By Dave Pehling
SACRAMENTO (CBS SF) — One of the most anticipated metal tours of the year arrives in the Bay Area this Sunday when thrash-metal icons Slayer bring their farewell jaunt to SAP Center in San Jose with fellow headbangers Lamb of God, Anthrax, Testament and Napalm Death.
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. 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.
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 temporarily retire due to a chronic injury. 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 left the band 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 in the fall 2015 on Nuclear Blast to wide critical acclaim. Tunes like “Implode” and the vicious title track proved Slayer has lost none of its characteristic ferocity.
While the band continued to tour and members discussed plans for Slayer’s next album in 2017, in late January of this year the group announced that it would instead embark on a farewell tour that would likely stretch into 2019. The second North American leg of the tour returns to the Bay Area with regular road partners Lamb of God.
One of the biggest metal bands to emerge during the ’90s, celebrated Richmond, VA-based band Lamb of God has roots dating back to 1994 when guitarist Mark Morton, bassist John Campbell and drummer Chris Adler founded the group the moniker Burn the Priest. Several years later after the addition of punk-influenced singer D. Randall “Randy” Blythe, the neo-thrash outfit was signed to Prosthetic Records and switched its name for their label debut, New American Gospel.
With hints of sonic brutality that recalled Pantera mixed with the technical riff construction of classic thrash-metal bands like Megadeth and Testament, Lamb of God built a fiercely loyal following with its relentless touring schedule and steady output of solid albums. The band eventually scored a major label deal with Epic and found even greater commercial and critical success with Ashes of the Wake in 2004 and their follow-up effort Sacrament.
Tabbed as one of Metallica’s favorite support acts in the past decade, Lamb of God continued it’s upward trajectory with the release of 2009’s Wrath and Resolution three years later. Hailed my many as their best album yet, Resolution found a newly sober Blythe delivering a ferocious vocal performance. However, the band suffered a huge setback when the singer was arrested when their European tour landed in Prague after charges were brought against him in connection with a fan’s death from a head injury suffered at a 2010 Lamb of God concert.
Incarcerated for almost 40 days before finally being released on bail, Blythe and the band would spend much of 2012 dealing with the singer’s legal battle instead of touring to support the album. That struggle, vividly depicted in the documentary As the Palaces Burn, eventually found Blythe acquitted of all charges, but the trial took an emotional and financial toll on the group. The singer would write lyrics inspired by his time in a Czech Republic jail for the group’s most recent album, VII: Sturm und Drang. Another triumph for the band after overcoming enormous obstacles, the effort stands as Lamb of God’s most focused and intense metal onslaught yet.
Earlier this year, Lamb of God made the unusual move of releasing a covers album under the group’s original name Burn the Priest. Legion XX find the outfit touching on Blythe’s punk roots with versions of songs by Bad Brains, Big Black and Cro-mags as well as more metallic crossover tunes by the Accused and Stormtroopers of Death and ’90s hits by Melvins, Quicksand and Helmet.
The balance of the bill will feature two bands that helped shape the sound of thrash metal in the ’90s. New York City headbangers Anthrax served as the East Coast counterparts to Metallica (who guitarist Scott Ian befriended when the band came to New York to record its debut album) and Slayer.
Anthrax would craft its own unique template by mixing hardcore punk’s breakneck tempos and shouted gang vocals with brutal guitar riffs, eventually getting signed to record store owner John Zazula’s label Megaforce, who put out the band’s debut Fistful of Metal in 1984. While there would be a continuing turnover in band members, the group eventually hooked up with singer Joey Belladonna and produced some of the timeless classic thrash albums of the decade like Spreading the Disease and Among the Living that were powered by mosh-pit inducing tunes “Caught in a Mosh,” the Judge Dredd tribute “I Am the Law” and “A.I.R.”
After the underappreciated 1990 gem Persistence of Time, the band had an acrimonious falling out with the singer in 1992, which led to the hiring of former Armored Saint vocalist John Bush for well over a decade. While Anthrax would switch back and forth between the two singers for a number of years after initially reuniting with Belladonna in 2005, the lanky singer has been a constant with the band ever since they participated in a series of “Big Four” European concerts with fellow thrash titans Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth in 2010.
The following year, the group released Worship Music, the first album to feature Belladonna since Persistence of Time and the band’s first new recording since 2003. Featuring some of the most indelible songs of the band’s career, the effort marked a brilliant return to form without sacrificing an iota of the band’s characteristic aggression. The band has continued it’s creative hitting streak ever since, issuing the covers EP Anthems (featuring covers of classic tunes by AC/DC, Rush, Thin Lizzy and more) before finally offering fans a follow-up to Worship Music in 2016 with the critically acclaimed For All Kings. Earlier this year, the group issued the live album and DVD Kings Among Scotland recorded in Glasgow that featured Anthrax performing Among the Living in its entirety.
Though they came just after the initial wave of Bay Area thrash-metal acts Metallica and Exodus, Testament is still rightfully revered by many as one of thrash metal’s touchstone bands since 1983. Fronted by towering lead singer Chuck Billy (who took over on the recommendation of original singer Steve “Zetro” Souza when he left to join Exodus in 1986) and anchored by the dueling tandem guitars of founder Eric Peterson and six-string wizard Alex Skolnick, Testament will deliver classic tunes from its seminal efforts The Legacy and The New Order mixed with tracks from their latest recording, Brotherhood of the Snake. Pioneering British grindcore veteran Napalm Death will open the show, pummeling the crowd with their bludgeoning, extreme sound to kick off what is sure to be a full night of heavy metal insanity.
Slayer Farewell Tour
Sunday, August 26, 4:30 p.m. $55-$65