Slayer and Unearth Devastate Washington, DC
Band Photo: Slayer (?)
On Tuesday, February 20, I had the chance to attend the second of two sold-out shows by Slayer and Unearth at Washington, DC's 9:30 club. The 9:30 club is one of the best in the area, attracting the best bands and touring packages short of ones that fill sports arenas. Holding over 1300 people, this club is jam-packed for sold out shows, and Slayer always seems to fill it up, if not sell it out completely. I went into the show excited to see both bands, as I enjoy them both immensely. Yet, I was at the same time a little skeptical - first of the pairing: Unearth's melodic metalcore with Slayer. Slayer's fans are notoriously brutal on openers, so would Unearth hold up under that sort of pressure? Second, I was worried that Slayer might not live up to their God Hates Us All tour, which was penomenal, especially after seeing how rough they were live on Jimmy Kimmel recently. By the end of the night, all of my doubts would be laid to rest, however.
The club was already quite full for Unearth's performance at 8:45pm. The band came out strong with "Giles," from their latest album "III: In The Eyes Of Fire." Unearth's brand of metalcore, while containing melodic aspects, is punishing and unrelenting. Their entire setlist was especially unrelenting, comprised of only their fastest and most brutal tracks from their latest two albums. They followed up "Giles" with "Endless," from their previous record, "The Oncoming Storm" and pretty much alternated between material from the two albums for their 45 minute set. They actually played one more song (5 total) off their older album than their latest release (4 total).
Unearth have continually improved their stage show and presence, and every time I see them perform they are significantly better. Their new material from "III: In The Eyes Of Fire" really lends itself to a brutal but less noisy delivery than some of their older material as well. To top it off, the sound system was crystal clear that night, instead of overdriven and distorted like sometimes is the case. I found the clarity and levels just about perfect and fortunately felt little effect on my hearing from a night of heavy metal (and Slayer no less!) without ear plugs.
Aside from the quantifiable factors of their music and sound that night, it was also clear that Unearth were having fun on stage. The band members brought a beer bong on stage a couple of times, spraying the audience with beer at least once. Even without the antics, they put on a great show, held their own as openers for one of the greatest metal bands of all time, and likely won over some of the hardest fans to win - Slayer fans.
Here is the complete setlist Unearth played:
March of the Mutes
This Lying World
Sanctity of Brothers
The Great Dividers
This Time Was Mine
Black Hearts Now Reign
When Slayer took the stage at ten o'clock, the fans were already restless. The crowd had already been screaming and chanting "Slay-er" and welcomed the thrash gods enthusiastically. Slayer opened up with "Disciple," which has been a staple opening song since God Hates Us All was released. They came out sounding very precise and frontman Tom Araya sounded dead-on.
They cranked it up a notch following that song with "War Ensemble" and then continued to alternate one newer song for several classics for the next hour and forty minutes. The precision and faultless vocal performance lasted for a good four or five songs before they started sounding more "live." At that point it seemed that the precision was traded ever so slightly for more raw intensity, as if Slayer could get any more intense.
The entire band seemed invigorated all night. Tom Araya was windmilling his head and hair around, reminiscient of a young Jason Newstead. As noted in my past God Hates Us All tour report, it is a sight to see Araya, fronting Slayer and singing hate-filled lyrics, up on stage with a big-ass grin. It's clear he enjoys performing and he feeds off of the crowd's response. He gave humorous intros to a number of songs, playing to the crowd. Before "Postemortem" he asked the crowd "Do you want to die?" When the crowd replied with a "Yes," he asked if we were sure then commented that it's too bad they'd miss the rest of the show. He introduced another as a love song and had some graphic imagery in discussing a third.
Jeff and Kerry were their usual selves - trading leads and taunting the crowd from either side of the stage while Dave Lombardo just worked his magic behind the high-set drum kit, hardly showing his face.
The Sabbath-like intro to Seasons In The Abyss was the longest break to catch one's breath during the entire set. They then followed that with blast-beat-filled "Supremecist" from their latest album, "Christ Illusion," and then "Eyes of the Insane," their first single from the same album. "Eyes of the Insane" is clearly a tough song to sing due to the lyrical timing and lack of pause to take a breath. Tom struggled with it a little this time as well, but not nearly as much as he did on Jimmy Kimmel live, pulling off a decent performance of the song.
Slayer's final encore was Angel of Death, which they managed to botch pretty badly at one point. It sounded like the band was going to go into a medley, but didn't all switch at once. They got back in synch and Tom was laughing it off throughout the rest of the song when he wasn't singing.
The few rough spots did little to detract from the overall performance and raw intensity that Slayer delivered that night, however.
Here's a recap of Slayer's complete set list:
Die By The Sword
Spirit in Black
Seasons In The Abyss
Eyes of the Insane
Dead Skin Mask
South of Heaven
Angel of Death
While a seemingly odd pairing, Slayer and Unearth made an excellent concert billing, with both bands being leaders in their respective styles of metal. In the end, despite the punishing music that was played - and no doubt because of it - it was a night of fun had by all, as the screams of "SLAAAYER" in the nearby Metro station as the last train arrived bore testment to.
You can check out photos from the show in our photo gallery. In the middle of photographing Unearth's set, my contact fell out simply from blinking. Having to get to the bathroom in the back of the venue to put it back in, I could only get to the balcony for the rest of their set, as you'll see from the photos.
Slayer and Unearth have just wrapped up their North American tour. Slayer heads to Australia to tour with Mastodon in April, and will play a string of European festivals in June. Unearth will tour the UK in March with Job For A Cowboy and Despised Icon.
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