Orlando, Fl February 23, 2007
by Jen Cray
Slayer has been a monumental force in heavy metal since 1982. It doesn't matter how sporatic their tours are, they will forever draw in some of the most rowdy, most faithful and most traditionally metal audiences. Crowds that will line up hours before the show to ensure a spot in the danger zone down front, crowds that chant their name outside the venue and before the opening acts play, crowds that will set aside their personal comfort to happily cram themselves into a sea of thrashing bodies. It is this chaos that is heavy metal, young bands take note.
Before heading into the House of Blues, I spent some time on opening band (and headline worthy act in their own right) Unearth's tour bus with frontman Trevor Phipps. "My first concert was Slayer," he told me before launching into some revealing stories about life on the road with the titans of thrash. Unearth, a Boston-bred band formed in the late 90's who fits in more with the old school than the new, has spent the last year on a perpetual tour. Their heavier-than-most sound is a deliberate statement to the new breed of metalcore with their sing/scream approach. In The Eyes of Fire establishes the fact that "you can still sell records and get tours even if you make a heavy balls-out record."
The men of Unearth destroyed the stage in a way that very few bands of their genre can. Instead of letting long hair do all of the moving onstage while the bandmembers concentrate on complex guitar changes and gutteral bellows, every member of the band is covering every inch of the stage and beyond. Two large cases were placed in the security pit to act as pedestal for the band to pounce onto, leaning into a mass of naked arms and surfing fans. Guitarist Buz McGrath even exited the stage, his wireless setup allowing him to never miss a note, and headed to the bar. Did he get a shot, or just give the barflowers a front row view? A soldout house prevented me from getting a clear view, but whether or not he took a drink at the bar matters little when he and his bandmates were doing beer bongs on the stage.
Unearth live in the nook between thrash metal and hardcore, and they will surely be carrying the torch that Slayer ignited 25 years ago.
When the lights go down for the headliners, the whole of the House of Blues turns into a circle pit. Fog encases the band for the beginning, and much of the set- rendering them hazy silhouettes of long hair and musical muscle drenched in vivid lights. The aging masters bring a sense of ferocity to their set that can't be faked, only earned through decades of relentless playing.
And in an era of political correctness, and watered-down metal that wouldn't dare go near the territory that Slayer has since their inception (remember back in the day when they were often singled out for accused devil worship), it's refreshing to see that the band has not lost their edge. Last year's album of new material, Christ Illusion had lyrics like "Jesus is pain/ Jesus is gore/ Jesus is the blood that's spilled in war/He's everything/He's all things dead/ He's pulling down the trigger pointed at your head" (from "Cult"). It's hard to shock anybody these days, but with bold opinions like this Slayer can still drop some jaws.
Blood was spilled, shirts were torn, and we all walked out of that place stinking of sweat and beer (did I mention how much beer became airborne during Unearth's set? I was bathed in it while shooting- and I didn't mind one bit!). This was not your younger brother's metal show, this was the real deal.