An epic evening of thrash savagery at Van Andel Arena on Slayer’s final world tour also uncorked ear-splitting sets from Lamb of God, Anthrax, Testament and Napalm Death. Review and photos. And check out video of Anthrax’s Joey Belladonna singing Journey afterward at Founders.
SCROLL DOWN FOR PHOTO GALLERY OF ALL FIVE BANDS
It was the last time we’ll see pyro blasts forming inverted crosses and pentagrams. The last time we’ll feel the double-bass drums of “Angel of Death” battering our brains and kidneys and pancreases. The last time we’ll hear Tom Araya’s air-raid scream bouncing off the hockey-barn walls. The last time we’ll go home with a riff-split headache and still hear the cruel hiss of tinnitus in your head three days later.
It was the last time. It’s all over. The scariest, heaviest, most influential thrash metal band ever is kaput. The mighty Slayer has Spinal Tapped out.
But don’t get all misty about it. Whether you cried or not likely depends upon how many $10 Coors Light tall boys you tossed back during Slayer’s final Grand Rapids tour stop at Van Andel Arena Tuesday night. The tour is a mini-marathon featuring five Very Significant metal bands over the course of six hours, with openers Lamb of God, Anthrax, Testament and Napalm Death encompassing a right properly loud-as-hell celebration of the histrionic headliner.
Once Slayer popped the evening’s last pyro pack after 90 minutes of totally brutal mayhemic annihilative musical destruction, singer/bassist Araya’s mischievous, crooked grin turned wistful, maybe even melancholy. “Thank you for everything,” is all he said, soaking in the cheers before exiting the stage.
There was no encore, only nigh-ceaseless bloodthirsty inhuman musical savagery and barbarism. If his final address seemed anticlimactic, well, what were you expecting from Slayer? Blown kisses, rose bouquets and sentimental displays?
NOSTALGIC, SIGNATURE BOMBAST AND MUSICAL APTITUDE
No, they reduced the place to its composite atoms, stared into the crater for a few minutes, then left – and then I witnessed two manly grown men in the row ahead of me embrace each other in a sad, manly manner as they likely experienced the final drunken Slayer concert of their manly lives.
Admittedly, I found it to be a nostalgic reflection of a time when I was younger, stupider and longer of hair. Slayer was one of my first concerts 28 years ago, at a joint in Grand Rapids then called Club Eastbrook, later dubbed the Orbit Room. I recall submitting to the sheer sonic maelstrom of “Chemical Warfare,” a speed-metal oldie they also ripped through Tuesday: The room was bathed in blood-red lights and the sound was louder than anything I experienced before, or since even. I was shell-shocked. I went home surely resembling some teenage creature wasted on too much of a terrifying synthetic drug, but the only thing I was high on was metal.
Of course, Slayer is no longer the same band. Stalwart members Araya and guitarist Kerry King remain, flanked by hired gun guitarist Gary Holt (of seminal thrashers Exodus) and drummer Paul Bostaph, an on-again, off-again Slayer second-stringer (who served time in seminal thrashers Exodus, equally seminal thrashers Testament, and seminal-only-if-you-were-once-neck-deep-in-thrash-tapes thrashers Forbidden). Gone are founding guitarist Jeff Hanneman, who died in 2013, and the greatest metal drummer of all time, Dave Lombardo, who quit/was fired over money squabbles, and now plays with seminal crossover thrashers Suicidal Tendencies.
So it goes.
But if Slayer’s personnel gives skeptics pause, Tuesday’s set proved the band’s signature bombast and musical aptitude were firmly intact. Likely the biggest stage production Slayer has enjoyed during its 37-year existence, machines belched more smoke and flatulated more flames than ever before, and the band’s promise of impending retirement doom sees it drawing bigger audiences. (Tuesday’s spectacle drew 9,000-plus.)
They’ve always been a cult band, leaving thousands of proteges and zero radio hits in their wake. Now, they’re headlining arenas for one last go-round, pleasing a fan base ready and willing for one final crap-kicking, ear-shelling, noggin-bashing Slayer experience.
The band proficiently worked through a career-spanning set list: speedsters “War Ensemble” and “Postmortem”; rusting old classics “Hell Awaits” and “Black Magic”; brooding murder anthems “Dead Skin Mask” (the closest Slayer comes to a sing-along) and “South of Heaven”; bilious, punkish eruptions “Payback” and “Dittohead.” Savage war-is-hell cut “Mandatory Suicide” was a highlight — Araya’s vocal sinister and nasty, the arrangement disintegrating into a squall of guitar solos.
