w/ Testament & Carcass
March 14, 2016
Review by JP Wood
Photos by Monika Deviat
It is not too often that the 2500+ capacity MacEwan Hall gets completely sold out for Metal shows, but Slayer, who have performed at this same venue a few times before, managed to do just that on their most recent stop in Calgary, Alta. Slayer is riding high on what many people are saying is their best album in years (REPENTLESS [Nuclear Blast, 2015]) and the legions of Metal were out in force! Managing crowds and traffic flow is a complicated endeavor at the best of times and it was a bit of a struggle on Monday night.
Openers Carcass started exactly on time to the disappointment of the hundreds of people still in line trying to funnel through a tiny bottleneck and past the understaffed security checkpoint. Security was professional and doing their best though. Once inside, people had to squeeze through a single door to get into the all-ages section of the venue. There were line-ups for the bathroom, the bank-machine, to get into the Beer Garden and of course at the bar to get beer. I stood in line for 40 minutes to get a drink from a bar outside the actual hall. Nightwish at the same venue was sold out the previous week as well but that crowd was not as into the heavy drinking as this evenings and the line ups were more manageable. It was a bit of a rough night in terms of logistics, but aside from some minor grumbling most people seemed to be in good spirits. It was also nice that the show started early on a school/work night.
I could feel that the Slayer organization and Nuclear Blast, (all the bands on the bill are Nuclear Blast bands) had some respect for Carcass’ legendary status as they had lots of room on stage, a full backdrop (the classic ‘surgical tools’ logo from 1992) side screens and video screens! Their set looked great. I must admit I have lost track of who was touring with mainstays Bill Steer and Jeff Walker but the band was vicious. It was only their second time in Calgary in the bands 25 year career – having most recently played at the Noctis Valkyries Fest in 2013. I believe you rarely forget the first time you see a band (at least that you are excited to see) and I was just as happy to see them again. The sound was good and the energy was high. They ripped through a 40 minute set with a nice mix of new and old, playing roughly half the last album, SURGICAL STEEL [Nuclear Blast, 2013]. It was a neat visual effect when the numbers 6. 0. 2. 6. 9. 6. 1. were rhythmically flashing over and over on the video screens during “The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills”. The band stated that this will be their last tour for a while so it was good to catch them for what I expect may be the last time in Calgary.
Up next after a quick and smooth change-over was Testament. I have to say it can be hard to get really excited about a band I have seen approximately a dozen times now. Perhaps “excited” is not the word, but when you have seen a band so many times, that little nervous pre-show edge is diminished a little. The bands stage set was pretty cool with big-side screens showing a black and white collage of images from various album covers from over the years. Testament did not disappoint and were even better than a few of the previous times I’ve seen them. The line-up was stellar with Gene Hoglan, who was looking really trim on drums, and Steve DiGiorgio on bass. I think this could be one of the strongest line-up’s in the band history. Alex Skolnick was more animated on stage than I have seen him be on stage in a while and everyone was fired up. Chuck Billy worked the crowd expertly and towards the end of the set he incited a Wall of Death that split the venue from the security pit to the soundboard (the venue was already split in half to accommodate the 18+ beer gardens at the back of the hall). Billy has always been an air guitarist and sported his red light-saber style microphone stand, playing to his heart’s content. Like Carcass, a short set time of about 40 minutes meant they ran through eight songs a mix of old and new kicking off with DNR from THE GATHERING [Spitfire Records, 1999]. I’m surprised they didn’t play “Native Blood”, from DARK ROOTS OF EARTH [Nuclear Blast, 2012] as it is a very popular song in this city due to the large aboriginal community. However they went with “Rise Up”, which was just as good. Testament ended off their killer performance with “Formation of Damnation”.
And then it was time for Slayer! The stage was hidden with a large white curtain and I actually enjoy when bands do this. It is a little extra touch that builds excitement instead of having to impatiently watch the roadies move equipment around stage. Right on schedule the curtain dropped to a massive roar of approval and it was off to the races. Slayer tore through the 90 minute set that had very little stage banter from front man Tom Araya. The backdrop with the imagery from the most recent album looked sharp and stood out on stage.
I think as Slayer has aged – along with the core fan base – the shows don’t get as wild in terms of pits, moshing, stage diving, crowd surfing etc. I’ve seen Slayer shows 20 years ago that had an almost frightening level of good friendly violent fun. This time it seemed a little bit sedate though some songs would get guys running madly through the crowd to get into the pit. I guess it’s the older guys like me and the guys bringing little kids that sit up on their shoulders with big earmuffs on, who are less likely to get too crazy these days. However, that doesn’t mean the music was any less aggressive. There was a bit of muttering about the line up only being half of Slayer and other similar comments, but I would not say the new additions take away from the Slayer experience. It’s of course not the same as having the original line up, but Gary Holt (Exodus) and Paul Bostaph (Exodus, ex-Testament) are superb musicians who can tear it up with the best of them.
The set-list contained a lot of classic Slayer, a full half of the new album and the band even saved some of the (some might say) best for last. The final five songs or so were pulled from the 80’s catalogue and ended (perhaps somewhat predictably) with “Angel Of Death”. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of seeing those guys! The pace was good, energy levels high and not much breathing room as they packed in a ton of songs into their allotted time. Mirroring my thoughts on Testament, I felt Slayer was more entertaining than the last time I saw them a couple of years ago on that mini-Hanneman Memorial tour where the mood seemed a bit down. This was not surprising as Hanneman had passed just a few months before. Everyone seemed to be having a bit more fun this time. Fun being a relatively term with Slayer.
With every band doing well and in a good spot right now, I’d recommend catching this tour!