Metal has really languished as a category over the past few years, as the heyday of metal has seemingly come and gone. After the death of Dimebag Darryl from Pantera and Metallica's overly touchy feely "metal bands have relationship issues, too" docu-drama, the golden era of metal ended with both a bang and a wimper.
While metal may not enjoy the popularity it once had, loyal fans still head bang and spin around the mosh pit to their favorite band. As with a lot of other music genres, major acts come together and tour in shows that bring together some of the best bands in the genre for an evening of entertainment. Thus is the Hell on Earth Tour with Exodus, Rob Zombie, and Slayer, which made one of its final stops at the Memorial Coliseum. While the coliseum wasn't packed, the energy and enthusiasm of the crowd (especially for Slayer) made up for the less-than-full auditorium.
Opening act Exodus was a sonic assault (in a good way) from the start. With two base guitarists, lead guitarist, and drummer, Exodus pumped it out so hard that the coliseum shook to its foundation. Exodus barely let up with their deep power chords, pounding beats, and shrieking vocals. Lead singer Rob Dukes tried to direct the crowd into an enormous mosh pit. The result was a whirlpool of people in the center of the coliseum. After the standout performance of The Toxic Waltz, Dukes divided the floor into two, yelling, "I want everyone on this side to fucking kill everyone on that side. Hold…, hold…, hold…, GO!" The floor exploded. It was a short but solid set from Exodus.
Next up was Rob Zombie who put on a set with probably the biggest use of fire I've seen in a concert. He began his set by emerging from a giant burning robot and never let up. Zombie used almost every form of pyrotechnic possible, from fire jets, explosions, fireworks, pillars of fire – any and every way you could present fire. All this fire was mixed with an array of video screens, including a strip across the front of the stage that Rob Zombie performed on.
Zombie has a unique sensibility that is decidedly cinematic. His numbers are often backed by old horror flicks, Japanese anime, serial killers, and just odd imagery. Zombie also seems to love gigantic dancing robots and skeletons. During More Human Than Human, a giant robot boogied on stage and a trio of Grim Reapers danced their way through several numbers.
Just when you think Rob Zombie has pulled out all the stops, he does more . On the standout number Pussy Liquor, the stage is covered in bubbles. Zombie's music ranges from the full throttle assault to a more southern twang infused metal. These two come together best in Thunder Kiss ’65, Rob Zombie's standout hit. Like most artists who have to play a song over and over and over for years, Rob Zombie didn't seem as enthusiastic about Thunder Kiss as he did some of his other songs, but it still was a high point of the night. Zombie's set ended with his Werewolf Women of The SS trailer that he did for Grindhouse.
Compared to Rob Zombie's elaborate staging, Slayer seemed extremely stripped down. Instead of a wall of video screens, they were backed by a huge wall of amplifiers. Where Rob Zombie delivered visually, Slayer delivered sonically with a bone shaking assault. Rather than constantly interacting with the audience, like Rob Zombie did, Tom Araya only occasionally interrupted Slayer's wall of sound to briefly say a word or two to the audience.
Slayer quintessentially defines ultra hard rock with unbelievably fast beats and chords. They are considered one of the Big Four thrash metal acts (along with Metallica, Megadeth, and Anthrax) who have defined the category. Slayer is the music that head banging was invented for. If heavy metal is long past its golden years, Slayer never got the memo. Playing as hard and fast as ever, Slayer barely paused during their set to take a breath. It's almost unfathomable that a band that has been around this long could rock so hard and fast, and mind blowing that at 50, Tom Araya can still play and sing with the speed and intensity that he does.
There were a few standouts to the Slayer set, one being War Ensemble, which sounded so perfect and powerful live that it stands as the answer to the question 'why go see heavy metal live'. The guitar work on Dead Skin Mask was also a real stand out, as the song shows off the real range of Slayer, and of course Raining Blood sounded as amazing as always. I'm always blown away that anyone can actually play Raining Blood as it's so fast and complex that it's a feat to see it performed.
I can understand why Metal Gods Slayer headlined the Hell on Earth Tour, but perhaps switching the order around and having Rob Zombie finish off the night may have been a better choice. Musically, Slayer ruled the night, but Rob Zombie's stage show was beyond impressive. Slayer's stripped down staging was prefect for them but suffered in contrast with Zombie.
In all it was a great night of entertainment, and a yelling, screaming, bone-shaking reminder that even though metal may not be in its golden age, it isn't dead yet.