The final hymns included, of course, “Raining Blood” and “Angel of Death,” staples of life itself for graying bangers. We all saw that hell-train coming, and willfully stood right on the tracks.
No thrash band – or possibly any metal band, period – is more seminal and important to the current state of metal than Slayer. Tuesday’s show gave fans one final opportunity to yell the timeless and integral metal war cry “SLAYER!” in the same building as the band. The faithful hordes bellowed their approval as they filed out, the arena halls echoing with the name of true metal gods. Now that Slayer is calling it quits, those sounds resemble howls of existential pain.
FAN-INCITING SETS FROM LAMB OF GOD, ANTHRAX, TESTAMENT, NAPALM DEATH
It was a long night, and I didn’t pay for a seat to not sit in it during Lamb of God’s 50-minute set. The bill’s relative youngsters, Lamb of God has been a notable entity in the metal perimeter for the better part of two decades, and are one of the genre’s bigger contemporary draws. Their one-dimensional thrash features samey-sounding riff-pummels, although the occasional Pantera-derived swaggering hook sometimes emerges — case in point, set-closer “Redneck,” which inspired lots of white boys to pit real hard down on the floor, then surely vote Democrat on the way home.
The crowd was exuberant for Lamb of God, who liberally employed strobes in a relatively complex production. I assert this is to distract from the songs, which tend to be rhythmically machine-like, with the oop-ack vocals of Randy Blythe providing some semblance of organic simian influence. Blythe tends to sound like a constipated horse, and I say that as someone who enjoys bands fronted by vocalists who sound like Cookie Monster chasing a snickerdoodle down a garbage disposal. One thing is certain: promoters should’ve slapped seminal thrashers Overkill in this slot.
Seminal thrashers Anthrax offer a relatively jovial live experience. They opened their 40-minute set by quoting Pantera’s “Cowboys From Hell,” surely intended to be a tribute to recently passed drummer Vinnie Paul. Wisely, they segued into “Caught in a Mosh,” a vintage romp that brought the crowd to life. “Madhouse” and their hit cover of Trust’s “Antisocial” were tight and lively, with Joey Belladonna’s vocals showing some elasticity atop gangland-shouted choruses and Charlie Benante’s driving drum battery. They dug a little deeper into the catalog for their most inspired number, “Be All End All,” and roused the slam pit during set closer “Indians.”
(Editor’s Note: Following the Van Andel Arena show, Anthrax lead singer Joey Belladonna strolled over to Nicholas James Thomasma’s Open Mic Night at Founders Brewing Co. and proceeded to sing Journey songs. Watch the video below.)
Fronted by bellowing vocalist Chuck Billy, seminal thrashers Testament whaled on us for 30 minutes, barely pausing between songs, cramming their set with as many husky riffs as possible, via representative numbers “Dog Faced Gods,” “Rise Up,” “The New Order” and “Into the Pit.” The combo punch of “The Preacher” and “Practice What You Preach” highlighted the balance of musical proclivity and heft, topped with godly merciless shredding by lead guitarist Alex Skolnick.
Consummate grindcore professionals Napalm Death delivered a fierce opening volley to a sparse 5 p.m. crowd. Maybe that’s better off, because any look-ma posers in attendance wouldn’t have known what hit them: one of the most important bands in the metal underground. (Are they seminal? Seminal like a fox.) Napalm was brazen enough to stick to its guns and assault an arena P.A. system with blastbeats, bass guitar that sounds like a luxury airliner crashed into Lemmy’s rig, and the burly roars of frontman Mark “Barney” Greenway.
Songs ranged from the minimalist scrape of “Multinational Corporations” to the riffy mosh of “Suffer the Children,” which was more death metal than grindcore, if you care to split that particular goat hair. Greenway didn’t flinch in espousing the band’s brilliantly conceived contradiction – intelligent and progressive messages backed by outright savage music.
“Humanity is equality and dignity for all human beings. It’s the only way forward,” Greenway said, before the band barreled headlong into “Scum” and a pair of two-second cuts, “You Suffer” and “Dead.” They wrapped the set with a vicious cover of Dead Kennedys’ “Nazi Punks F— Off,” “in the spirit of friendship and solidarity,” per Greenway, who then left the stage with a polite and earnest, “Love and peace to you all.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Slayer, Lamb of God, Anthrax, Testament, Napalm Death
Photos by Anthony Norkus
VIDEO: Joey Belladonna of Anthrax at Founders Brewing Open Mic Night
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