Decades of Aggression



Ahhh, the comforting sound of the hirsute and happily inebriated Slayer fan at full bellow in their natural environment. Walking to the SSE Arena from Wembley Park tube station on Saturday evening, the streets were alive (undead) with the sounds of the Slayer swarm. I was in London, with my friend (and fellow physicist) James Theobald, his 11 year-old son, Jonathan, and twelve thousand or so other thrash metal fans for this:


Billed as The Farewell Tour, Slayer are retiring their plectrums, profanity, and pentagrams for a life of quiet reflection. Maybe. Given that Sabbath completed what seemed to be their fifth or sixth farewell tour a couple of years back, and that Ozzy has recently said that his “No More Tours” tour doesn’t actually mean that there will be no more tours (naturally), you’ll excuse my lack of surprise if Slayer give in to temptation and are reborn a few years hence.

Regardless of whether or not the bell truly has tolled for Slayer, it’s been a couple of years since I last did a review of a gig and there was no way I was letting this one go without putting pixels to screen.  Dom Lawson, one of the very best metal writers there is [1], reviewed Slayer’s performance in The Guardian [2] the day after the gig. He nailed it:

But tonight is all about the band that created one of metal’s most unarguably flawless albums, Reign in Blood (1986). From the discordant malevolence of their trademark riffs to the reliably unapologetic grimness of the lyrics, Slayer’s sound is seminal and ageless.

And here’s one of those seminal tracks [3]… (Some would say the seminal track.)

But Saturday night wasn’t all about Slayer. We also had three other major metal bands to whet our palette — sorry, assault our eardrums — before Araya, King, Holt [4], and Bostaph unleashed their demons. First up was the old school death metal of Obituary. Unfortunately, I’ve always found the Floridian deathsters to be rather one dimensional. (Perhaps it’s got something to do with the Tampa climate not exactly being conducive to metal. It’s not the sodden, grey landscape of Birmingham, after all.) “Slowly We Rot” hit the spot, however.

Up before Slayer were Lamb Of God. I’m again not a massive fan but they’re certainly an impressive metal machine; their drummer, Chris Adler, is worth the price of admission alone…

There are very, very few modern metal drummers who can match Adler’s proficiency, power, and prowess on double bass drums. And his band certainly can incite some fascinating non-equilibrium crowd dynamics (of a type discussed in a classic Physical Review Letter a few years back)…

I was, however, especially keen to experience Anthrax bringing the noise before they had to cede the stage to Lamb Of God. One of the Big Four of thrash metal, the New Yorkers were my “gateway” in the eighties from classic metal and NWOBHM (like Priest, Maiden, and Dio) to the heavier, darker, faster side. I didn’t “get” Metallica on the first, second, or even third listen — they were an acquired taste — but Anthrax I loved from the start, not least because of Joey Belladonna’s melodic and powerful vocals. (Scott Ian’s fandom for 2000 AD, a comic I devoured throughout the eighties and much of the nineties, also didn’t exactly put me off…) So it was wonderful to see Anthrax firing on all cylinders last Saturday, despite (a) them not playing I Am The Law (sob), and (b) Scott Ian berating those of us in the nosebleed seats for a certain lack of allegiance to the metal cause…

I’ll transcribe the key sentence from Mr. Ian’s rebuke, for those of you who may not have quite discerned what he said in the video above: “For those of you in the seats, stand the f**k up, you’re embarrassing yourselves“.

I dutifully got to my feet, suitably shame-faced.


Thanks to Taj Panesor for the wonderful shot of Anthrax in full flow above.

I’m writing this on the day of the US midterms. In an era when prejudice and hatred are stoked up on a daily basis in an increasingly polarised sociopolitical landscape, the lyrics of Anthrax’s Indians ringing out through the arena on Saturday night really paid testament to the cathartic power of music (be it metal or any other lesser variant)…

Territory, it’s just the body of the nation
The people that inhabit it make its configuration
Prejudice, something we all can do without
Flag of many colors is what this land’s all about

Or, as the Lemmy-endorsed — and what greater accolade could a metal/rock band have? – Skunk Anansie put it, Yes, It’s Fucking Political


[1] …although it’s a close run thing between Lawson and Andrew O’Neill, author of the fabulous “A History of Heavy Metal“. Even if you pull out the old air guitar only very occasionally, you owe it to yourself to get hold of O’Neill’s hilarious overview of the evolution of metal. Sample quote:

There are two types of people in the world: people who like heavy metal, and dicks. (Don’t worry if you fall into the latter category; I’m very persuasive.)

[2] Slayer in The Guardian.

Slayer. In. The Guardian.

Let that sink in, old school metal fans…

[3] It is verboten to write a review of any metal concert/album/song that does not include the word “seminal”. (Similarly, every physicist is contractually obliged to mention Feynman in every lecture they deliver.)

[4] Gary Holt is also with Exodus. I owe Gary and his bandmates a huge debt of gratitude because they were one of three bands who allowed the use of their lyrics in “When The Uncertainty Principle Goes To 11” free of charge. Other bands — well, more correctly, other publishers — charged up to $750 for the privilege of using a single line of lyrics as an epigraph at the start of a chapter.