Published Aug 03, 2011The tour being billed as "Hell on Earth" had the Victoria headbangers in a tizzy well before its early start time. War cries of "Fuckin' Slaaaaaaaaayeeeer!" echoed around the arena grounds hours before the doors opened. Yep, it was a Slayer gig, through and through, and the thrash titans' gaudy T-shirts outnumbered Rob Zombie apparel at least 10-1.
Openers Exodus are Bay Area thrash royalty, and despite going through some significant members changes the past few years, they remain a speedy maelstrom of riffs -- when you can hear them. Unfortunately, most of their newer material was rendered indistinguishable by muddled murkiness, aka "arena sound." You could make out the unmistakable "Bonded by Blood," in which new vocalist Rob Dukes (a huge man with an even huger stage presence) did his best Paul Baloff impersonation. On the band's trademark basher, "The Toxic Waltz," Dukes goaded the crowd into an arena-sized circle pit -- impressive considering the set peaked at 7:30 in the evening.
Rob Zombie and crew delivered their show with ease; then again, it's not tough to plow through a 12-song set of what are essentially perverted nursery rhymes. Peppered by White Zombie hits like "More Human Than Human" and an extended version of "Thunder Kiss '65," Zombie's set was a well-rounded look at his decidedly one-dimensional music career. Material from his latest album, Hellbilly Deluxe II, sounded tight, and the stage show was a delightful amalgam of naked boobies and large animatronic creatures. But the whole deal sounded exactly like what you'd expect from a band with two ex-members of Marilyn Manson. When they came out in Canadian flag costumes for "Dragula" and Zombie started a chant of his own name, it was kind of confusing.
But there was no confusing Slayer, the tried and true bludgeoning machine that are the quintessential thrash metal institution. Let's face it -- no else in the metal world touches these guys for consistency, chaos and a blazing live show. No other band can put their heads down, strike their first chord and then 70 minutes later look back up and survey the destruction. As a crowd member, it's hard not to be affected by that kind of assault. It's draining, but it's revelatory.
Without getting too deep, Slayer ripped our faces off. Starting with two tracks from their latest album, World Painted Blood, the three main members of Slayer (joined by Exodus guitarist Gary Holt due to axe slinger Jeff Hanneman recovering from necrotizing fasciitis -- how metal is that?!) proceeded to run rampant through their relentless back catalogue. Tracks from their landmark South of Heaven (1988) and Seasons in the Abyss (1990) albums sounded particularly nasty, including some deeper cuts like "Silent Scream" and "Spirit in Black."
While their later catalogue was all but ignored, it was interesting to see guitar behemoth Kerry King pull off some ad-libbing and general inventiveness during the set. Never slouches in their own right, drummer Dave Lombardo and bassist/screamer Tom Araya were in the Slayer zone, as always. While glimpses of Lombardo from behind the kit were rare, his double bass blasts and tom-rolling hasn't lost a single step; if anything, his playing has got even more insane over the years.
Araya, the ringleader of this nonstop assault, would calmly step up to the mic between songs and just stare into the audience. Save for a quick "support the troops"-type sermon, he said only a few words the whole night. His calm and humble delivery of "thank you very much" near the end of the set was followed by perhaps the best "Angel of Death" live opening scream he's delivered in decades. And with that, it was clear that legends never grow old.