Wednesday, August 18, 2010

American Carnage

Heavy metal fans do not clap. They don't applaud either. They raise their hands in devil horns and roar. When the band appears on stage, at the conclusion of a song, or anytime something cool happens, thousands of headbangers erupt in a geyser of noise.

After counting down the months, keeping the tickets safe in the top drawer of my desk, and searching in vain for a school friend to bring, I attended the American Carnage tour when it played at the Time Warner Amphitheater in downtown Cleveland. It was a fitting location: right next to the Cuyahoga River among the old steelyards and factories, geographically beneath more respected venues such as Progressive Field and Quicken Loans Arena. Heavy metal emerged in the early seventies out of Birmingham, England with such bands as Black Sabbath and Judas Priest. Birmingham was considered one of the major industrial centers of the world at the time (even seen as a major location for the Industrial Revolution), so it makes sense a showcase for American metal be in the industrial heart of Cleveland.

Testament opened and perfectly worked up the crowd for the following acts. Their background consisted of a Gothic church steeple and village rooftops that wouldn't have looked out of place on a Sabbath album cover. I'm not too familiar with the group, but I enjoyed what I saw and heard, so I'll definitely be checking out more of their work. Singer Chuck Billy proved he had an intense set of lungs, bellowing impressive vocal on such songs as "Practice What You Preach" and "The Formation of Damnation." He was easily the best vocalist of the night (unlike the others, he didn't play an instrument, but that didn't stop him from strumming along on the mic stand) Before singing "Into the Pit," he riled up a mosh pit and encouraged those smoking the weed in the front to keep it up because it smelled good.

Megadeth followed, playing the entirety of Rust in Peace plus a few other hits including "Peace Sells," "Symphony of Destruction," and "Trust." Their background had the album cover of Rust in Peace, focusing on the skeleton head, and the drum set had biohazard warnings on the bass. Lighting frequently changed: hellfire red, toxic green, tomb-like blue, and that really helped establish the atmosphere. During Dave Ellefson's bass solo on "Dawn Patrol," the band's mascot Vic Rattlehead (the skeleton) came out in a business suit. He didn't do much except walk around and look intimidating, but it was cool.

Slayer closed out the show with the album Season in the Abyss as well as "Angel of Death" and "Raining Blood." I was told to expect an epic, in-your-face performance, and I wasn't disappointed. Slayer, I discovered, plays much better live. Everything about them seems in sync and matched; it's hard to imagine them anywhere else except on stage. Unlike the other bands, Slayer had a giant curtain blocking the stage before showtime. When the music kicked on, the curtain was yanked out of sight, and there they were bathed in red light. They were machines. It was wicked. They had this presence the other bands just couldn't match.

So was the show worth it? Absolutely! There really is nothing quite like a heavy metal show. The performances contain excellent musicianship, and the fans are rabid. It's intense.

Note: I got these photos off the Internet and not at the show. I didn't have a camera.

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