Slayer: War At The Warfield, Still Reigning, and Live Intrusion
We’ll start out with the biggest draw of the recent slate of Slayer live DVD reissues. The previously out-of-print (and MIA on DVD) concert recording Live Intrusion captures the group in 1995 in Arizona. The band is arguably at or near the height of their powers, with Seasons of the Abyss in their back pockets and Divine Intervention freshly minted. This film starts with one of the most enduring and ghoulish images in the Slayer oeuvre as we get to see the making of house ads for Intervention, wherein a fan enthusiastically carves the word Slayer into his arm with a razor blade and lets the blood run red as the cameras click away. As the film cuts to the concert, we hear the fan helpfully offer, “I can douse it in rubbing alcohol and set it on fire if you want?” Cut to a mosh pit of similarly deranged fans.
A younger Slayer (check out Kerry King’s very freshly shaven head) tackles both canon classic and new material while digging wayyyy far back for some, as they say, deep album cuts in the form of “Captor of Sin” (Araya ably hits the high notes) and “Mandatory Suicide.” And there is a definitive reading of “War Ensemble” thrown in for good measure. Showmanship is kept to a minimum, though the band headbang like demons. The final 1-2-3 punch of “Hell Awaits,” Venom’s “Witching Hour” (if they had only covered “Black Metal”), and “Chemical Warfare” is like a masterclass in volume abuse and metal’s golden rules. The tour hijinks intercut between songs really broke up the mood of the disc for me, though the UK festival footage over the end credits (mocking a Headbangers Ball Host, and Hanneman/King sneaking up beside Sebastian Bach and yelling, “I’m here! Take a picture of me!” to a horde of photogs) was pretty priceless.
With War at the Warfield, man, it was a different time. Nu-Metal ruled the land and iconic drummer Dave Lombardo had flown the coop to join Mike Patton’s mad circus, Fantomas. Nonetheless, Slayer soldiered on with newblood Paul Bostaph, who always seemed somewhat out of his element, and made their one and only one concession to the then-pop culture zeitgeist — they downtuned their guitars a bit, thickening their normally quicksilver sound and putting it more in line with their then-peers. Aside from that, 2001 was a good year for Slayer, with the release of God Hates Us All, a strong piece of work that saw them incorporating more grinding dirge segments into their songs. Material from God Hates Us All gets pride of place amongst this evening’s setlist.
War At The Warfield captures Slayer on a great night. I’m particularly impressed with the shots of the band bathed in almost impressionist primary colors, deep reds, cosmic blues and panicked yellows. Unfortunately, the pacing of the concert is fatally fucking skewed by inane intercut interviews with fans who veer between ridiculously over the top or scarily understated. I appreciate the fact that Slayer have the most dedicated fans in Metal, but I only need to hear some spaz screech “Slayerrrrrrrrrrrrr” at the top of their lungs once or twice to get the point. It kills the heady momentum of what by all accounts looks to be a great show. Old and new numbers nestle comfortably together without sounding too jarring or having a new number signal the crowd to head to the bar and/or bathroom.
So maybe by the third disc your attention is flagging a little bit and you’re questioning the need for a third DVD so you maybe don’t even pay that much attention to the tracklist. Thus, it’s not until they’re well into the second song of the evening, “Piece by Piece,” that you realize, “Holy shit this is one of those concerts where the original lineup played Reign in Blood from start to finish!” Complete with the literal “raining blood” stunt at the end? Essential?
Wha? Sez the unconverted. Lemme spell out why this might be the perfect Slayer DVD. One: as mentioned above, this is a film of a show in 2004 where Slayer played their flawless, thrash metal masterpiece from start to finish in front of a bonkers audience. This is something that they didn’t even do at the time of the album’s release back in the eighties. Two: this is the original lineup of the band with prodigal speedfreak drummer Dave Lombard back in the fold. Three: Slayer circa 2004 is just as primitive and vital as Slayer circa 1986; the old boys can still bring it to the point where the event is less an exercise in nostalgia and more a shared purging of ill intent and negative impulses. Though, I feel obligated to point out that the editing of the film is way too choppy and jumpy.
The highlights for this reviewer were in the little, sublime details: Dave Lombardo’s double-bass clinic during the break in “Angel of Death,” Jeff Hanneman’s whammy bar abuse on EVERY SINGLE SOLO, being able to hear Tom Araya’s bass for the first time… And, oh yeah, the fucking rainstorm wall of blood! This, of course, leads to the finest visual of the affair, that of a blood-soaked, crimson Tom Araya headbanging viciously, blood spraying wildly from long, matted tendrils of hair. The staging of the show is a masterpiece of economy — no banter, no encore, no extraneous musicianship, the bare essentials of an expert performance. This is the kind of stuff that makes people want to form bands, burn churches, etc… a muse well spent.