Facing the Slayers, Down in the Grave
Slayer, Sepultura and System of a Down
by: Matthias Noll
The vast majority of German Slayer fans seem to rest in some kind of timeless tomb when their favorite band is not touring. As soon as the four-piece sets its feet on German ground, their fanbase emerges from their resting places in large numbers, seemingly unchanged in outfit and attitude since Slayer's first European visit in 1985. About 3000 of these rather conservative lunatics gathered and where definitely not amused to see the billing's first band, System of a Down, on stage. Even if I don't even know the exact location of the timeless tomb mentioned above, I wasn't in the right mood to see yet another bunch of neo-metallers (or whatever you might call the style System of a Down is playing), either. The reaction from the crowd was close to zero, the only noise coming from some guys yelling for Slayer between songs. The performance, as well as the music, was less than noteworthy, with some typical "bring your nose as close to the stage as possible while playing" poses from the guitar and bass players. The good thing about the set was that it lasted for only 30 minutes.

Sepultura came next and I was more than curious. I consider myself a fan since I had the luck to see them for the first time back in 1990, but _Against_ does plain nothing for me. Having forced myself to listen to the album numerous times, I still have the feeling that this patchwork of songs should have been worked upon for another year or so until it was ready for release. The small amount of Sepultura shirts in the audience seemed to indicate that I'm not alone in that judgement. The band started with the album's opener "Against", and from the first song some things became obvious (believe me, I try hard to be objective). First of all, new singer Derrick is far from being a frontman. The guy has some stage experience from the previous parts of the tour; still, he seems to be unable to do anything on stage but put his foot on a monitor box and wave his right arm in sync with the lyrics. Even worse, the lack of a second guitar and extensive use of effects by Andreas Kisser leaves Sepultura with only half of their former power. Fortunately, drummer Igor still plays in the premier league of metal drummers, maybe even better than before. Four of the first five songs were new material and audience and band seemed trapped in an emotionless stasis until Sepultura skipped the new material and played the classics. "Refuse/Resist", "Territory", "Dead Embryonic Cells", "Inner Self", "Arise", "Beneath the Remains", "Troops of Doom" and "Roots" woke everybody up and finally a part of the old spirit was back. Igor going for the limits of high-speed drumming, driving the rest of the band onwards at breakneck speed, while the whole unit still delivers precision, aggression and brutality. That was, and to a lesser extent still is, one of Sepultura's major qualities. The set was quite long, and in the end most of the audience, as well as the band, definitely was content and satisfied. Nevertheless, risking to come across as someone who's only here to complain: if I had to choose between Soulfly and Sepultura, I would vote for the former. If I could have a wish come true, I would make the original line up come together again.

A short while later, Slayer entered the stage and "Bitter Peace" had been picked as the opening track. The last time I saw Slayer, it was on the _Divine Intervention_ tour in exactly the same location, and back then they delivered a mind shattering show. My expectations were nothing far from that. Unfortunately, the soundman fucked up big time and what came from the PA was a bass laden chaos with no crunch, no power and no precision. Vocals were hardly heard at all. This mess was so bad it even ruined classics like "Hell Awaits", "Reign in Blood" and "South of Heaven". The band seemed more static and less enthusiastic than ever and rather routinely presented a greatest hits collection. Besides the inclusion of "Evil Has No Boundaries", the set list was similar to that of _Decade of Agression_, with some new songs replacing _Seasons in the Abyss_ stuff. Halfway through the gig, the sound finally got better, but remained far from being impressive or doing justice to the natural heaviness of Slayer's material. In the past, I always shook my head at Motorhead gigs when some lunatics yelled "louder" even if half the audience's ears were already bleeding, but this time I would have payed some extra bucks for more volume. Even if you would have seen me frantically banging my head to "Chemical Warfare", I have to say that, by Slayer standards, this performance was quite mediocre. Still, they have proven themselves countless times before and I'll be back next time (hopefully in less time than another four years).

