fun fun fun fest
If metal-as-a-festival-headliner needed redeeming after Danzig’s prima donna turn on Friday, it’s safe to say that Slayer provided such redemption.
After two straight days of bands from Wugazi to The Damned to Ted Leo and the Pharmacists making cracks about the French onion soup enthusiast’s tantrum, it was reassuring to be reminded that metal is no joke, via the chants of “Slayer! Slayer!” There was a genuine roar from the crowd as the band—obscured on stage for the very beginning of the set by a huge white sheet upon which they projected pentagrams—launched into the brutal opening riff of the title track from 2009’s World Painted Blood. It’s okay, guys. Slayer is here.
The band’s set proceeded to absolutely, non-stop, pummeling metal, because that is what Slayer is and does. If you wanted nuance, hope you caught Boris’ set on the Black Stage. If you wanted anthems of destruction and odes to Satan, then Slayer is your band.
The set was therefore light on banter and crowd-pandering. Slayer does not care how y’all are doin’ out there tonight, Austin. (Singer Tom Araya did make a “Are you having Fun Fun Fun yet” joke early on, but sources indicate that he was ashamed afterward.) Besides that, the few addresses to the crowd were well-worn stage patter built into the flow of the set as an introduction to certain songs, so drummer Dave Lombardo could catch his breath or Kerry King could tune his guitar. “This song is about your freedom, which is slowly being taken away… It’s called ‘Mandatory Suicide’!” That sort of thing.
Beyond that, what is there to say? It’s f*cking Slayer. There were not really any surprises. The band was impossibly tight, playing a set that ran over 90 minutes with barely a break. Most of the songs sounded kind of the same. People all over Auditorium Shores, even children, went absolutely nuts, casting devil horns (definitely not hook ‘ems) like a shibboleth to prove that, no, they really didn’t give a damn about Odd Future on the Blue Stage.
The music was loud, the band delivered exactly what they are great at delivering, and people ate it up. The songs varied from purely aggressive breakneck thrash metal to marginally slower breakneck thrash metal. The most unexpected thing about the set—given that Slayer are a full-on professional rock band who have been playing massive stages at European metal festivals, or OzzFest in the States, or the recent Big Four shows with fellow thrash pioneers Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax here and abroad—was that the crowd’s appetite for Slayer was so ravenous.
When the festival lineup was announced, people were so, so psyched, and that didn’t drop off as the band’s set grew closer. More than one dude in the Yellow Stage tent tried to interrupt Henry Rollins with cries of “Slayer!”, and we can only imagine that the band’s warm-up act, Brian Posehn, got it worse (unless the metal-obsessed comedian was the one calling for it himself). Slayer was the only band at the festival whose merchandise was available all three days. That “all employees must carve Slayer into their arm” picture went viral months ago. You get the idea.
It’s seems unlikely at first glance, given that Slayer’s last Austin show was a 2003 set at the Austin Music Hall, back when they were touring with Hatebreed. (These days, of course, Hatebreed is lucky to land an opening slot for nu-metal bands 10 years their junior and struggle to fill 700-cap rooms in Northern Louisana on their own.) It’s safe to say that the bulk of the crowd at the Orange Stage on Sunday night would not have attended a Slayer show at the Austin Music Hall, then or now, but the enthusiasm that people had for the band at Fun Fun Fun Fest wasn’t phony or ironic hipster-ism. There were way too many people in the crowd, for way too long, for it to be so easily dismissed. Rather, it proves why this band has endured, while the Hatebreeds of the world lie forgotten.
While Slayer’s act can get a bit same-y after a while, it’s also 100 percent true to the band. They didn’t go pop to get rich like Metallica did; they didn’t grow dated and corny like Anthrax. Slayer is, and has always been, just Slayer—great musicians playing music that they don’t care if you like.
At a time when trend-chasing (or even, if you want to be generous, attempts at trend-setting) is the only way anyone can think of to try to keep up with a music landscape that is ever-changing, uncertain and laden with an extremely short attention span, Slayer is a singular, iconic artist. It’s more appealing now than ever, to more people than ever, to hear a band that just does what they do without any of those other concerns. They like to play fast songs about death, destruction and Satan. They’ve been doing it for three decades. If you don’t like it, go watch Odd Future.
We live in uncertain times, but some things do not change. All hail Slayer.