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American Carnage: Live Review

Slayer, Megadeth and Testament: Carnage in Long Beach

By Aniruddh "Andrew" Bansal

August 30th 2010, Long Beach Arena, Long Beach CA

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Part 1: The Build-up

After being postponed by more than seven months from the original date of January 22nd, the day had finally arrived. Slayer and Megadeth were bringing their co-headline American Carnage tour to our very own Long Beach with support from Testament, and it was a big day for every metalhead in the LA area, possibly the biggest day of the year.

Dedicated fans started gathering at the venue starting as early as 4 A.M. The good thing about the area outside the arena was the trees and plenty of grass, which meant that there was plenty of shade and a soft surface to sit on, making it easier for these people to wait it out till 5.30 in the evening.

My interview with Megadeth guitarist Chris Broderick was at 4 o' clock. I called up the tour manager Mike. When he first saw me as I introduced myself, sporting my favorite Megadeth shirt and Dave Mustaine wrist band, he said to me, "Hey, you're the one? You don't look like an interviewer. You look like a fan!" As he escorted me past the backstage area, he actually made a point to tell the security guys that I was with him and not a fan that had sneaked in backstage, so I'm not to be thrown out! Along the way I saw Testament singer Chuck Billy walking by and said hello. The sign outside the Megadeth dressing room was a thrill in itself, and the first sight I got when I stepped inside was the mother of epic. All four members of the band were hanging out together. Even though I've done plenty of interviews with all kinds of bands big and small, it's because of moments like this that I feel like all this is just a very long dream.

I said hello to Dave, David and Shawn before walking up to Chris. He remembered me from the previous time I interviewed him (December 2009, Las Vegas) and the numerous times we met after that. He even asked me how I was doing and what I thought of their previous LA area show. The interview went very well and Chris was honest as always with all his answers. "Enjoy the show tonight. See you out in the front!" said Chris, as we parted ways and I came back out into the waiting crowd.

Things were getting ready to roll, as the merch stands were being put in place and the security were getting their briefing. For those interested, some of the new Megadeth shirts look amazing, and Slayer shirts are always kickass. Testament shirts weren't far behind either. During this time I also went to the band will call window to get my ticket, which I found was a seat in section 219. So I wasn't worried about getting in early anymore, and ended up hanging out over there with my two amazing photographers till a few minutes before the show started at 6.55.

As I went up to section 219, I got literally terrified by how pathetic that seat was! It was a seat in the top tier of the arena, with a side view of the stage. But even before I went ahead to find my seat, the security guy gave me a different ticket, for an infinitely better seat, in the front row of section 116, which turned out to be the perfect seat to watch Testament. I guess the concert organizers themselves realized that those section 219 tickets should never have been made available in the first place, and offered alternate tickets. Thank goodness!

Part 2: The Show

Testament's intro track 'For The Glory Of' rang loud and clear on the PA and a huge roar went up in the crowd. Their stage set up looked grandly impressive and they wasted no time in getting those heads bobbing as they kicked off with 'More Than Meets The Eye'. In my opinion, the album 'Formation Of Damnation' is majorly responsible for the recent resurgence of thrash metal. Testament put out this album much before anyone out of Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Overkill or Kreator released their latest efforts. With that in mind, I always enjoy songs off of it, and this time was no exception. I really thought these songs were getting a much better reception from the crowd as compared to some of the obscure songs from The Legacy, an album they played in its entirety the last time they toured the States with Megadeth.

With that said, they did play quite a few of the older songs along with the three TFOD tracks, 'Dog Faced Gods' being the first among those. This departure into the more death metal type vocals was pretty well received, as they continued with 'The New Order' and 'Practice What You Preach', the latter being a great sing along. The ultimate live Testament song 'Into The Pit' was up next, even though I noticed in the set lists for previous shows on this tour that they weren't playing this one. I'm sure it had a little bit to do with the massiveness of the pit and the generally energetic atmosphere here tonight. I was directly looking at the heart of the mosh pit from where I was, and it grew at least twenty fold during this song, vindicating the band's decision to play the song.

They had yet more to offer with 'D.N.R' and '3 Days In Darkness', before ending their set with 'The Formation Of Damnation'. The 'wall of death' during this song was a sight to behold as I saw two groups of excited kids run into each other with their entire energy. It made me want to experience that myself and I hope I get that chance soon, probably at the next Exodus show.

