Unholy Alliance, Chapter 2
Cardiff CIA, 30th October 2006
Reviewed by Anthony Morgan
A gig clocking in at nearly five hours had the potential to lumber like an eternal, lecturous speech by Fidel Castro, indeed the Cardiff mist wafted like Cuban cigars it'd be fair to say - very odd indeed. Decked in Slayer shirts spanning the depth of the group's career, hoarse chants of “SLAYER, SLAYER” (not a far cry from those of a soccer field) demonstrated the diehard fans still remain faithful as of October 2006, despite frequent media dismissals. A smaller, younger contingent sported shirts from the weighty supporting line up though, attesting that Unholy Alliance's Cardiff Chapter wouldn't be a one sided affair. Common folk brushing past the partisan crowd surrounding Cardiff International Arena meekly shuffled onwards, the rowdy, spontaneous nature of certain attendants a frightening prospect.
This very night, the crux of the argument was this; were Slayer, arguable kings of 80's Thrash (depending on whom your fave of The Big Four is) still members of the primal Metal league, or were they old codgers whose comfy slippers awaited by the fire? Media debate conversing the issue has been rife, detractors mourning the days of such classic staples as “Raining Blood”, “Angel of Death”, “Hell Awaits” - the names of the songs shouldn't even need mentioning.
Mythically spoken of like the Holy Grail, the younger audience hadn't even been concieved when the Huntington Park Thrashers burst onto the scene way back in December 1983 with Show No Mercy via the Metal Blade Records label. In two decades though, Metal has gone through vast transformations, nothing more attested than by the supporting bill, namely Californian upstarts Thine Eyes Bleed whom are poised for future glory should, Finnish Extreme Power Metallers Children of Bodom armed with lightning speed twin guitar licks, Richmond metalcore / post-thrash group Lamb of God and Sweden's Melodic Death Metallers In Flames.
Thine Eyes Bleed
Duly granted the unenviable task of opening the show, London, Ontario Metalcore quintet Thine Eyes Bleed faced a mammoth mountain to climb. Hot on the heels of 2005 debut album In the Wake of Separation issued by The End Records, the inclusion of Tom Araya's brother John amongst their ranks occupying bass duties did little to hinder general expectations. Additional press attention and lucrative opportunities such as an Unholy Alliance slot have been enormous benefits in the short term, though in the long term it may damage the group's commercial growth. Lazy media people will always draw comparisons with Slayer, and this may prohibit maximum commercial acclaim.
Following a thrash drenched opening number, vocalist Justin Wolfe screeched the words “Fuckin' Slayer!” into the mic amidst crowd frenzy. Even though such reliable tricks work the audience, it's ill advised to further strengthen their association with Slayer if they wish to shine. Sweaty mops of hair oozed over the frontman's face as he charged through the set, screeching in the footsteps of 90's vocalists like Phil Anselmo. Canada can now boast of a worthy vocalist to rival the death grunts of Scandinavia's talents.
The first of many singers to do so in the night, Wolfe rocked back and forth with one step on the PA which generated response. Considering it was their inaugural overseas tour, the immense responsibilities were handled well. Dysfunctional interludes of nuclear thrash warmed the audience, while drum solo snippets courtesy of Darryl Stephens instigated mosh euphoria. Johnny Araya burst alive in parts with prolonged moshing, while their capable back up vocalist / guitarist maniacally screams down his mic - in time to come it'd be interesting to see how the vocal aspect of his career develops. New songs like “Crystal Shit” easily blend into the live set also, a possible sign of things to come. Wishing to impress, too many stage personalities competed for the audience's attention, making the performance partly unfocused. With more gig experience these minor glitches may be rectified. Providing they downplay their bassist's relation to Slayer, future success may be forthcoming should impending studio material live up to the courage of its convictions.
