I know every self-respecting heavy metal fan is looking at the title of this article and wondering “where the f*ck is Anthrax?”. It is true that Anthrax opened the show in Baltimore on Wednesday night but I did not get to see much of their set. Try the last part of their last song only. Thank you Baltimore for forcing a show to start the minute the doors opened to get the small army of metal fans in and out of the Inner Harbor as quickly as possible. Seriously, my buddies and I made good time on our drive from DC to Baltimore, only to be shocked that Anthrax were saying their “Thank you, good night” the minute we took to the arena floor. It was 7:36 and Anthrax had already played their full set. FAIL.
Anthrax rant aside, the rest of the Jagermeister Fall Music Tour aka American Carnage II otherwise known as Clash Of The Titans Tour Redux was a head-banging, air guitar dueling, kick ass, good time. Megadeth performed their classic album “Rust in Peace” and then some with arena-metal showmanship that, frankly, I forgot still existed. Slayer then took the stage to perform their second masterpiece “Seasons in the Abyss” along with a sampler of their greatest hits and delivered a mammoth set of skin-peeling intensity. The show was a fun mix of somewhat silly 80’s Metal nostalgia followed by a virtuoso performance by the best Metal band in the business.
Megadeth takes me back to my childhood. Images of their rivet-faced mascot Vic Rattlehead haunted me as a boy long before I ever heard their music. The older brother of my childhood best friend was a text-book Heavy Metal fiend in the 80’s and the bedroom they shared was plastered from floor to ceiling with Megadeth and Iron Maiden posters. Some of my first excursions away from home were sleepovers at this friend’s house, and each night I would try to fall asleep under Vic Rattlehead’s creepy metal stare. Fast forward a few years, we are a little older, and tooling around in the backseat of my friend’s brother’s Firebird with “Peace Sells…Who’s Buying” blaring in our ears as the brother drives us to the Mall at terrifying speeds. Ah good times.
Once I grew old enough to have an opinion about music, I realized that Megadeth were pretty lame. I dismissed most of their catalog as lesser Metal, even though so many older Metal fans worshiped them. Years later, I still think that they are kind of lame; I mean Mustaine’s voice is almost unbearable; but I have come to appreciate some of their playing, especially on “Rust in Peace”. That said, I probably would never go to a headlining Megadeth concert. So I considered their addition to this Slayer show as something of a nostalgia trip bonus with the possible upside of being converted to their cause by a strong performance.
I’m happy to say that I was very impressed by the mighty Megadeth on Wednesday night. Dave Mustaine still has a terrible singing voice (he is sort of a constipated cross between Bob Dylan and Robert Plant) and there was plenty of cheesy Metal showmanship detracting from the musical purity of the set; but when they got right down to it and unleashed those long instrumental stretches (contained in just about every song) they really won me over. At first I found myself sort of shocked by how much I was enjoying their set and then I made the decision to just roll with it.
Megadeth tore through “Rust In Peace” and then returned to the stage for two extended encores. I’ll admit that during the first encore my mind began to wander a bit. I had prepped myself with “Rust In Peace” and this encore intended for the life-long fan extended the show a bit beyond my interest. Although it was entertaining to hear “Symphony of Destruction” live.* Megadeth’s second crowd-pleasing encore however was an entirely different beast. They took to the stage totally reinvigorated and blasted through three or four more songs. It was almost as if different bands had performed the first and second encore. I loved their set closing run of songs and now I am trying to find the set list so I can track those few songs down. Maybe my friend’s older brother was onto something after all.
As much fun as I had watching Megadeth and as good as they were, I still felt their set had the distinct aroma of cheese about it. Heavy Metal should be a lot more hard-hitting, brutal, and serious in my humble opinion. The band that essentially defines the best of classic Heavy Metal for me is Slayer. After catching Slayer on a last minute whim almost 10 years ago, I was so impressed that I vowed to never pass up a chance to see them ever again.** Slayer are the beast.
It is generally accepted that Slayer’s album “Reign in Blood” is one of the best Metal albums of all time. It is Slayer’s first masterpiece and arguably their best record. “Seasons In The Abyss” is their second great record and easily my personal favorite. The prospect of seeing Slayer again is enough to get me giddy. When I heard that Slayer were going to perform “Seasons In The Abyss” in concert, I started looking around for the Devil offering it in trade for my soul. Are you freaking kidding me!? Slayer performing “Seasons in the Abyss”…you could not keep me from this concert with an army of arch-angels.
So how was the show? Ridiculous. Any fan of heavy guitar music must see Slayer at least once before they die. That massive wall of amplifiers physically dwarfing Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman must be seen at least once. Their even larger finger-breaking guitar solos must be heard in person at least once. They way that they trade-off their low-on-the-neck solos is incredible. Tom Araya’s sick butterfly bass lines and guttural scream vocals must be felt at least once. Araya was a mischievous demon of a front man, smiling wryly as he bantered with the crowd. During their songs, Araya stared the crowd down with evil, unflinching eyes; a welcome side effect of recent back surgery that prevents him from head-banging.*** And of course, Dave Lombardo’s super-human drumming must be witnessed to be believed. Lombardo is one of the greatest drummers on earth; watching and hearing him perform on the drums would impress any music fan regardless of their genre tastes.
Slayer opened their set with two of their newer songs that have recaptured the classic-era Slayer sound after years of luke-warm albums. This nod to their latest album “World Painted Blood” was obligatory but opened the show strong and warmed the band up for the herculean task ahead of them. Araya asked the crowd if they were ready before the band launched into the brutal onslaught of “Seasons in the Abyss”.
It was truly jaw-dropping to watch this record realized live on stage. I don’t really understand how human hands, fingers, and feet can fly as fast as King’s, Hanneman’s, Araya’s, and Lombardo’s did on Wednesday night. How they can play so insanely fast while maintaining accuracy is a mystery to me. King and Hanneman’s fingers working the frets of their guitars was a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! display of prestidigitation. If I close my eyes, I can still see the blur of Araya’s hand strumming his bass like a hummingbird. Lombardo was impossible to miss, as his double bass kick drums punched you in the gut like a heavy-weight boxer.
Hearing “Seasons in the Abyss” live was such a unbelievable thrill, such a towering moment for me as a music fan, that it was almost overkill for Slayer to perform an encore. Almost. After a very brief breather, the band launched into a four song closing run that has got to be one of the most intense runs of live songs of all time: “South of Heaven”, “Raining Blood”, Aggressive Perfector”, and “Angel of Death”. During these four songs the audience entered into a mass trance; the folks up front went absolutely bat-shit insane while the rest of the floor-crowd rocked back and forth in their own personal space. Everyone wore intense scowls that read “Abandon hope all ye who enter here”.
* There’s an MTV classic that I never imagined I would see in concert.
** As long as Dave Lombardo is drummer.
*** I actually think Araya not head-banging made his performance all the more sinister and creepy.