Fans seemed delighted to see guitarist Alex Skolnick back on stage again after he missed the aforementioned previous tour due to scheduling conflicts, as they were loudly cheering each of his solos. Chuck Billy has a very unique voice and it really stands out among all other thrash vocalists. It's powerful to say the least, and when combined with his physical presence, it gets to the extent of being demonic. The rest of the band Eric Peterson on guitar, Greg Christian on bass and Paul Bostaph on drums performed their bits perfectly well.

My only disappointment was that they didn't play 'Souls of Black'. Personally I've forever been in love with that bass intro and would do anything to watch it live. Other than that, as the show openers, Testament brought their A game to the Long Beach Arena tonight, putting on a flawlessly powerful performance, in the process inducing some serious head banging, mosh pits and one of the most breathtaking walls of death I've ever seen. They sure threw down a challenge to Megadeth and Slayer, and it was up to those two bands to keep up with the relentless brutality that this band delivered in plenty for the entirety of the 40 minutes they were on stage. If you didn't like Testament tonight, I have only two words for you. Epic Fail.

Here's their complete set list:
1. For The Glory Of
2. More Than Meets The Eye
3. Dog Faced Gods
4. The New Order
5. Practice What You Preach
6. Into the Pit
7. D.N.R
8. 3 Days in Darkness
9. The Formation Of Damnation

After their set it was time for me to try something I'd never done before, and I was hugely elated after having pulled it off. With the help of my good friends, I sneaked into the pit a few minutes before Megadeth were supposed to start!!

I ended up being barely a few rows from the stage as the classic intro of Black Sabbath the song, mixed with a warning, also used on the original Rust In Peace tour in 1990, was a signal for us to get ready for Megadeth to hit the stage. Shawn Drover was the first to appear behind his mega-awesome drum kit, followed by Chris and David, and finally the sight of Dave Mustaine walking out with his awe-inspiring Rust In Peace guitar led to a deafening roar around the arena. Just like on the U.S tour back in March, the band were primarily here to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their 'Rust In Peace' album, but unlike that tour, they wasted no time in getting straight into Rust In Peace, as they opened with 'Holy Wars'. I think there were two reasons for this, one being they got a shorter set to play on this tour and secondly they were so used to playing the album every night by now that they didn't need those additional songs to sort out the chinks in the armour, so to speak.

I felt a massive surge from behind me, as enthralled kids with beaming faces and gleaming eyes were rushing in to get a closer look at their heroes. As for me, realizing how much bullshit I went through at the previous show and the fact that I successfully sneaked into the pit, I was overwhelmed into tears of happiness during the guitar solo. With 'Holy Wars' and 'Hangar 18', the band delivered what I'd call their most killer one-two punch. There was no let up, as my personal favorite song from the album, 'Take No Prisoners' was up next. There is not a single riff in the song that doesn't make a fan want to furiously keep banging his head into a windmill of hair (well, provided you do have hair).

'Junior! Junior!' shouted the fans as David Ellefson laid down the bass intro to 'Five Magics', a song that has certainly got a great response on the tours this year, solely due to the fact that you wouldn't expect to hear it unless the band is playing the whole album. During the intro as the rest of the band took a breather, Mustaine also switched to the silver flying V. After this gem of a live song, it was time for another bass intro from Ellefson, for 'Poison Was The Cure'. It was more than a dream come true for every Megadeth fan in attendance to be able to witness tunes like the above two and the following song 'Lucretia', as was evident from the movement in the pit.

After pulling off those rarities with aplomb, the band stepped into more of a chartered territory with 'Tornado of Souls'. Chris Broderick laid down all the guitar solos with ridiculous ease, specially on this song. I would describe him as a guitar-playing machine with flawless hands and an expressive face. His crowd interaction seems to get better and better every time I see him perform. The band's long lost mascot Vic Rattlehead came out during 'Dawn Patrol'. Vic looked much more impressive live than in the videos I had seen of him. His presence wasn't intimidating, but was a welcome addition to the live Megadeth experience. The RIP portion of the set built up to a crescendo as they ended it with the title song.

"And that, was Rust In Peace!" yelled Mustaine. But they were far from done yet, as they now moved on to songs from the other albums. While the RIP material was absolutely amazing, this was the more easy-going, sort of commercial portion of the set. It was during this part that the fans could take a little breather and enjoy the songs by singing the words rather than by engaging mosh pits. After RIP, Mustaine also changed his shirt and switched to, hold your breath, a Metallica shirt!!

I don't have a picture to prove this as cameras weren't allowed, but I'm almost 100% certain that it was a Metallica shirt. I looked closely at the shirt as many times as I could before concluding that it indeed was what I thought it was, and I also heard at least a few people in the crowd yell, 'Hey, he's wearing a Metallica shirt!!' whenever he walked over to our side. At that moment, (if it's indeed true) I realized how truly epic it was. Even the word epic itself isn't as epic as this. It's like hell froze and the world turned upside down many times over. Having said that, I really need to see a picture to make sure I'm right about this.

