By Dave Pehling
OAKLAND (CBS SF) — One of the biggest metal tours of the year returns to the Bay Area when thrash-metal icons Slayer bring the final leg of their farewell jaunt to the Oakland Arena the Tuesday before Thanksgiving with a diverse bill featuring local heroes Primus, industrial-metal icons Ministry and former Pantera singer Philip H. Anselmo and his group, the Illegals.
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 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 stretch into 2019. The band’s first Bay Area date for the farewell tour in August of 2018 proved to be a metal event for the ages with the band delivering a blistering set after performances by Lamb of God, East Coast thrashers Anthrax, Bay Area thrash greats Testament and British extremists Napalm Death. For this second round of tour dates, Slayer is joined by Bay Area alt-rock heroes Primus as main support.
Bass-playing madman Les Claypool founded his main group with guitarist Todd Huth in 1984, refining the band’s subversive mix of furious funk, noisy, angular riffs and surreal left field lyrics over the next few years before rising to become one of the most popular underground bands in the Bay Area by the end of the decade. After self-releasing the blistering live document Suck on This recorded at the Berkeley Square in 1989 with the classic line-up featuring former Possessed and Blind Illusion guitarist Larry LaLonde and drummer Tim Alexander, the trio found itself the focus of interest from a number of record labels.
The band’s studio debut Frizzle Fry for Caroline Records the following year ably captured the funk-metal frenzy of their live performance and showcased the unique Primus sound on such future classic tracks as “John the Fisherman,” “Too Many Puppies” and “Harold of the Rocks.” The band would only grow in popularity after being signed to Interscope for their sophomore studio album Sailing on the Seas of Cheese, as they received MTV airplay and graduated to headlining larger venues, topping the bill on the 1993 Lollapalooza festival and appearing at Woodstock ’94.
Primus would score more hits as the decade progressed (the song “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver” from Tales From the Punchbowl became another MTV staple) despite the band’s idiosyncratic sound and line-up changes (Alexander left in 1996 and was replaced by Limbomaniacs drummer Brian “Brain” Mantia). While the band went on an extended hiatus in 2000 that allowed Claypool to pursue a number of side projects including the jam-band super group Oysterhead with Phish guitarist Trey Spruance and Police drummer Stewart Copeland as well as his own Fearless Flying Frog Brigade.
Primus would reunite with Alexander in 2003 and have toured and recorded steadily since then, including the band’s ambitious more recent efforts, their re-imagining of the Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory soundtrack with the expanded Fungi Ensemble in 2014 and The Desaturated Seven concept album from two years ago that was inspired by the visually intoxicating children’s book The Rainbow Goblins. The band will play an aggressive set filled with early hits when they warm up the stage for Slayer.
The balance of the four-band bill includes representation from two of the most influential heavy bands to rise to popularity during the late ’80s and early ’90s. Al Jourgensen’s Ministry may have scored its first hit with the synthpop dance anthem “I’m Falling” in 1981, but by the time the band released Twitch five years later, the group’s sound had moved in a far darker and heavier industrial direction. Jourgensen and the current line-up of the band featuring keyboard player John Bechdel (Killing Joke, Fear Factory, Prong) and former Tool bassist Paul D’Amour focus on the brutal industrial/metal tunes from The Land of Rape and Honey, The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste and Psalm 69 during their set of classic-era Ministry tunes. Opening act Philip H. Anselmo and the Illegals finds the former Pantera singer and company exclusively playing hits from his old band.
Slayer Farewell Tour
Tuesday, Nov. 26, 5 p.m. $55-$75