope they’d focus on the classics and the future rather than the in-between periods. The slovenly old school epics “The New Order” and “Into the Pit” were downright menacing initiating the fanatical mosh pit that would pick up steam with every act. Chuck Billy yelped bottomless bellows like whale ready to swallow the world whole. Testament made their presence known (they were filming footage for a forthcoming DVD) and set the stage for two of the definitive albums of the thrash genre
Megadeth’s Rust in Peace and Slayer’s Seasons in the Abyss are celebrating their 20th Anniversaries. Both albums find the metal legends providing biting social commentary surrounding wars, doom, political chaos, social decay, military corruption and overall political doom around the world. I still have issues with both releases, yet despite this they are surprisingly more relevant than ever in 2010. The foreshadowing and spewing forth of truth from both acts were ahead of their time. When they were released in 1990, the first Gulf War hadn’t begun and now two decades later, we’ve seen two specific wars in the region. Slayer and Megadeth (along with many of their thrash contemporaries) give a tip-of-the-hat to the godfathers of folk and rock from the 60’s where the concert stage was their pulpit from which they tried to expose the truth. Slayer and Megadeth have never been afraid of shaking the foundations and attempting to forge innovative ideas, fresh opinions and anticipate that their audience will listen absorbedly and scrutinize what they had to say.
What differentiates this version Megadeth from others is the triumphant return of original bassist, Dave Ellefson. For me, there is no Megadeth without both Mustaine and Ellefson as pieces of the puzzle. They accomplish so much more when they tackle the world together. Ellefson’s presence, along with a clear minded Megadeth elicited some of the evening’s most ardent reactions. With the lights dimmed and each member taking to the stage one-by-one and by the time Ellefson and Mustaine took their respective places the place was trembling before Mustaine fiercely commenced it all with a fuming opening riff of “Holy Wars... The Punishment Due “, the first of nine tracks from the seminal Rust in Peace. “Hangar 18” included a scorching mid-section courtesy of Mustaine’s jaw-dropping finger work. I’ve followed Megadeth long enough to know when it’s one of those nights and with every note performed; they wrapped the crowd around them in ways I never deemed possible. Rust in Peace may not be amongst my preferred Megadeth albums, but it’s an integral one which still influences people today. Surprisingly, the band appears to be more in command of their destiny than ever before. Even tracks like “Tornado of Souls” and “Five Magics” engaged the larger crowd and the album’s finale of “Rust in Peace” featured the band in full throttle attack mode.
The remainder of their set, which could have gone off course, didn’t and found the band displaying more than sheer virtuosity but the very best Megadeth could give. “Head Crusher” from their latest Endgame featured a sledgehammer riff while the more melodic Megadeth was represented by the superb “Trust” from Cryptic Writings. “Trust” may have not contained the in-your-face fierceness of their most celebrated work, but it’s among Mustaine’s greatest accomplishments as a songwriter. There’s an air of revelation when he delivers the line “God help me please, on my knees”. It may not be their heaviest moment, but make no mistake; it’s one of their best. The finale of “Symphony of Destruction” and “Peace Sells” found all four members channeling the infuriation of social decay through their instruments as the crowd lapped it up like it was water in the desert. On “Peace Sells” with its incandescent opening bass riff, Mustaine barely even needed to step towards the microphone as the crowd sang the song for him. Arguably one of the metal world’s definitive moments, it solidified not just Megadeth’s past but the present as well. All four members performed their instruments meticulously and whether it’s Ellefson’s return to the band, healed relationships or Mustaine’s confessional new biography, they seemed destined for great things ahead if this performance was any indicator.
When it comes to fandom in any genre of music, Slayer may have the most extreme and devoted in the world. Their level of devotion outnumbers any act I’ve ever seen and when the band took to the stage at the UIC Pavilion every one could see why. Despite never making a record that is even remotely commercial they have always been true to themselves and as a result, trends come and go but Slayer is forever. They work and thrive outside the monster of the music industry. Commentary on death, doom and destruction is their forte as they believe in unmasking the lies of society. As a curtain dropped and revealed a stack of 40-Marshall amps on-stage, the band tore through “World Painted Blood”, the title cut from their 2009 album. When Slayer steps out on the stage, get ready for an earth-shattering performance. The four members of Slayer play off the one another and through the power of their instruments evoke mayhem. Guitarist Kerry King plays his guitar possessed as if he is not of this Earth. It’s as if he’s merely here visiting like a ghost or prophet as his playing is downright primordial. Araya is an unlikely vocalist, but his menacing tone induces horror. Jeff Hanneman lends to heavy handed solos and riffs perfectly complimenting his band mates. Then there is drummer Dave Lombardo who plays the drums as if he’s scalping them. Never missing a beat he continually exceeds expectations and places Slayer’s music on another level. He’s as integral to the Slayer sound as Cliff Burton was to those early Metallica recordings.
On Seasons in the Abyss, Slayer made a huge leap forward creating a commentary on Reagan’s America and in the process, ironically, foreshadowed the doom much of us would witness for the last two decades. By no means is it the definitive Slayer record they took a huge leap forward embracing socioeconomically events. With Abyss being performed in its entirety, it limited the depth of their catalog during the show, but it didn’t stop the band from delivering some gigantic highlights. “Expendable Youth” had heaving guitars, complimented by Araya’s vocals and bass while the underpinning of Lombardo’s drums sounded like the apocalypse with bombs descending upon us from the sky. “Dead Skin Mask” features a Kerry King riff so heady it could raise the dead back to life. “Skeletons of Society” featured some devilish intertwined guitars. “Born of Fire” was especially severe and raging while the title track elicited the feeling of rising from the deepest and darkest depth of hell for a fight. Watching Slayer on the concert stage it becomes apparent that there is no other way on this Earth to communicate and express this wrath without the music. As meticulous and raging as the complete album was, it was the remainder of the show where Slayer left their bawdy mark. The primal composition of “South of Heaven” evoked hands and horns to the air while the blinding ire of the rhythm section and the cold fury of the guitars swept away the hostility and vehemence emanating from the crowd. “Raining Blood” may be the band’s epoch and was the evening’s prevalent moment. You couldn’t tell where the wrath of the pit began or ended. All one could see was a sea of people churning in circles and against one another like a battle call for the disillusioned had been dialed up. “Angel of Death” concluded the show with knife-like lyrics sung with hard-hitting craze by Araya, hell bent drumming by Lombardo and annihilating licks by King and Hanneman that pummel you like a heavy weight.
Slayer records and concerts are filled with unbridled and boiling candor. Don’t expect to be walked through the treacherous terrains of the world in a fraudulent fashion. The calamity and dejection they sing about isn’t depressing, but a forceful glimpse at the fraudulent world we live in. Slayer’s tenacity to never relent on their mission, paired with the world nearly collapsing upon itself only solidifies their art and how they execute it. If you seek outspoken brutal reality about criminals, social decay, political chaos and corruption, then the “American Carnage” tour is for you.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at thescreendoor AT gmail DOT com and can be followed on Twitter