Children of Bodom
Cheesy, forgettable house band jazz hearking back to schmaltzy 1960's American chatshows opened proceedings, much to the bemusement of everyone else. Some found it humorous, others found it absurd. Frontman Alexi Laiho displayed signs of nerves until shouting “Put your motherfucking fists in the air”, duly prompting the Finn from a solid yet uninspiring wake, igniting much needed passion from the audience. Defiantly galloping around the many corners of the stage at points, Laiho ensured nobody felt alienated during the set. Having said that, the guitar partially disabled Laiho from conducting the due expectations of a leading bandmember, which isn't necessarily a criticism. More suited to the guitarist role, Laiho's musical qualities excel in this position with more evident enthusiasm.
Maiden elements of riffery drenched the live repertoire on offer, the twin lead guitar a saving grace and without doubt the highlight of Children of Bodom's outing. The instrumental interludes littered throughout the songs effortlessly suited like hand in glove, the slower, reflective tracks especially working. Melodic, infectious in parts, the stadium rocker type numbers would've had a larger proportion of the audience humming along had they been more familiar with the group. The synthetic keyboard elements though, meanwhile, were less inspiring. In parts the sounds proved complimentary, while it didn't work in other aspects. “Hate Me” announced itself with a keyboard riff lifted from Hitchcock's Psycho soundtrack, while another boasted an underlying chord taken from Iron Maiden's “Wasted Years”. Briefly summarising, Laiho would better serve in the axe grinding expertise, while those synth samples need to undergo stricter examination prior to inclusion in a song. Twin guitar harmonies in their finest snippets of glory.
Lamb of God
Prior to Lamb of God's arrival on the stage, the individual members of Slayer took their seats in the stands to an immediate applause. This should prove how hotly anticipated the Metalcore act's appearance actually was. Making hand gestures which invited the audience to share their hoarse, guttural approval, Randy Blythe commanded attention from the very beginning. Standing, strumming away, the guitarists revved up to climactic points, charging into full frontal assault, lapping up every fan response. Blythe strode into every corner and crevasse of the CIA arena, a bubble of atomic energy. The live stage was invented for such pleasures, and must be a key reason in their phenomenal success - in a few words, go out and buy your ticket right now.
“Walk With Me In Hell” prompted the inevitable, and that was; you've guessed it, a psychotic, swollen moshpit (sorry you don't get prizes for answering correctly). A cliche to discuss, it was both a triumph and a tragedy. While it's impressive how a group can orchestrate such measures, those who participated it'd be fair to say are dim-witted, pitiful imbeciles with microscopic penises. If one wishes to play bumper cars, may it be suggested they attend the local fairground and cough up their thruppance for the privilege. One day an unfortunate accident will happen, and Lamb of God will be subject to libel running into millions - good luck to the lawyer who undertakes that case. Prime staple “Now You've Got Something to Die For” shot the crowd into an uncontrollable frenzy. Closing tracks like “Redneck” triggered moshpit revivals too, showing their vigorous resilience in the final minutes. Truly hypnotic, it threw down the gauntlet for both the bands that preceded and the ones to follow.
The Knight Rider theme marked the Swede's attempt at humour in Children of Bodom's footsteps - tragically for the readers this reviewer's limited brain cell capacity prohibits any David Hasselhoff type jokes surfacing. Undaunted by the challenge, In Flames walked to the stage. The first noticable issue was Jesper Stromblad's absence, with Niclas Engelin, Ander's colleague in the Passenger project filling in. Days earlier Jesper had travelled home to Gothenburg to take care of personal issues, so Engelin had been flown in with only several days rehearsal available. Stepping into daunting shoes, Engelin tremendously soldiered onwards with a degree of additional oomph which paid dividends - on this night he was the jewel in In Flames' crown.
