Contributed by Jake Holmes
Dear readers, I have yet another confession to make: Until Sunday, November 10th, 2013 I had never seen Slayer live. Given as how the California deities of darkness were just about everyone in extreme metal’s initiation into this twisted music (including my own), this comes as a puzzling statement. I had been into Slayer since the age of 14 (more on that later), and somehow nearly a full decade had passed without seeing these metal gods. Thankfully, after years of unexpected circumstances coming up that prevented me from seeing Slayer, I was finally able to bear witness at Austin’s Fun Fun Fun Fest at Auditorium Shores. When guitarist/songwriter/icon Jeff Hanneman passed away earlier in the year, many in the metal scene questioned whether Slayer should continue without him. While I do understand that point of view, in my mind there was no better way I could have paid tribute to Jeff Hanneman’s memory (and his impact on myself) than by watching his musical brothers play songs in his honor, similar to Voivod’s continuation after Denis “Piggy” D’Amour passed on in 2005. With that explained, it is time to move on to the review.
I arrived just in time to watch NYHC legends the Cro-Mags tear Austin a new one, playing a set that was old-school in approach with an extremely receptive crowd. The talk around Auditorium Shores was that the Cro-Mags’ show at Holy Mountain the night before had left the venue all-but-destroyed, and the anticipation from another performance was running high. Fortunately, the Cro-Mags showed no sign of fatigue as they delivered a focused set of old-school passionate hardcore. All of the favorites were played, including “Malfunction” (with one of the most memorable opening lines in all of hardcore), “Show You No Mercy”, and the introductory one-two punch of “We Gotta Know” and “World Peace”. Singer John Joseph had an unbelievable amount of energy, jumping off the drum riser and passing the mic off to rabid fans who were screaming along to every word. He established an excellent rapport with the crowd, voicing his relief that the emo trend that plagued hardcore (and music in general) during the MySpace days was over. There were many stage-dives and circle-pits; the ideal vibe for a hardcore show with violence on violence that was paradoxically all in good fun, with nobody seriously getting hurt (at least, not intentionally). The Cro-Mags ended their set with one of the best songs they ever wrote – “Hard Times”, from the “The Age of Quarrel” album, generating a huge pit with two wrestlers in costume making their way into the pit (I can’t make this stuff up, after all). This was my second time seeing the Cro-Mags and, while the first time was good friendly violent fun, the second time was even better.
As I didn’t care for any of the bands on Sunday other than the two covered here, I found myself killing time by watching a wrasslin’ match and by eating a tasty sandwich and waffle fries (SUPPORT!) from a food stand. With this nutrition energizing me, I made my way to the Orange Stage and after what seemed like an agonizingly long wait was rewarded with a spot in the crowd right near the front to bear witness to the carnage that awaited Austin.
Finally, as inverted crosses were raised and smoke filled the air like fire and brimstone from Hell below, the intro started — and any true Slayer fan knew exactly where it was coming from: That backmasked chorus of demoniac voices beckoning from beyond, which declared a haunting message once the recording was reversed — “JOIN US!” The title song of the landmark second Slayer album (“Hell Awaits”, in case you just got into metal about five minutes ago) came blasting through the PA, played by what seemed to be four horsemen of the apocalypse. At once, the pit was chaos, with the audience thrashing and slamming around as if possessed by malevolent spirits hell-bent on destroying anyone in their path. It only took about ten seconds before reality sunk in — it was time to face the Slayer. Once the last notes of “Hell Awaits” rang out, Slayer jumped right into “The Antichrist” just like in their 1991 live album, “Decade of Aggression”. From then on, it was classic song after classic song, delivered faithfully and driving the crowd insane. There was no material from after 1990’s “Seasons in the Abyss” played, only old-school songs such as “Captor of Sin” and “Postmortem”. No release from the classic era of Slayer was neglected, with songs from “Show No Mercy” fitting in alongside “Seasons in the Abyss” in perfect (dis)harmony. Slayer may be known for their speed, but they are able to create a truly sinister aura in their slowest moments as well, such as those found on “South of Heaven”. For example, “Dead Skin Mask” was never my favorite Slayer song (albeit still a great one), but after hearing it live, I found myself with a much greater appreciation for the macabre atmosphere that the song creates with its morbid crescendo and haunting lyrics. The title track of “Seasons in the Abyss” is similarly unsettling, and hearing thousands of metalheads screaming along to the chorus would be enough to frighten any concerned parent fearing that their child would go to a Slayer concert (the frantic mosh pits would also play a part in this hypothetical fretting).
