OAKLAND — The Bay Area, home to rise of thrash metal in the early ’80s, hosted a luminary of the movement Tuesday as giants Slayer rocked Oakland Arena one last time. The concert was one of the last stops on the band’s Final World Tour and Slayer charged brazenly forward, delivering a high-energy performance with little reprieve.
Those who came witnessed merciless vigor and great chops. The highly coordinated set involved a concise light show with a major emphasis on fire. At least a dozen turrets spewed fireballs dangerously around the band members as they played. A mist enshrouded them under dark red lights and hellfire. These well-executed touches created an infernal atmosphere onstage. A zombie face and green-embossed tomb stones above and behind the band evoked infinite crypts of the damned. Against this macabre backdrop, Slayer put on a display of unrelenting technical skill.
As fans would expect, Slayer operated exceptionally well as a unit. The head-spinning onslaught from guitarists Kerry King and Gary Holt sailed forth from their clearly enunciated but ultimately heavy tones, and their timing and interplay was impeccable. Drummer Paul Bostaph combined agility and strength, pacing the songs for impact while nailing their nuances. Tom Araya led the charge with vocal power and a grounding contribution on bass.
On “Born Of Fire” the band was awash in flames. Incendiary columns flanked Bostaph’s drumset and framed the two guitarists. Araya was upfront where bursts of fire erupted and swept past him. Holt hoisted his guitar and swept it through a flame jet. Like his bandmates he was on fire musically, head-banging like a 20-year-old while shredding insane guitar solos. He fit in like a champ with King’s bludgeoning style. King pummeled the strings of his guitar at stage left.
An excellent rendition of “Seasons In The Abyss” transitioned seamlessly into the concise and demented “Jesus Saves.” The pace was relentless. Though approaching senior citizen status, the band members didn’t lose a step on their younger selves. Araya’s voice remained golden as he barked the lyrics and sustained his immense high scream. He incited the crowd to out-shout him before “War Ensemble.”
For the intricate and dissonant nature of the songs, it was impressive that they never sounded muddy. On “Postmortem” and “South of Heaven,” the band was locked in at a biorhythm level and Holt and King traded ear-splitting solos.
Unlike other thrash bands that made it big, Slayer never wrote a ballad. It eschewed melody for pure savagery. A barbaric, stop-start drum solo by Bostaph underpinned a howling barrage of atonally harmonized guitar feedback to set up “Raining Blood.” The band closed with “Angel Of Death,” one of its best-known songs, before coming to the front of the stage to say goodbye. Only Araya spoke to the crowd, thanking fans for being part of his life, while the others soaked in the view.
Second-billed Primus preceded the headliners with a mix of goofy weirdness and subtle menace. On opener “Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers,” Les Claypool smoothly pounded bass rhythms and took long strides around the stage like some Swiftian giant. He improvised the lyrics to include the line “Slayer’s coming to get ya,” presaging the headliner.
Claypool explored deeply into his individualistic style, playing complex, crazy stuff and made it look easy. Primus then teased a faithful cover of Rush’s “Cygnus X-1” before going into a trippy jam, aided by colorful videos.
He took the spotlight for the strange “Professor Nutbutter’s House Of Treats.” Anchored by a unique clicking riff on bass, the song also featured his rapid-fire stage squawk in abundance. “Mr. Krinkle” penetrated King Crimson territory for composed dissonance. On this celebrated oddity, Claypool donned the infamous pig mask and bowed a stand-up bass while the music video played behind.
Guitarist Larry LaLonde, formerly of San Pablo death metal band Possessed, was fun to watch. His playing was a lesson in fluid mechanics as he alternated strong, defined rhythm parts with stunning lead passages. His solos and embellishments popped in unexpectedly, using unusual scales and phrasing. Longtime Primus drummer Tim Alexander was the glue, reliably holding the groove and getting in some intricate bits. The band sounded organically synchronized throughout the set and delved deeply into its groove.
Chicago industrial metal band Ministry contributed a 35-minute set that featured, in frontman Al Jourgensen’s words, “a bunch of old ones.” The stage included a giant lighted cross. Ministry kicked off with “The Missing,” with its metallic chanted choruses and funereal keyboard atmospherics. A chunky version of Black Sabbath’s “Supernaut” followed, introduced by a pro-LSD public service announcement. Ministry’s version of the Sabbath tune left the classic riff intact and even included the recognizable tom drum hits.
The entertaining Jourgensen tried to get the early crowd going.
“It’s awfully quiet, Oakland,” he scolded. “Do we need to pass out hearing aids, or do I need to get naked?”
The crowd was a bit slow coming around. Nevertheless, Ministry continued with the energetic “Just One Fix” and the punishing “Thieves.” Behind the band, black and white video montages displayed de-contextualized political images. On “N.W.O.” a preponderance of burly dudes slow-moshed in the pit.
To open the show, Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals performed an eight-song set of the former Pantera vocalist’s material from that band. He impressed with his harrowing, unhinged vocal delivery. Because of the show’s early start time, the arena was still half-empty by the end of the band’s set.