Still among of the most intense live acts currently touring the globe, metal giants Slayer bring their current U.S. tour promoting the band’s latest effort Repentless to the Warfield for two nights starting Tuesday.
They may have never achieved the mainstream popularity of fellow thrash pioneers Metallica and Megadeth, but Slayer’s dedication to creating relentlessly ferocious metal without compromise has earned the group something far greater: iconic status as one of the heaviest bands in the world and a fierce loyalty from a rabid fan base.
Anchored by the tandem guitar attack of founders Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King, the blood-curdling bellow of singer/bassist Tom Araya, and the furious propulsion of monster drummer Dave Lombardo, Slayer pushed metal into more brutal and blasphemous territory starting with its 1983 debut Show No Mercy.
Over the course of a nearly 30-year career, Slayer’s dark vision and largely unchanged line-up has remained remarkably intact. Lombardo left in the early ’90s, only to return in 2002 when his replacement, Paul Bostaph, was forced to retire due to a chronic injury.
From the raw, punk-influenced beginnings of the band’s early albums through seminal recordings like the landmark efforts Reign In Blood and South of Heaven, Slayer laid the blueprint for countless extreme metal bands that followed in their wake. In 2009, the band issued its second album since Lombardo’s return, the blisteringly powerful World Painted Blood. Hailed by some as the band’s greatest achievement since 1990’s Seasons in the Abyss, the effort proved that the passage of time hasn’t mellowed the brutal quartet one bit.
Slayer had already been dealing with guitarist Hanneman’s health issues after he contracted necrotizing fasciitis in 2011 and sat out several tours with Exodus guitarist Gary Holt filling in, but in 2013 the band was forced to cope with two serious blows. First Lombardo was fired over a pay dispute that had many fans crying foul, even after he was replaced by returning longtime drummer Bostaph. Far more difficult was the sudden passing of Hanneman in May from liver failure.
The group decided to soldier on with Holt continuing in his role as the band’s second guitarist and over the course of 2014 and 2015 worked in the studio on Slayer’s first album since Hanneman’s passing. Including several tunes the late guitarist had been working on prior to his death, Repentless came out last fall on Nuclear Blast to wide critical acclaim. Tunes like “Implode” and the vicious title track proved Slayer has lost none of its characteristic ferocity.
Touring for much of the summer leading up to the album’s release, Slayer returns to the Bay Area for the first time since headlining the final Rockstar Mayhem Festival in August for these two San Francisco shows alongside local thrash heroes Testament. Still rightfully revered by many as one of thrash metal’s touchstone bands, Testament has carried the torch for Bay Area headbangers for over three decades.
Initially coming together in the East Bay around guitarist Eric Peterson under the moniker The Legacy, the group became an early ’80s staple at metal venues. It wasn’t until after lead singer Steve “Zetro” Souza moved over to front fellow thrashers Exodus that the seminal line-up of Testament coalesced with the addition of fleet-fingered guitarist Alex Skolnick and new singer Chuck Billy taking Souza’s place after his recommendation.
The band’s 1987 debut The Legacy established the quintet as a force to be reckoned with on the international metal scene. Their follow-up efforts The New Order in 1988 and the next year’s Practice What You Preach would further refine their sophisticated high-octane sound and progressively more political lyrics. Testament would face challenges as grunge rose to become the dominant form of heavy music during the ’90s as the band soldiered through line-up shifts and hiatuses.
The historic 2001 Thrash of the Titans benefit for Billy and Death founder Chuck Schuldiner (both men were undergoing cancer treatment at the time) brought together a who’s who of thrash metal greats from the Bay Area and elsewhere. It also served as a catalyst, spurring the reunion of the classic Testament line-up (as well as the reformation of Exodus with Souza and Death Angel).
Testament has produced two brilliant thrash albums since that initial reunion — The Formation of Damnation in 2008 and Dark Roots of Earth in 2012. After an extended period of writing and recording, the band recently announced a tentative title for their highly anticipated new effort, The Brotherhood of the Snake. The album is scheduled to be released later this year on Nuclear Blast. British death metal band Carcass opens the show.
Slayer with Testament and Carcass
Tuesday and Wednesday, March 22-23, 7:30 p.m. $49.50-$75