The biggest surprise of the evening came in the form of an Exodus cover, “Strike of the Beast”, and the unexpected thrash anthem was rendered faithfully (as it should be, with Exodus guitarist Gary Holt playing it) and Tom Araya’s shouts perfectly fit over the razor-sharp riffing. In a way, this song’s inclusion allowed the night’s ceremony to be a tribute to not only one, but two fallen heroes of metal — the aforementioned Hanneman, and Paul Baloff, the undisputed king of poseur-killing who passed away in 2002. My personal highlight of the entire set was “Black Magic”, which was played immediately following the open chord of “Raining Blood” (another heavy-hitter in an already-stacked setlist). Even before the main riff was played, the low buzz of the guitar matched against the flurry of hi-hat hits was instantly recognizable, especially when the thump of Araya’s bass came in to signal the arrival of one of the best riffs Slayer ever wrote. Having covered the song live with my band, it was an unforgettable experience to witness it being played by the masters themselves.
As the song “South of Heaven” was drawn to a conclusion, there was still time for one more assault. Arguably the pinnacle of Jeff Hanneman’s songwriting and a contender for the most chilling lyrics in all of metal: The maliciously majestic “Angel of Death”. Musically, it is chaos; lyrically, it is pure terror. Sure, there are bands with more extreme or violent lyrics, but in my personal opinion, there is nothing that truly captures the grotesque inhumanity depicted in “Angel of Death”. It is a picture of mankind at its worst, and easily one of the most controversial metal songs every put to tape. Needless to say, screeching out these lyrics while moshing around in a giant pit (one of the biggest I have ever seen) was unreal, and everything I had imagined since my days as a high-school freshman. Once the opening riff was heard through the speakers, it was pure insanity, with an old-school circle pit breaking out during which yours truly was nearly trampled (it wouldn’t be a bad way to go out, but luckily I was picked up before I could be stepped on worse than I was). In a final honorable gesture, a banner, bearing Hanneman’s name in the style of the Heineken beer company logo, was unfurled during this last song, paying the night’s final tribute to the deceased legend.
When I first got into metal, I discovered the horrifying music of Slayer. It was jarring, sickening, and unlike anything that the 14-year-old version of me had heard up to that point, as “Master of Puppets” (being my original exposure to legitimate metal) did not even come close to these dissonant, chaotic, and vile exaltations coming from my CD player’s earbuds. It legitimately terrified me, having grown up sheltered in a small Texas town and being unexposed to this evil in musical form. It was at that point that I realized that I was looking into an abyss, and there were only two options: Flee in terror at the devilish hymns to darkness, or dive in to devote myself to this music for the rest of my life — everything else be damned. As I am here writing this review, it should be obvious what path I chose. On that black Sabbath, the path I had been walking since those nascent days reached a peak I had been striving for through the entirety of my journey in metal. Not that there was any doubt in my mind, but watching Slayer play all the songs that I had grown up with affirmed what I’ve known for so long: This is not just music. This is life.
Hail Hanneman. Hail metal. Hail Slayer.
To the death.
Jake Holmes is a Central Texas heavy metal writer who lives by the pen and will (likely) die by the sword. Originally from a suburban town outside of North Austin, Holmes moved to San Antonio during his college years. After several years and thousands of miles driven to see shows in San Antonio and Austin, he returned to the Austin area due to his graduation and continued to see as many shows as humanly possible. His interests include going to shows, blasting Carnivore as loudly as possible on the way to shows, and sleeping upon his return to his home from shows. His “dislikes” include hearing loss, traffic, and unnecessary bonus tracks on album reissues.
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