Photo By Troy Fisher
There are bands across all genres of music that would define themselves as “misunderstood”. A great many of those groups fall within the category of “heavy metal” to the common person. This conjures up images of Satanic reverence, the PMRC and Dee Snider massacring the United States Senate in defense of the music.
There is no debating it, heavy metal is misunderstood in traditional musical circles. The imagery, the lyrics, the instrumentation: some people just do not get it.
In the vast scope of the genre, there may not be a band more misunderstood than Slayer. Much of the band’s music and album imagery have come under fire from more “traditional” American citizens. Their 1986 masterpiece Reign In Blood was nearly nixed because of the ever-controversial song “Angel Of Death”. The song profiles the life and crimes of Nazi physician Josef Mengele.
Due to its subject matter, many called for the album to not be released as Slayer “supported Nazism”. For those who have read the lyrics, they’d realize it’s not supporting anything, the band (and late songwriter Jeff Hanneman) was simply interested in World War II history. Because of that moment, much of the band’s work has been scrutinized and misrepresented.
The thrash metal icons took to the Fargodome stage on November 17 as part of their Final Campaign tour. The tour will conclude at the end of the month at The Forum in Los Angeles and is presumably the end of Slayer as a touring band.
It’s no secret that Fargo would not provide a Forum-eqsue crowd nor would it match the band’s Madison Square Garden shows from a few nights before. It was an intimate experience between the band and droves of loyal fans sporting Slayer denim jackets, patches and beanie caps.
The California-born band opened the set with “Repentless”, the title track off their most recent studio album, released in 2015. Like a kick in the teeth, bassist and vocalist Tom Araya screamed the vocals to the opening track before the band perfectly transitioned into the opening riff to “Mandatory Suicide” off of South Of Heaven.
In every note and word, the band put forth every ounce of energy into each song. Not only was this a sign of a band that has significant experience on the road, but one that knows they will only play these songs a few more times in front of an audience. So when Araya screamed “War!”, signaling the forthcoming tune of “War Ensemble”, it sent chills up and down your spine.
Slayer has changed up the order of their setlist over the course of this final tour. For the most part, the setlist remained the same leading up to the show inside the Fargodome. So, fans were expecting a monster conclusion that included some of the band’s biggest thrashers. It all began with “Seasons In The Abyss” from 1990, a track that begins with a slow groove metal riff and turns into an all-out thrash fest by the song’s end. The time signature changes within the song showcase the band flexing their musical muscles. For fans, hearing Kerry King hit the opening thrash riff to the song is the ultimate payoff.
From there, the band hit three high notes in “Jesus Saves”, “Chemical Warfare” and “Hell Awaits” in consecutive tunes. The final of the trio is much like “Seasons In The Abyss” where it builds slowly and turns into delectable dive somewhere south of heaven.
“South Of Heaven”, the title track from their 1988 album followed. The challenge for Slayer was creating an album that stood up alongside their 1986 masterpiece Reign In Blood. They took the challenge head-on and created an album that many fans believe is better than Reign In Blood.
Following “Show No Mercy” from their first album, drummer Paul Bostaph began laying the foundation for what was to come. For those who have seen Slayer shows in the past, you knew that foundation would be built into “Raining Blood”, the band’s most popular song in the mainstream and a true metal anthem. Once the band hit the opening riff (iconic), you could almost see them savoring the song. They played the half-time riff at a slower pace, letting it linger inside the walls of the Fargodome. Truthfully, it was something to behold.
Finally, the band concluded with “Dead Skin Mask”, a song about the life and deeds of infamous serial killer Ed Gein. Everyone inside the Fargodome knew the closer would be the aforementioned “Angel Of Death”. Needless to say, the band did not disappoint.
Opening with the screech of someone in tremendous pain, Araya and the band put together a perfect live rendition of their most famous (or infamous, depending on who you ask) song. The half-time riff? Perfect. Araya screaming “Angel Of Death” at the end of the song? Perfect. Everything about it was ecstasy for Slayer fans.
The band returned to the stage and dispersed guitar picks and drum sticks, while Araya walked across the stage and waved at those fans in attendance. They were savoring this moment and storing it for future use. With less than 10 shows to play after their visit to Fargo, it’s no surprise. Never the less, the metal legends tore the roof off the Fargodome on this night.