“We’re Death Angel, we’re from the San Francisco Bay Area and we play thrash metal” said singer Mark Osegueda during the band’s short set. If anyone in the crowd needed an introduction to the quintet, they got a great crash course on one of the most underrated bands in metal. The band played “The Ultra-Violence”, “Evil Priest”, “Claws in So Deep”, “Thrown to the Wolves” and “Left For Dead” before finishing on a strong note with “The Moth” from their latest (and excellent) album “The Evil Divide”. It’s never easy to make an impression in 30 minutes but the band did a great job with a set list covering as much of their career as they could.
After a quick changeover, the lights came down and it was time for the mighty Anthrax to take the stage. “You Gotta Believe” was first, followed by “Monster at the End”, both from their latest album “For All Kings”. The band might be celebrating its 35th anniversary, but clearly they aren’t about to coast by as a nostalgia act. The new songs (5 of the 9 tracks played were from the last two records) went over great with the crowd, but when they played the classic “Caught in a Mosh”, the frenzy reached a whole new level and it kept going as Frank Bello played the intro bass riff to “Got the Time”, another concert favourite.
“Fight ‘Em till You Can’t” is quickly becoming a modern Anthrax classic, and the band played it with the aggression and drive of a band 20 years younger; you can tell they love playing it. “Evil Twin”, despite its qualities, derailed the show a little; a classic song might have worked better in its spot. But the pace picked up as “Antisocial” was next, and it was clear that by now this cover of french punk band Trust can be considered a genuine Anthrax song. Gone is the loose swagger of the original to be replaced by riffing of surgical precision, and it’s not surprising to hear it at every show. Finishing on a high note, the band closed with the classic “Indians”. At one point, guitarist Scott Ian asked the sold out crowd “Do you like thrash metal?” Clearly the answer was a resounding “yes!” They promised to be back next year as headliners and we’ll hold them to that promise.
The stage was then hidden by a white drape, while the crew set the scene for the legendary Slayer. It dropped as the band launched into the title track from their latest album “Repentless”, and if you change one letter from that title, you’ll get my one word review of the show: relentless. Song after song, with barely any break, Slayer unleashed a sensory assault that was simultaneously precise and brutal. The stage show relied on lights to provide the visuals, and the simple presentation let the music do the talking.
Like their predecessors on stage, Slayer devoted a healthy chunk of the setlist to their new material. The new songs stay true to form and fit in well with the old tracks. “Are you ready? We’ll see how ready you are. War Ensemble!” proclaimed lead singer and bassist Tom Araya in one of his rare interventions of the night. The floor was full of body surfers and mosh pits, and hands up in a horns gesture of appreciation. The musicians stayed fairly static on stage, focused on delivering their parts with laser precision.
Exodus’s Gary Holt, now a permanent replacement for the late Jeff Hanneman, unleashed flurries of notes up and down his guitar whenever came his time to solo, in contrast with Kerry King’s more chaotic leads. From where I stood in the back, the sound was crystal clear, allowing one to appreciate every nuance, every picking pattern and every drum fill. And yes, I used the word ‘nuance’ to describe Slayer. Among the highlights were “Hate Worldwide”, “Mandatory Suicide”, “Postmortem” and the crushing 4 song encore of “South of Heaven”, “Raining Blood”, “Black Magic” and “Angel of Death”. For the latter, as Tom Araya hit his famous blood curdling scream, the stage backdrop fell to the ground, to be replaced by a banner honoring Hanneman.
With 90 minutes of stage time, the band was better able to cover its large body of work, especially the early years. “Chemical Warfare”, “Fight Till Death”, “The Antichrist” and “Hell Awaits” were all welcome additions, and these songs haven’t softened up at all over the years; they’re still played with the energy, anger and defiance they had 30 years ago. In fact all three bands showed very little sign of being slowed by age despite playing very physically demanding music. Tom Araya’s voice started to crack towards the end of the show, but an old pro like him found ways to work around it and minimize the impact.
It was a fantastic evening, featuring three bands at the top of their game. Who knows how long they’ll physically be able to play such intense music, so one has to cherish every opportunity. As Tom Araya put it: “I can tell you guys love the music. And we love to play it.” You got that right.