London Astoria, London, England, November 26, 1998 by: Paul Schwarz

This gig had been a long time coming. By the time myself and Mr. Bromley, who braved airplane food and the bizarre rituals of British customs to witness these live performances, were in the Astoria and readying ourselves for first act System of a Down, expectations, for me at least, were running high. Would System of a Down cut it live? Would Derrick do the Sepultura legend justice? Would Slayer rule? My questions were soon to be answered.

System of a Down have impressed many with their self-titled debut disc. I was not altogether convinced by the time said disc had left my player and tonight did not convert me to their cause. Though System of a Down musically surpass the LA-groove-core tag, their live performance reeks of the scenes cliches. They get a pit going, they bounce around on stage, and end up looking like Coal Chamber with better songs. Some songs of theirs, particularly "Suite-Pee", came across excellently live and had me singing and tapping along, but overall I still feel this band are overrated.

A time of judgement was now upon me. As Sepultura took the stage, I felt a surge of real anticipation. How would Derrick fare? Well, the band's three long-time members played exceptionally well and musically were equal to, or better than, their final show with Max nearly two years ago in this fair city. Derrick proved that there were -very- good reasons why he was chosen for this job. Not only did he reproduce the vitriol and menace of his performances on record, but he reproduced the older Sepultura material with skill and conviction sufficient to silence any detractors. As the likes of "Slave New World", "Troops of Doom", "Territory" and "Refuse/Resist" flew by, one could not help but marvel at what a great repertoire Sepultura have. A pity it is then that the band continue to medley songs from _Arise_ and _Beneath the Remains_, and of course don't play the likes of "Slaves of Pain" and "Lobotomy". Thus we weren't treated to full versions of some of my favorite Sepultura songs, but what's new there? A good selection of material from _Against_ was aired and I can happily say that their new material comes across excellently live. None other than Slayer's Kerry King joined the band on stage to play "Propaganda". This was a pleasingly public indication that the band's press feud of four or five years ago is now properly in the past. Overall, the band need time with Derrick to make their physical appearance on stage more impressive. They exude the tentative feel of the new band, which, in terms of how long this line-up has been together, they are. I feel that in a year Derrick will be wooing the crowd with his stage performance and the rest of the band will feel more comfortable interacting live with him. Despite my own personal set list disagreements, Sepultura more than adequately showed that the departure of a founding member will not stop them from giving their fans what they crave, good on them.

Slayer reigned in blood, crowned supreme on their metal throne. I have witnessed their live assault at least once a year since they first pounded me to submission at Donnington 1995 and I don't want to give up this habit, if at all possible. I expected devastation, I expected brilliance, and I got it, in spades. Using new track "Bitter Peace" as an opener was amazing, especially because this is a new track I have been dying to hear them play live. From there on, it was Slayer being Slayer all the way -- few words, tons of brilliant, heavy music. All in all, the band played a healthy four tracks from their newest release _Diabolus in Musica_ and made up the rest of their set out of various songs from nearly all periods of their existence. Hence "Die by the Sword", "War Ensemble", "Hell Awaits", "Raining Blood", "Captor of Sin" and "South of Heaven" (though disappointingly using an intro tape for the initial riff) are all featured songs, along with others. However, strangely enough, Slayer chose to play nothing from _Divine Intervention_. I was a little miffed at this, as some of this album's songs are damn good. However, ultimately it is my least favorite Slayer album, and I can't choose any songs from the set they played which I would sooner substitute for songs off _DI_. Slayer, unlike Sepultura, played everything in full, and I think with Slayer I can safely say we will not be getting the "Show No Mercy medley" on their next tour. The lightshow was also very impressive, cleverly augmenting the band's already considerable live presence, and a huge backdrop of "Slayer" emblazoned burial crosses completed the image. Tom Araya took a moment just before the band did their final three songs ("Mandatory Suicide", "Angel of Death" and "Chemical Warfare") to say to the invigorated London crowd "Thank you for making us Slayer". No, guys; thank -you- for being Slayer.

(article submitted 16/1/1999)


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