(Graffiti in Faenza, Italy)
Full disclosure: I was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey in the Fall of 1976 and left for college in the Fall of 1994.
This means one thing exactly: heavy metal was and continues to be my destiny. If Megaforce Records, WSOU, and the Rte. 1 Flea Market mean anything within this strange universe of ours, it will offer some credence to my words. Put it like this, I was the nerdy kid on the track team, building sets for the drama club (Alchemists, stand up) with the Testament and Obituary tapes in my walkman. One of my bands stole chord changes from Metallica when we needed a bridge for a song. On another occasion, our drummer and I declared that playing Aerosmith songs wasn't metal enough. I'm not saying that I'm the most metal dude in the world (see below), but I think I have some critical experience to let you know what I just saw last night.
Earlier this year I had enough sense to go see the Megadeth 20th Anniversary Rust in Peace tour when it came to Memphis. Exodus, Testament, Megadeth. Testament played the entirety of The Legacy. Megadeth played the entirety of Rust in Peace.
With all due respect to that flawless night, and to the true greatness of Exodus, last night's second date of the American Carnage Tour (tix here) was arguably the greatest concert I've ever seen.
And this includes sublime shows by KRS-ONE, Phish, the Philadelphia Opera, and a pair of the early Lollapaloozas.
A pestilence on all of you who skipped their show. Testament is the unfortunate victim of the Big Four (Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer & Anthrax). My suspicion is that this is geographism. Testament, like Metallica, Megadeth, and Slayer are from the Bay Area, so you can't have all four from the same place. Admittedly, they started out a bit later and could very easily be seen as a second wave after the Big Four, but this is no explanation away from their fantastic career, innovative writing, and absolutely gigantic stage show.
And, with all due respect to Ozzy and Ronnie James Dio (RIP), I will always argue that Chuck Billy is the greatest metal singer ever. Maybe he isn't Giotto, but he's definitely Michelangelo. Firstly, he must be at least 8'10"--at least that's what he looks like towering from the stage. And, moreover, his voice ranges from subtly melodic to a bellowing growl that sounds like the gates of hell opening. I may be wrong, but I think it was John Tardy, the singer from Obituary, who said that Chuck was the most important metal singer ever because he was the first to demonstrate the vast range within metal singing. The guy from Fear Factory, who I do in fact like quite a bit, owes a lot Chuck. All respect due. The rest of the band is equally amazing. Alex Skolnick is my favorite guitar player ever (except, maybe, for Dimebag) and living proof, like Chuck, of the virtuosity within metal (though he should fiddle with his volume knob a bit less). Don't believe me? Check his jazz cred. Eric Peterson is metal's most underestimated rhythm guitarist and no slouch at lead either, and Greg Christian is just fantastic--everything you want in a metal dude, and perhaps the most thundering bass player this side of Geezer. Both are blue chippers. And Paul Bostaph, though I regret never having seen the band with Louie, is a titan. There were points where I was quite fearful for my heart rhythms, which is just what a metal drummer should induce.
Their set was about 45 minutes of new and old, all as good as the rest, and an absolute pummeling. As is often the woe of openers, the sound was a bit imperfect, but everyone was clear and audible nonetheless, prowling the stage and absolutely putting on a master class of what happens when five boundless talents work together for decades perfecting their craft. For the life of me, I don't understand why these guys don't get more credit. If metal was a basketball team, they'd be one of my starters.
Megadeth? If I have to explain why they are on par with or superior to every metal band since Sabbath, I'm going to ask you to stop reading now. And, pound for pound, to my tastes, I think Rust in Peace is one of the best metal albums ever. See, Dave's whiny paranoia is a font of intelligent writing and constantly compelling material. Sure, he's got an ego the size of Montana and probably could stand to be less of a grump in interviews, but the guy makes a good point. Heavy Metal, born of the industrial wastelands of Northern England filtered through the demise of the promise of 1968 and incubated in the pessimism of 1970s America and the Reagan/Bush debacle, owes it to itself and us all to be smarter than its critics. Metal, despite all of Tipper Gore's rantings and ravings, offers a remarkably acute view of the societal ills we've faced over the past four decades and should be given credit for its insight. Megadeth is sort of like the Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky of the genre. And Rust in Peace is the dissertation we should all have at hand.
To put it lightly, Megadeth is the F1 car of metal. A highly tuned, laser-precise machine that exceeds even our most wild visions of possibility. I listened as hard as I could last night, from the center point of the GA floor leaning against the soundboard barrier, and I don't think I heard more than one or two flubs. Chris Broderick deserves tons of props. Despite what might be one of the schlockiest guitar ad poses ever, the guy is a master. If we could photoshop Marty's head onto his, I'm not sure anyone would notice that the old samurai isn't with the band anymore. The guy shreds. Makes you want to put down your own guitar and cry. David Ellefson is maybe third in line after Geezer and Cliff in the metal pantheon (JPJ fans, I'm not counting Zep as metal here), and somehow looks like the nicest guy in the world. Actually, I think Chuck Billy, Ellefson, and Tom Araya all look like unbelievably nice guys. I sort of wish we could all have tea one day. Seriously. Call me. And Shawn Drover, who I don't mean to make sound like a footnote, is spectacular on the kit. I remember thinking to myself what a horrible task it must have been to sit on the Menza stool. My next thought was, damn, Drover's really as good as anyone could ask for at any point.