The songs played during the said portion were 'Trust', 'Headcrusher', 'A Tout Le Monde', 'Symphony of Destruction' and finally 'Peace Sells'. This year, a lot of unimaginable things have happened in and around Megadeth, not least of all seeing Ellefson back on bass. It was pure joy seeing him take center stage and being the frontman for all those classic bass intros, specially 'Peace Sells'. They tied the set into the whole RIP theme as they interspersed the song with an introduction by Mustaine to his band, and a reprise version of Holy Wars.

Needless to say, Dave Mustaine was as powerful as ever with his performance, but unlike what the naysayers keep repeating, this show clearly proved that Megadeth is not all about Mustaine. As I just said, Ellefson got his fair share of the centre stage, so did Broderick with his guitar solos and Shawn Drover with his drum pieces in Poison Was The Cure, Rust In Peace and Trust.

Again, just like with Testament's set, my only complaint here would be the absence of a classic song like 'Rattlehead', 'Hook In Mouth', 'In My Darkest Hour' or 'Mechanix' in place of Trust or A Tout Le Monde. On the other hand they could have also included one or two more Endgame songs, considering that it's their latest album. May be we'll see that on the next tour. Other than that, I didn't notice any negatives in their performance.

Overall, Megadeth showed that they are the epitome of a band that's more than just 'thrash metal', providing the unique blend of thunderous bass licks, technically unmatchable guitar riffs and thrash style drumming that combines together to create a sound that they can call their own. They never needed the aid of pyrotechnics or stage antics as tonight their music in itself poured bouts of insane excitement into the crowd. Just like they did in 2008, Megadeth enthralled Long Beach Arena with some truly magical moments.

Here's their complete set list:
1. Holy Wars... The Punishment Due
2. Hangar 18
3. Take No Prisoners
4. Five Magics
5. Poison was the Cure
6. Lucretia
7. Tornado of Souls
8. Dawn Patrol
9. Rust in Peace... Polaris
10. Trust
11. Head Crusher
12. A Tout Le Monde
13. Symphony Of Destruction
14. Peace Sells

As we waited between sets, I managed to move up to the second row, having a perfectly clear view of the stage. The only other times I saw Slayer were at Mayhem Fest 2009 where they played with a bunch of bands that hold no candle to them, and at Jimmy Kimmel this year, with a largely scaled down stage production and a super short set. This was the real Slayer experience I and fellow fans were looking forward to.

As the hellish intro to 'World Painted Blood' got going on the PA, the sheer volume of the fans was shattering the walls of Long Beach Arena. The curtain engulfing the stage was quickly pulled down as the mighty Slayer appeared on stage with the opening riff of the song, making the crowd go absolutely fucking bonkers. It turned out to be a great live song, specially because of the mayhem that ensued after the interlude. Another offering from the same album 'Hate Worldwide' followed. Although it was well received, I had 'Unit 731' echoing in my mind as soon as WPB finished, because that's the order on the album. I feel Unit 731 would have been a nice addition, along with or in place of Hate Worldwide. Having said that, it's safe to say that fans enjoyed singing the chorus of Hate Worldwide.

Alongside Megadeth's RIP, Slayer were celebrating the 20th anniversary of the album 'Seasons In The Abyss' on this tour. If you were in the first few rows during these two songs and thought things were crazy, you hadn't seen anything yet. The band kicked off the Seasons In The Abyss portion of their set with the monstrously powerful 'War Ensemble'. "It's how many people I can kiiiiiiiiillll!!!' yelled the fans, myself included, and we banged our heads as hard as we possibly could. 'Blood Red' wasn't as heavy or fast but musically it was equally enjoyable. Kerry and Jeff's guitar riffs on this one went like an unstoppable freight train, aided by Araya's beastly vocals and Lombardo's fantastic drumming.

'Spirit In Black' kept the intensity going and judging by the sheer force with which we were getting shoved from behind, the mosh pits behind us must have been going nuts. Considering the variations this song has within itself, the guitar parts were played excellently well. All fans had a blast singing along with the line 'Death the only solution!' during the next song 'Expandable Youth'. My favorite song from this album 'Dead Skin Mask' was up next and I didn't hold back on singing each and every word. The general response from the fans around me was also similar. The paying audience would have already felt like they got their money's worth, and we weren't even half way into Slayer's set!

