Words and pix © 2018 Alan Welding
When the announcement that Slayer would be retiring from the stage rang out most fans hung their heads in disbelief only to be lifted up again when they heard the lineup towing along with the metal masters. With legends of thrash like Testament and Anthrax on the bill, it was already set with half of the ‘big six’ of thrash, but adding relatively newer acts (at least compared to the aforementioned bands) such as Lamb of God and Behemoth sweetened the pot beyond belief. Last Saturday at Key Bank Pavillion just outside of Pittsburgh, all the bands played top-notch sets for what may go down in history as one of the best metal line-ups ever to grace that shed.
Testament started in Berkeley, CA back in 1983 and has had numerous line-ups but the current incarnation of Eric Peterson (the only true original), Chuck Billy, Alex Skolnick, Gene Hoglan, and Steve Di Giorgio have held their own in the band on and off since the 90’s. With all the bands that have come and gone Testament has survived due to hard touring and quality songs. Their last release, Brotherhood of the Snake, was no exception, providing plenty of hard riffage with killer drums (it’s Hoglan after all) and those rough vocals by the big man Chuck Billy. As they always have, Testament put in a brutal set that was witnessed by a very large crowd, albeit that they were the openers on a long list of brutal acts. The seven-song set was fast and hard and provided just a glimpse into their history from new song Brotherhood of the Snake to all the way back to The Preacher and Into the Pit from the late 80’s. Alex Skolnick was a complete standout on lead guitar, often considered by many to be one of fastest guitar players and greatest guitar players of all time (Guitar Magazine). Of course, Hoglan put on a veritable drum clinic which is probably why he is sought so heavily to work with other bands (i.e. Dark Angel, Death, Strapping Young Lad, Devin Townsend, Fear Factory, Unearth, Dethklok). It’s always great to see a band last with the changing times and fickle audiences. Testament is looking to release new material in 2019.
When Behemoth took the stage it was as though all time stopped. The intensity of each band member was palpable and menacing. Lead singer/guitarist Nergal led a lesson in how to capture an audience and make even the last row on the lawn sit up and take notice. 2014’s The Satanist may be the most definitive work from the band to date and has solidified their sound and anti-religion stance lyrically to a new found level. Playing off of occult/Thelemic/biblical references Nergal has often described his lyrics as impressions and metaphors. Well, the impression was certainly left on Pittsburgh, like a boot to the face. Opening with Ov Fire and the Void, the entire band locked in and annihilated the audience. With their black metal inspired face paint, to their all-black outfits, to the amazing metal work used as part of their staging, the band had a presence that went beautifully with the music. Nergal, who overcame leukemia in 2011, is a very complex and interesting man who is very non-violent and soft spoken off stage, but when he hits that platform he becomes another animal of ferocity and passion. New song Wolves ov Siberia was indefinitely a highlight as well as closer O Father, O Satan, O Sun as the band donned black masks with long horns. Bassist, Orion, is a physically intimidating man, with large muscles and his partially mow-hawked skull and long ponytail, he punishes his bass while providing excellent backing vocals. Percussionist, Inferno, is a real backbone providing that signature drum timing that makes Behemoth’s music pulsate and lead guitarist Seth is nothing short of a virtuoso. Behemoth is amazing on wax, but to see them live and in person is a total game changer, this is their world and altar. Take a look at any video of their performances on YouTube (https://youtu.be/SD7XF74y8z0) and you can get a taste of their excellence. Currently, the band is promoting “Messe Noire” LIVE with DVD & Blu-Ray (http://messenoire.pl) and it is worth every penny. We can only hope that the dark overlords return to the ‘Burgh quickly in a more intimate setting and full set.
Anthrax, formed in 1981 in NYC, continues to be mind-blowing on stage. One would think after all these years that they would slow down in some way, but the opposite continues to be the case. Who is not mesmerized by the Scott Ian stomp and Joey Belladonna’s voice? Time after time they have graced Pittsburgh and every time they deliver and deliver hard. Opening with Caught In A Mosh, Got The Time, and Madhouse, the band put the entire crowd on alert that they were playing for keeps. As usual, Frank Bello pumped up the crowd with his fists raised and his mouth screaming as Charlie Benante pounded the skins into oblivion creating the spine of their music. “Newer” guitar player Jonathan Donais has fit in perfectly and is as technically proficient as it gets. Watching Ian never gets old as he is a ball of fury and is one of the most underrated rhythm guitar players out there truly taking his cues from the likes of Malcolm Young. As long as Anthrax keeps putting out quality music such as their last release, For All Kings, and putting on performances such as they did in Pittsburgh, they will remain at the top of the heavy metal heap.
Formed in 1994, Lamb of God may be the newer kid on the bill, but their influence on metal music is no less than the other bands. When LOG performs one is guaranteed to have an in your face concert experience of one savage set. Even though their newest effort is a collection of “punk” cover songs under their original moniker, Burn The Priest, LOG stuck to tried and true. Opening with Omerta, the pit on the lawn opened immediately into a mass of arms and legs twirling around like a hurricane. Walk With Me In Hell, Now You’ve Got Something To Die For, and Redneck were immense crowd pleasers. Randy Blythe continues to be a force to be reckoned with onstage as he paces, jumps, and swing those dreadlocks with a demonic like possession. Mark Morton and Willie Adler’s guitar playing is true signature work that never disappoints while Chris Adler and Josh Campbell hold the bottom end down. Chris Adler may be one of the best if not the best drummer in all of metal, proving he can be just as technically inclined live as on record, perhaps maybe even better in person. Pittsburgh has been fortunate to see a lot of LOG, and hopefully, they can return to play a full set including some of those covers.
Is it really the end of Slayer? Perhaps this day has been looming since the death of Jeff Hanneman or maybe it is just better to go out on top. The thing is Slayer could keep going and still retain their crown, they are that good.
Whatever their motivations may be, the band definitely put on a show as if it was their last performance on earth. Gary Holt, Hanneman’s replacement was exceptionally mesmerizing on guitar as he put his instrument through its paces and rock his head back and forth quickly in time to the music. Kerry King was, well Kerry King…just flying around the fretboard looking menacing with his bald head, dark tattoos, signature beard, and full-size chains hanging from his belt. Tom Araya Looked like he was having an absolute blast out front singing and playing bass as drummer Paul Bostaph wailed on his drums amongst massive flames thrown high into the air. The pyrotechnics were not just occurring out of the propane though, Slayer always plays at full intensity, but something was special about the evening. Running through beloved tunes such as Disciple, Mandatory Suicide and War Ensemble the band saved the best for last, Seasons in the Abyss, Dead Skin Mask, South of Heaven and Raining Blood. Maybe after a few years of rest the band will regroup and hit the stage again, but for now, they left all of us with a very lasting memory of how the best can go out swinging.