Indeed In Flames were also the most cohesive unit, adequately supporting Anders Friden. Whereas some of the other group's vocalists had to shoulder extra responsibility during certain points, Friden always had the troops backing him. The first track came and went, though newer track “Leeches” lifted the audience. These Metal songs possessed the catchiness of pop records, owning a more harmonic song structure. Bizarrely, in Metal terms at least, the formula stormed a treat through emphatically uniting a whole crowd in unison - 2003's “Trigger” best showcased this reaction. Don't misunderstand this review though, for In Flames can pen heavy, bulldozing tracks with the best, and have done so since their inception.
A fairly predictable comment remarking that Wales kicks England's backside invited cheers, though if analyzed this was poor form - how many English cities eventually heard the same throwaway statement vice versa? Current single / ballad “Come Clarity” redeemed the group's credentials impeccably, showing detractors that full throttle Thrash isn't the only route to the Metal fan's soul. All clapping along, a true serenade was a welcomed change. Friden jested about the males moshing and then dancing together, implying homoerotic undertones much to his amusement - personalities elevate a concert's overall flair, to which such casual jokes aided. “Take This Life” conspired alongside “My Sweet Shadow” to fittingly conclude the set with a double whammy of pounding riffage. Explosive, cutting edge, a wise choice.
Longtime vocalist Tom Araya initially appeared worn, graceful, well beyond a man of 45 years. The silver-tinted beard, the thick bands of pronounced wrinkles - the writing seemed scrawled on the wall. Seemed is the very word, for Araya eventually eased into headswaying during several portions and then let rip with some psychotic head riffery reminiscent of the group's heyday. Despite this, not a sour note was uttered by Araya's gravelly throat - without doubt the Chilean born frontman's vocal chords were impeccable. Patient and smart, Araya gradually built the atmosphere to volcanic proportions, a seasoned master well aware of his inability to compete with the crazed, frantic live shows visible in the early 80's, a truth which shouldn't detract from Slayer's live concerts in their twilight years. A psychological master sifting the energy into reserve, early classic “Die By The Sword” upped the ante by several notches - this is what the ticket buying public purchased tickets for, a glimmer of Araya's heyday. “Mandatory Suicide”, dedicated to those "forced to serve their country", aided and abetted in this noble endeavour, crunching along with jovial glee from the bassist.
In the axe shredding department, the razor-mouthed Kerry King immediately surpassed his counterpart Hanneman with extra amounts of enthusiasm all throughout the set. Hanneman sparkled in minimal periods, but mostly lurked under King's shadow.
The visual backdrop flickering away through grotesque scenery heavily aided, scrolling through visceral scenes of a mutilated Jesus Christ, skulls, gunfire, in short all the war torn atrocities that have fed Slayer's lyrical process over the past two decades. In contrast to a usual static backdrop, it showed an avenue which warrants further investigation by aspiring Metal artists.
Random crowd members declared the songs they most wished to hear, with the 80's tracks configuring amongst the names. “Hell Awaits', with its slow, crushing grind, bruised along like a devious steamroller, while “Dead Skin Mask” initiated a singalong ode to Wisconsin's Ed Gein. A hellish moshpit erupted during undoubted classic track “Raining Blood”, a wild, impromptu cackle of collective misfits wreaking mayhem. Rounding off the Hellish trio was “South of Heaven” and “Angel of Death”, impressive nuggets within the back catalogue. Those mid 80's and early 90's tracks much lauded as prime, murderous cuts captured the limelight, easily dismissing their recent counterparts. If there was a major tale being recited tonight, this was that tale. Simple, effective, it demonstrated the main ingredient lacking in many 21st century artists - the necessity to keep the songwriting as basic as possible, and not unnecessarily overcomplicate.
Sticksman Dave Lombardo pummelled the quivering drums into oblivion, utterly astonishing the awestruck unfamiliar. The lighting technicians deserve appalling beatings a la Guantanamo Bay for the botched job they executed on Lombardo, the legendary drummer forced to persevere in shrouded darkness. A tragic state of affairs - one day Lombardo's infinitely superior live performance will be appropriately given due credit. Explosively closing the show, this musical monster easily shames contemporaries.