After that pleasant departure of a slow, easygoing sing along, it was back to the fast-paced brutality with 'Hallowed Point'. This was another song that had a lot going on guitar-wise, and whenever Kerry or Jeff came over to our side to give us a closer look at what they were doing on theirs, the push from the people behind was twice as much, as everyone wanted to be in the front row, to have a better look. Up till here, all eight songs were top notch. But with 'Skeletons Of Society', I felt the excitement and intensity in the crowd drop for the first time, as it wasn't a fast song and no one really seemed to know the lyrics, plus the fact that some of the 'hardcore' Slayer fans weren't very pleasant people to be around. During Megadeth's set, there was camaraderie among the fans as we sung the lyrics and head banged to the songs together. Definitely not the case during Slayer, as people seemed to be in a battle to get to the front row, rather than actually looking at the stage and watching the band perform.

'Temptation' didn't really raise the intensity level by much either. It was only during 'Born Of Fire' that the crowd was brought back to life again. It was literally a 'killer' song for us people in the front, as the number of crowd surfers during this one was insane. This song should never leave Slayer's live set. They closed out the Seasons portion with the title song. It built up pace beautifully and the crowd was definitely singing the chorus loudly for this one. Musically, it's the best song on the album and fans seemed grateful to experience it live. With that, Slayer were done with the Seasons album, but there was a lot more fun in store for us!

One of the best, most devilish opening riffs of all time hit our ears as 'South Of Heaven' kicked off the remaining portion of the show. Besides being every bit as good as I expected it to, the song served as the perfect build up to the most recognizable Slayer song and the ultimate thrash anthem, 'Raining Blood'. Whatever is written about this song is never going to be enough to do justice to it, so I'll just say that tonight it simply fucking destroyed the Long Beach Arena.

We were in for a pleasant surprise next, in the form of 'Aggressive Perfector', a song that was recorded in the band's formative years and released as a bonus track on Reign In Blood. After experiencing it for the first time, I can't help but wonder, why don't they play it more often?? 'Angel of Death' was the last song of the show as we used every drop of energy we had left in our bodies to enjoy this song. The band said goodbye and American Carnage at Long Beach was over.

Special mention has to be made of Tom Araya, whom we were all delighted to see back on the stage and performing as well as ever. I would say it's a blessing in disguise that he can't head bang any more, because firstly it ensures his physical longevity and secondly, the way he plays on stage now, standing in the centre, with a smile on his face and zero movement of the upper body, he looks more hellishly intimidating than he ever did before, comparing to the two times I saw him live and of course the videos and DVDs of past years. Tom Araya minus head banging equals the human incarnation of Satan!!

Talking of the negatives, as I said earlier, I felt that 'Unit 731' or may be even 'Psycopathy Red' should have been used for representing WPB instead of Hate Worldwide. Other than that there are a couple of songs I would have liked in the 2nd part of the set, but with the 70-minute set duration I guess it wasn't possible. Plus, out of the four songs they played, I really can't pick a single one that was replaceable, so no complaints there. I do feel kind of disappointed that Slayer haven't gone on a full fledged promotional tour for World Painted Blood yet, and I really hope it happens soon. Now that both bands have celebrated the 20th anniversary of their respective albums, it would be refreshing to see them promote their latest albums (both really good albums in my opinion) on the next leg of their tour. That would be my idea and expectation anyway.

Overall, Slayer had a lot to celebrate, with Tom Araya returning to good physical shape, their rejuvenated friendship with Mustaine's Megadeth and of course the 20th anniversary of 'Seasons In The Abyss'. They did it in the only way they knew possible, by throwing down some menacingly brutal and brain-drilling music. If you're looking for a synonym for the term 'thrash metal', look no further. Your answer is Slayer.

I love all three bands to death and I feel that fans should have really been able to enjoy the whole show, so I'm not going to compare the three bands and pick the best one. Based on what you read, I'll leave it up to you to decide.

Summing up the entire show, I would say that Long Beach Arena proved to be the perfect venue for what turned out be easily the most brutal and one of the most enjoyable shows of the year, and only these bands can match this kind of performance in the remainder of the year.

Here's their complete set list:
1. World Painted Blood
2. Hate Worldwide
3. War Ensemble
4. Blood Red
5. Spirit in Black
6. Expendable Youth
7. Dead Skin Mask
8. Hallowed Point
9. Skeletons of Society
10. Temptation
11. Born of Fire
12. Seasons in the Abyss
13. South of Heaven
14. Raining Blood
15. Aggressive Perfector
16. Angel of Death

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