It’s been a truly remarkable, next level summer at the Walmart AMP and it’s also been Shindigmusic’s pleasure to bring you coverage of all these greats show. Out of all the big name acts we’ve had the privilege of seeing this summer, perhaps none is more singular – or surprising – than Slayer. Seriously, if someone told you at the beginning of this year that Slayer was coming to play the Walmart AMP, you would have probably laughed and said, “no way!” But it absolutely happened, and it was absolutely awesome!
Since this is Slayer’s “Final World Tour”, there was an extra air of gravitas and history hanging around the whole evening. Of course, that element was greatly accentuated by the presence of heavy hitters Lamb of God, Anthrax, Testament, and Napalm Death. If there were a Heavy Metal Hall of Fame, each of these bands would be first ballot inductees. All of this drew a crowd that, while honestly not as rowdy as one might expect, possibly in part due to the AMP’s strict “no moshing” policy, was surely there to party and raise hell and they were not disappointed.
The band that gave us Soundtrack to the Apocalypse also gave us a stage show inspired in kind. Pyro was a nearly constant feature, lending an even more foreboding element to a series of large backdrops emblazoned with classic Slayer imagery. One of them even glowed in the dark, providing a particularly cool blacklight poster-type quality to one of the brief quiet moments between songs when the stage wasn’t ablaze, possibly evoking high school memories of fans listening to Slayer in their bedrooms.
The setlist was chocked full of Slayer’s most notorious songs; “Angel of Death”, “Chemical Warfare”, “South of Heaven”, “Seasons in the Abyss”, and “Raining Blood” all got play in a performance that represented a fairly comprehensive cross section of their Satanic career. Even “Repentless”, the title track from their unfortunately Jeff Hanneman-less final album, opened the show. As arguably the most important writer in Slayer, having penned many of the signature songs comprising the set, Hanneman’s loss was felt throughout the night, and it even ended with a backdrop of his personal Heineken-inspired logo, but his successor Gary Holt (a legend in his own right from his great career in Bay Area stalwart pioneers Exodus) did as good a job as anyone could be expected to in filling Hanneman’s shoes, or rather his black leather boots.
Befitting the simultaneously somber yet intensely fierce tone of the performance, Slayer generally wasted no time between songs with small talk, although front man Tom Araya did take a moment before playing “War Ensemble” to direct the audience “take a deep breath” and yell. He was a respiratory therapist before and during the early days of Slayer, and doubtless Slayer is a therapeutic outlet for many of their fans, so maybe Araya still sees them as patients. In any event everyone there received excellent care, even if it was for the last time. Slayer played the following songs…
When the Stillness Comes
Seasons in the Abyss
Dead Skin Mask
South of Heaven
Angel of Death
Heralding the arrival of the “legendary band that created this style of music” per singer Randy Blythe, Lamb of God “returned to Arkansas to fuck this place up!” Unfortunately, they did so without one of the most important weapons in their arsenal, drummer Chris Adler, who is highly respected in the metal world and had to sit out this tour “due to unforeseen circumstances.” Fortunately, his replacement Art Cruz did a fine job and their set was heavy and fantastic, easily demonstrating that they were worthy of their place on the bill, though it was sadly filled with numerous technical difficulties because the “crowd raged so hard the power blew!” However, these instances gave Blythe the chance to riff about the historic nature of the evening and whatever else was on his mind, so that was pretty cool. Before performing “Walk With Me in Hell”, he dedicated the song to “anyone who saw us at (sic) Geno’s Pizza back in the day,” ostensibly a reference their August 9, 2004 show at the venerable Vino’s in Little Rock. It’s always nice when a band doesn’t forget their roots and shows appreciation for their early supporters after they achieve massive success, even if they understandably don’t get every single detail right. Lamb of God played the following songs…
Walk With Me in Hell
Now You’ve Got Something to Die For
Engage the Fear Machine
Blacken the Cursed Sun
Laid to Rest
Lamb of God was not the only band making a return to our beloved Diamond State. Thrash metal icons Anthrax, as guitarist Scott Ian noted, played here “in 75 years of touring, one other time”, their February 3, 2016 show at George’s. They were also not the only band doing so sans an indispensable, influential drummer. Throne god Charlie Benante is dealing with carpal tunnel syndrome, which is not at all surprising considering how hard he hits and how long he’s been doing so. Testament drummer Gene “the Machine” Hoglan pulled double duty for this tour and did so remarkably well. Anthrax largely stuck to the hits, doing many of their hits from current singer Joey Belladonna’s original 1980s run alongside “Evil Twin” from their last album (and the one that brought them to George’s) For All Kings.
