Music

[Review] Slayer Comes to St. Augustine: The Ancient City Gets Medieval

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One little known fact about me: I am a metal head at heart. Only my family and closest of friends know. I was fortunate enough to grow up with three male cousins who introduced me to the world of metal at a young age. Dating back as far as I can remember, they turned me on to the genre’s greatest (and some of the not-so-great) bands. I have long considered it part of my DNA.

Recognized as one of the “big four” thrash metal bands, Slayer’s music has gotten me through some of my darkest hours. Thirty minutes with them and all my anger, frustration, sadness, or disappointment is wiped away, leaving me fresh and ready to take on the world. Despite my love of Slayer, I’ve never had an opportunity to see them live. I’ve even had tickets to multiple shows, but something has always stood in my way. So, needless to say, I was feverishly excited to finally see these guys play for myself. And what a lineup of supporting artists they chose for their 6-week North American tour!

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From start to finish, the bands’ only Florida stop on this 28-city tour was impeccable. We were treated to some of the most amazing, sinister music we could possibly imagine, as a warm-up for Slayer. Known as one of the most influential death metal bands in the world, I was stoked to finally get to rage with Behemoth. Unfortunately, we pulled a rookie move and took the Bridge of Lions on our way to the St. Augustine Amphitheatre. This made us late to the show, and Behemoth was already several songs in, by the time we arrived. I could literally feel the sound before hearing it. They treated the crowd to fan-favorites, “Conquer All” and “Messe Noire,” demonstrating why they are considered one of the most universally loved metal bands in the world.

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Next up, hailing from Richmond, VA, Lamb of God immediately made their presence known, once onstage. They opened with “Laid to Rest” and the crowd went insane. Dominated by the drums and bass line, the primordial push-pull of the rhythm had the crowd in a frenzy. They also pulled out crowd favorites “512,” as well as “Engage the Fear Machine.” The second, Engage, had a particular statement to make. As described by the lead singer, Randy Blythe, it was a message against “all the bullshit the media feeds us daily.” And the crowd responded with thunderous approval. The band also played “Still Echoes,” off their 2015 album VII: Sturm und Drang.  A particularly personal song, this one described singer Blythe’s time spent in a prison in Prague. By the end of their set, the pit was swirling like a human hurricane, with Blythe leading a crowd call and response before exiting stage left.

By this time, we had been treated to some of metal’s best music, and Slayer hadn’t even taken the stage yet. As they readied themselves, the stage was hidden by a huge white backdrop, which displayed red crosses. The anticipation was so intense it was palpable. The sheet dropped and the crowd went wild, as Slayer immediately went into their first song, “Repentless,” off their 2015 album. From there, they took us on a musical journey through over thirty years of thrash metal hits spanning almost every album. From “War Ensemble” to “Mandatory Suicide” and “Raining Blood,” their musical offering was like nothing I have ever seen or heard.

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I have seen a lot of concerts in my 43 years and I have to say, heavy metal/rock bands deliver like no one else. Between the banter from the artists and the intermittent rays of fire, you cannot help but remain interested, even if you don’t enjoy the music. (I’m wondering how many fans that were in the pit still have eyebrows after they blasted us with that huge wall of fire!?) My insides were rattling and my head was banging for the entirety of the show. In my younger days, I would have been down in the pit with the rest of the bloody messes. These days, I’m content standing back, watching the crowd and how the band members interact with each other. I was enamored by Kerry King and especially enjoyed watching his interaction with Gary Holt.

Aside from the music, my favorite thing about a live show is the people watching. The amphitheatre was a sea of black, with everyone donned in leather and their favorite concert t-shirt. There was a much heavier police presence at this show, but that didn’t seem to bother anyone. I guess they made the assumption that heavy metal = a rougher crowd. But, all I saw were people enjoying an ice cold beer and smiling from ear to ear as they banged their heads to the legends onstage. We even had an osprey join the show. He sat at the top of the tent throughout the entire night. I’m pretty sure I even saw him bang his head a few times during “Hell Awaits.”

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By the end of the night, sweat drenched attendees were filling out of the ampitheatre. Most appeared to be satisfied, in addition to exhausted. Others were bloodied, yet smiling, and others were still head banging throughout the parking lot. Other than one venue volunteer spotted plugging his ears mid-show, this crowd seemed more than satisfied with exactly what they got.

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