At any rate, the show was great, a perfect 10 with a bonus plan and a kiss goodnight. Launched directly into Rust and put the pedal to the floor the whole time. I've never been decapitated, but I know that they used to take the just-severed head and show it to the crowd and the body. That's about as close as I can get to the sensation one has after hearing these guys just plain burn it down. To boot, they followed up with a set of other material. I'm not really big on Headcrusher or A Tout Le Monde, but neither is necessarily a drop-off of momentum, and Symphony still holds up after 18 years. To say that Peace Sells should be the new American national anthem might get me thrown in Guantanamo, but I'm hoping Dave finds it in his heart to bail me out when that happens. Megadeth is what happens when masterpieces are allowed to age properly. Sure, there were hiccups and growing pains, but we're talking about Rembrandt level stuff here. Proof that the cream will always rise to the top and a stern lesson that any artist in any medium should be certain that what they are doing is good before they even begin to do it.
Slayer? Excuse me and pardon my French, FUCKIN SLAYER! I'm going to go on record now and probably be accused of blasphemy for it, but I think Seasons in the Abyss is a better album than Reign in Blood. I think the writing is more interesting, the lyrics more diverse and mature, the production is better, and, frankly, I think it hits harder. Maybe not faster, maybe not quite the shock (only because by then we'd heard Reign in Blood), but better overall.
And, though this might make me sound like a nostalgic, I think the old material (Reign, Seasons, South of Heaven) is superior to the new stuff. True, I don't know the new stuff as well, but it seems oddly coy to me, as if they're aiming, rather than just swinging with power. But, listen, Slayer is undeniable. Listening to them is one of the world's great adrenaline rushes and their power is unparalleled. Sort of like a buzzsaw, road-grader, energy drink, cayenne, gunpowder smoothie IV. Great stuff.
Now, Mom, before you get concerned that I'm listening to devil music, let me make the following argument. Yes, I am. But so was Robert Johnson when he went down to the crossroads to learn the blues (And, for the record, I've been there too. No devil, though.) or Elvis when he shook his hips below those tv cameras. Or Wagner. Or Stravinsky. Diabolus in musica, friends, do the research.
I'm not saying that they're not terrifying. Kerry King is the single scariest human I've ever laid eyes on. And Jeff Hanneman looks like someone who would rather not be near you. (Watch this amazingness.) But, frankly, they're probably the two nicest guys around and are certainly the Jordan-Pippen of this metal universe. Well, if either of those guys was super scary and made a guitar sound like it was an instrument of damnation. The only other person I've seen strangle a guitar to this kind of sonic effect was Stevie Ray Vaughan. In comparison, even Hendrix looks like he's got the thing under control. Oh, and Tom Araya is flawless and Dave Lombardo is the gold standard for metal drumming. The gold standard.
Slayer's music is fantastic. Brutally direct and relentlessly fast (proof that metal and punk are siblings, not cousins), masterfully technical and really quite groovy. Seriously, the stuff makes me want to dance. Not mosh, dance. It's beautifully syncopated stuff, for which Tom Araya deserves a ton of credit. And, before we return to the satan accusation stupidity, go read the lyrics. Sure, there's plenty of the demons/satan/blood and gore stuff, but that's one of the metal food groups. There's also loads of reflection on militarism, gun violence, human psychology, and the complexities of religion. Dig it, kids, Slayer is sociology, plain and true. Oh, and their live show is a malestrom. Thank you, sirs, may I have another?
Anyway, best show ever, no exaggeration. And not just for fanboy reasons. There is something deeply satisfying to watch three bands age gracefully and skillfully. People who said that metal was a stupid, childish outburst were and continue to be wrong. These are grown men whose virtuosity continues to impress and grow, pillars of their genre and masters of their craft. It's endlessly reassuring to know that there are bands that still respect the album as an art form, and even more gratifying to see them maintain the album as a standard of performance. And, like other masterpieces, it's wonderful to know that you can return to great works again and again and derive just as much pleasure as from the original revelation and continue to find new nuances and points of fascination. That's what great art is and what great art is for.
On other fun notes, I was heartened by how great the pit was, how everyone helped each other out and up, kept each other from being trampled, and acted so intensely civil in what is actually a rather dangerous thing to do. I was also happy to see how many friends seemed to be reuniting, giving daps to everyone around, and, yes, giving out hugs.
Metal is a culture that we must defend with our words and our acts. If last night was any sign, we're in good stead. Let's help keep it that way.
Oh, and I caught a shoe that came flying way up in the air from out of the pit. The people next to me gave me looks that will stay with me forever.
Peace, love, and metal forever.
And, follow my craziness on Facebook and Twitter at adrianduranblog.