Although every band on the bill played powerful, inspired sets, Anthrax did so with by far the most overt enthusiasm. Joey Belladonna got in at least a week’s worth of cardio flailing around the stage non-stop, constantly engaging with the crowd and acting almost like a sign language interpreter while he sang. If he wasn’t truly happy to be there, he deserves an Oscar, an Emmy, and a Tony for his acting skills. His fervor seemed equally felt by Ian and long-serving bassist Frank Bello as well as relative new comer Jonathan Donais, former lead guitarist of Shadows Fall. Everyone absolutely ripped on stage. There’s a reason they’re one of the “Big Four”.
In keeping with the historic tone of the night, Anthrax also paid tribute to Pantera in the form of quoting the riff to “Cowboys From Hell” at the beginning and end of their set. Late Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell was a close friend of the band and did featured guest guitar solos on several of their albums. His brother, Pantera drummer Vinnie Paul, also died this summer and clearly his friends wanted to honor his memory and legacy. It was nice. Anthrax played the following songs…
Caught in a Mosh
Got the Time
Be All, End All
If the “Big Four” were instead the “Big Five”, there’s an excellent argument to be made that thrash innovators Testament would be the fifth. Historically underrated and underappreciated, Testament emerged from the same Bay Area thrash scene the spawned Metallica, Exodus, and many other greats. Like his fellow legends, singer Chuck Billy “didn’t remember too many times coming to Rogers, AR” but still admonished the AMP to “kick his ass” as the band launched into one of its most recognizable songs, “Practice What You Preach”. It’s hard to say if Billy got his ass kicked the way he wanted, but everyone at the show certainly got their asses kicked by Testament. Their flawless performance consisted of the following songs…
Brotherhood of the Snake
Dog Faced Gods
Practice What You Preach
The New Order
Into the Pit
Over the Wall
As underrated and underappreciated as Testament is, Napalm Death is perhaps more so. “As old as the fucking hills” and “not old school, nursery” according to singer Mark “Barney” Greenway, Napalm Death is much more punk in their approach than their tour mates, but they’re still a prominent influence in the metal world, especially for grindcore and death metal bands. They’re also by far the most political band on this tour, as they’re well known for their progressive politics and Barney was wearing an Antifa shirt (local communist agitator Martin Bemberg would have been proud) and spent almost as much time on stage denouncing fascism and saying things like “there can be no moving forward until equality is fully fucking embraced.” Although they’ve always been political, it’s apparent that they’ve been galvanized by the Trump Administration, in spite of being British. And politics aside, Barney’s stage banter is as hilarious as Napalm Death’s music is succinct and brutal. Although they first started covering it in 1993, their version of Dead Kennedys classic “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” was more invigorating than ever as it closed their set, which was as follows…
Instinct of Survival
When All Is Said and Done
Smash a Single Digit
Suffer the Children
Silence Is Deafening
How the Years Condemn
Nazi Punks Fuck Off
Although we’ll never see Slayer’s live again, none of these other bands are retiring, and it would be nice if they came back soon. Arkansas has a rich metal tradition, spawning successful acts such as Living Sacrifice, Rwake, Pallbearer, Deadbird, and of course Black Oak Arkansas, as well as members of Norma Jean and Spirit Adrift, so it would be nice if we also drew in more touring metal. Metallica is returning to Little Rock in early 2019. Megadeth is now the only “Big Four” band that’s never played here. We should all stop making devil horns long enough to keep our fingers crossed that that changes.
PHOTO CREDIT: Scott Parker/Rival Colors