Sound: For old-school metal fans who grew up during the burgeoning age of thrash, the last few years have been a veritable blast from the past. Granted, if you didn't live a hop, skip, or jump away from Bulgaria this past June, the coveted tickets to see The Big Four Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax were only a pipe dream. Thankfully, different incarnations and combinations of the founders of thrash have continued to tour. The American Carnage Tour has provided the latest fix of this nature, with Slayer, Megadeth, and Testament (not to mention Anthrax starting Sept. 24) hitting select cities. When the trio hit Sandstone Amphitheater in Bonner Springs, KS, on Aug. 23, the ever-constant competent musicianship and audience enthusiasm almost made you forget that it had been nearly 25 years since both Reign In Blood and Peace SellsBut Who's Buying? were released.
Slayer's Dave Lombardo recently told Ultimate-Guitar that one of the biggest changes in the audience demographic was the growing number of females in attendance. While the male to female ration was still fairly striking, it's true that the draw of the metal icons was expanding gender-wise not to mention generationally as well. With most early fans now likely in their thirties and forties, you had to appreciate the fact that a mosh pit was still going strong. When opening act Testament performed its nearly hour-long set, one particular standout moment occurred when vocalist Chuck Billy beckoned the crowd to create the infamous wall of death during The Formation of Damnation and Into the Pit. Needles to say, the eager fans obliged. Other highlights in Testament's set (besides the fact that Billy air-guitared every solo on his mic stand) included the instant sing-along Practice What You Preach and the perfectly executed The New Order.
American Carnage arrived just in time to correlate with the 20th anniversary of Megadeth's Rust In Peace, and Dave Mustaine and the boys played the album in its entirely to commemorate the event. Rust In Peace has always stood out as being one of Megadeth's most amazing offerings in terms of intricate arrangements and just good old-fashioned solo goodness, with tracks like Hangar 18 and Holy WarsThe Punishment Due dominating the live show. Guitarist Chris Broderick, being the virtuoso that he is, handily matched Mustaine's lead prowess and added in a few extra flourishes here and there. Dave Ellefson's return was marked with cheers, and the bass player noticeably smiled more than most anyone who hit the stage that evening. Any bad blood certainly was not even a matter up for debate that evening. Closing Megadeth's set was the most radio and MTV-friendly (at least back in the day) of the catalog, with Symphony of Destruction and Peace SellsBut Who's Buying causing a fair amount of ecstasy in the crowd.
For as perfect as the three bands fit together on American Carnage, there were still distinct differences that became extremely apparent when Slayer hits the stage. If Testament is in-your-face, standard thrash act and Megadeth is precise, melodic, and rhythmically on target, Slayer seems to conjure an ominous, powerful, and deliciously brutal mood to the stage. The setlist included the biggies, with Raining Blood, South of Heaven, Seasons in the Abyss, War Ensemble, and Angel of Death all standouts.
The audio for Dave Lombardo's drums never sounded more powerful, vibrating in the crowd's chests with each rhythmic beat. Kudos should go out to vocalist/bassist Tom Araya, who endured back surgery earlier this year. Araya wasn't a man of motion for the most part, but vocally and musically he sounded as close to the original recordings as you could get. Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman traded off soloing, with King rarely letting up on the headbanging. That the guitarist could do that pretty much nonstop for a good few hours was astoundingly impressive in itself. // 10
Perfomance: These are three groups with very unique approaches to their stage shows. Testament could be considered a band of the people. Chuck Billy was never afraid to joke with the crowd and was down-to-earth from start to finish. Dave Mustaine made it very clear that he had no intention of wasting people's money through idle chatter, and he preferred to give people what they paid for: the music. Fair enough. Slayer's set provided the most dramatic appeal with red lighting and a generally intense aura to every band member, and in the end also took the more-music-less-talk approach. // 9
Overall Impression: It's always a little scary to attend concerts by acts that have been deemed veterans in any musical genre. There are some musicians who time has not been the kindest to over the years, but thankfully there were few flaws to be found on the American Carnage Tour. Testament provided the right amount of momentum to get the show started, Megadeth wowed with musicianship, and Slayer for lack of a better word slew with a bevy of double bass pedal and the darkest riffage of the evening. The only thing that would have made it slightly more perfect is the addition of Anthrax for the first leg of the tour. If you can wait long enough to take witness Caught In A Mosh then by all means do, but you still won't go wrong with the Slayer/Megadeth/Testament lineup. // 9