Friday, February 15, 2013

God loves us all.

Slayer. Say it slowly, like a word you’re hearing for the first time, and not something you’ve known for 18 years (that’s probably how long I’ve been listening to them, and the band themselves have been around for 30 or more). Say it again. Even softly, if you want to. And unless I’ve been very wrong for a very long time, you’ll feel something. Even before their music, the name triggers a reaction. There is a sense of occasion, of standing before something bigger than you, something very powerful. There is the thrill of a beautiful foreboding, a happy dread that you’d want to linger o

The word I’m looking for is cult.

The staggering thing is that the music justifies the name. Slayer has been the defining metal band not only for millions of fans like me, but also for other defining metal bands. Bands faster and (daresay even heavier) than Slayer, learnt how to get fast and heavy from Slayer. In the world of the Big Four, they are the Biggest One.

For a while now, the Indian common man has been punched about by one bad news after another, but the Indian metal fan has never had it better. In the last few years, Iron Maiden have played thrice, Megadeth twice, Opeth twice, Orphaned Land twice and Metallica, Kreator, Satyricon, Children of Bodom, Machinehead and even Enslaved have taken stage. But through all this richness, the greedy, ingrate metal fan in me has kept asking, “But what about Slayer? When will they come? Will they ever come?”

Someone upstairs heard me. Heard us. And smiled. And then it was official: on October 20th, 2012, Slayer would play in Bengaluru.

The venue was again obscure – Bhartiya City, somewhere in Bharat. The hallowed wet mud of Palace Grounds now seems forever mired in mediocrity, relegated to hosting political rallies and curtain exhibitions. But truth is, all a metalhead needs is a stage, and we are grateful to the guys who lent us their land. Also for the chance to see parts of Bengaluru hitherto unexplored. Eternal gratitude to DNA networks too – hope you made a profit, you’ve earned it, my friends.

So the evening came. The sky was bleak, then black and soon enough there was a chill in the air. Perfect! The first roar went up with the trademark Eagle crest backdrop. If a doubting fan ever needed a reality pinch, this was it. Slayer would play tonight, the only question was what all and for how long.

My friends thought they’d start with ‘Angel of Death’, but something told me that they’d choose the title track from their latest album, ‘World Painted Blood’. And as the opening, funereal riff from that song began, I knew this would be a blessed evening.

And so it was. For close to two awesome hours, Tom Araya, Kerry King, Dave Lombardo and Gary Holt (Exodus; the ‘live replacement’ for the unwell Jeff Hanneman) delivered Slayer to the fans. I’d like to deviate from normal reviews and not go song by song here – the set list will be covered in this piece – but what I’d like to focus on is the overall Slayer experience. And what Slayer means to me (us).

I’d read a couple of interviews of Tom Araya where he’d said that the show would be “very Slayer”. And I cannot think of a better way to put it, or a more honest promise. In another Slayer interview, Kerry King (Or is it again Tom?) says: “One of us might have an off night, but the experience will still be very Slayer” (This is from their DVD extras). The gig was very Slayer and no one had an off night. Kerry King lived up to his surname and played bone-crunching slow doomy intros and blitzkrieg-like solos with equal nonchalance, while Dave Lombardo pounded the skins as if they weren’t flat enough for his liking. Tom Araya, whose vocal range after three decades of aggression does desert him sometimes – was the dark priest we’ve always heard. He even nailed the opening scream from ‘Angel of Death’ and had us bowing when he folded his hands and ever so gently said, “Namaste”. And Gary Holt? While Hanneman’s blond “I don’t give a fuck but here’s a great riff” presence cannot be imitated, Holt held his own and more. He played every Hanneman riff/solo like he’d written it himself, and for the time he was on stage, we believed him.

Slayer to me, is about two primal things. One is strength. I feel stronger listening to Slayer. There is no weakness anywhere – onstage or on ground, when Slayer plays. Here men walk tall with broader shoulders and wider chests. Most bands eat off your energy but Slayer feeds you power. The music enriches. It is addictive. It makes you feel immortal. No wonder those who cannot feel the magic but can only feel the terror, ask for Slayer to be banned. If I were to be in their unfortunate place, I would too.

The second, defining Slayer DNA to me, is chaos. It is not speed or heaviness or blasphemous lyrics. It’s the maelstrom the song unleashes on you. The solos, for instance, on rare occasions aren’t the fastest ever – but they’d be the most chaotic ones there possibly can be.

Strength and chaos were there in full attendance. Riff after riff, lead after lead, blast beat after blast beat; the band grabbed us by our throats and gave us the very Slayer experience.

They played longer than I’ve seen them play on their DVDs, and the classics were all there. There was hardly any talk, except for the legendary Araya wit like this introduction to ‘Mandatory Suicide’ – “This is a song about freedom. And freedom comes with a price.” And as if in respect to the evening, the sound was very good too. And when the last song, the Pompeii-piece called ‘Raining Blood’ came on, I didn’t want an encore. I was battered enough. And for me and the Slaytanic Wehrmacht around me, it was time to pick our necks off the ground.

To put things in respectful perspective, the 20-murderous-songs they played (in chronological order) were:

World Painted Blood
War Ensemble
Die by the Sword
Chemical Warfare
Hate Worldwide
Spirit in Black
Mandatory Suicide
Altar of Sacrifice
Jesus Saves
Seasons in the Abyss
Hell Awaits
Angel of Death
South of Heaven
Silent Scream
Dead Skin Mask
Raining Blood

At this point, I’d like to make a special mention. This one goes to my good friend Ferzad and his band, Brahma. They had the enviable and the unenviable task of opening for Slayer, and for me – and a few lucky friends of mine – they were a godsend. ThanksF to them, we got ‘All Area Access’ passes that allowed us to walk like Moses and part security at will. Thanks to them, a friend and I got to shake hands and say a few words with Kerry King, whom we caught backstage. I know I mumbled something that went “aggajdsdgdhjsjjsakhsddjdjdj” but hopefully it had that weak-kneed-honest-fan rave about it. My friend managed to get a snap of the two of us talking, and it’s the best blurriest picture in the universe. We also managed to see the entire show from in front of the barricade, which meant there was only Slayer before our eyes. And when the officials got a little feisty and looked to push us back, Tom actually asked for our line of fans to be allowed even more in front. But that’s not all. When ‘Raining Blood’ reached its chaotic conclusion and the band took their bow (and threw out drumsticks and plectrums), a Gary Holt pick with the words “Holt Awaits” landed in front of me.

Truly, god loves us all.

Peace, love, empathy
Ram Cobain
21st Oct 2012

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