Slayer / All photos by Clayton Taylor
During a concert already buzzing with energy, with constant headbanging and an occasional mosh pit or crowd surfer, you could tell something was happening. I don’t know how to explain this otherwise, but if 2,000 people move simultaneously, you can hear them do it.
There was a reason for the sudden movement. The skies had opened up and dumped rain down on the lawn area of the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion in Rogers. It took a few more seconds for that rain to get to me. But, sure enough, it came as a fine mist, the wind whipping water not through the tent, but under it.
The water came just about the time Slayer started into a barrage of some of their most famous songs, including the smash “Raining Blood.” The rain and the guitars and the movement formed an unholy deluge. It’s quite certainly the most metal thing that’s ever happened at the AMP. It’s likely among the most metal things that’s ever happened in Northwest Arkansas, considering the perpetrators.
Next at the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion
What: Keith Urban with special guest Lindsey Ell
When: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 15
Where: Arkansas Music Pavilion, Rogers
Cost: Starting at $39 plus fees
Tickets: 479-443-5600 or visit arkansasmusicpavilion.com for information.
The band Slayer, nearly 40 years into a career of abrasive, unflinching music, are considered one of the big four of the thrash metal genre along with Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax, the latter of which also appeared on Monday night’s bill.
Arkansas has a bit of a metal scene, even a nationally respected metal band or two. But a Slayer show, one featuring four other national touring acts, simply isn’t a common occurrence in our state. It was even a bigger get than it might appear on the surface, as this outing has been billed as Slayer’s “Final World Tour.” The metal-loving community made a respectable showing for a Monday night. It wasn’t as full as a Kenny Chesney show, but the AMP was about 2/3 full for the metal legends.
What the assembled masses got to see was one of the loudest, angriest and most fire-laden sets our region has ever seen. This Slayer tour works as a mini metal festival, with five bands in all and music starting nearly six hours before the final note was played.
All of the bands present took cues from Slayer. If you’re familiar with the infinite monkey theorem, you’d know that given enough time and accidental discovery, all manner of content will be created. That would mean that the extremes of guitar and voice and speed would be challenged by some band, and Slayer helped lead the way. There are groups who are more of each than Slayer, with more unthinkable guitar tone, more guttural violence in their screaming, darker lyrics or faster tempos. But Slayer showed that even though their end is coming, you can still see the edge of musical possiblity from where they stand.
Slayer wrote four or five of the most jarring and innovative guitar riffs of all time, particularly in their late 1980s heyday. They didn’t skimp on hits during the setlist compiled for their last run of shows, and mainstays such as “Raining Blood,” “Angel of Death” and “South of Heaven” ripped through the rain. Those riffs were the highlight of the event, and they are the reason you come to a Slayer concert. Void of those moments, the middle section of the event felt a little repetitive. The guitars always wail, and Tom Araya’s vocals can be understood about every third word. The double bass drum constantly thumps. You could say it this way: When you’re being beaten over the head with a stick, you don’t always stop to ask what kind of wood it is. A Slayer show is a little like that, but with more fire. There was nearly constant fire. It shot in almost a 180 degree range from the stage. It rose as a curtain. Flames shot up and sideways simultaneously to create an inverted cross of fire. It lit a pair of pentagram logos that flanked the band. It was a tremendous amount of fire.
It was, all told, a tremendous amount of metal as well. Slayer brought another of the big four thrash bands with them on this tour. Anthrax had the middle position of the five-band bill. I wasn’t as impressed with them as I was with Testament, which I must confess to not knowing much about. They lean in a more classic rock, less abrasive direction when compared to some of the others on stage Monday. In particular, Alex Skolnick’s guitar work was impeccable.
Between Anthrax and Slayer were Lamb of God, a relatively young act in that they started in the mid-1990s instead of the 1980s. But they weren’t so different than Slayer, even if they owe a little more credit to Pantera than the headliners for their sound. Like during Slayer’s set, there was a uniformity to the sound that bordered on making every song sound the same, particularly because I couldn’t pick up any of Randy Blythe’s screams over the din of his band. Like Slayer, he said his band has barely been to Arkansas, and he dedicated a song to all of those “who watched us at Geno’s Pizza in Little Rock back in the day.” I can’t image what that show would have been like.
Blythe also gave a shoutout to the band that brought them on the tour, and for helping create the kind of music featured during Monday’s show.
It’s the kind of music that cuts through a storm and ignores the wind. And it’s worth seeing once, if you happen to be in one of the towns remaining on the final tour.