Sad Intro Part
I was too optimistic in 2013. Some of you might remember. After living in South Korea for two years I finally stumbled across one metal show and assumed I had found an entire underground scene that could provide me with weekend after weekend of what I jokingly referred to as “True Korean Black Metal.” It was not to be. Once that gig was over, the bands I saw that night all went quiet on Facebook and I eventually lost touch with everyone I’d swapped contact info with.
Two and a half years passed before I got to see another show: Babymetal live in Japan. (Go ahead and hate if you must. Your edginess falls on deaf ears. Pop-infused thrash metal with lyrical themes related to Japanese horror and paganism is at least interesting, unlike that chugga-chugga “My parents were mean to me so I stretched out my earlobes” bullshit.) But except for that, it was a long lonely lonely lonely lonely lonely time for your humble, metal-starved narrator. (Pause here for effect.) Until the metal gods in their mercy threw me an extremely large bone near the end of 2017.
The Loud Park Festival in Tokyo. Holy shit, would you look at that line-up: Slayer and Emperor and Alice Cooper and Overkill and Opeth and Brujeria in a single day. It would have been so easy for the Loud Park concert promoters to do something truly evil like scheduling Slayer and Emperor on separate nights, but nope. Everything I wanted to see was happening on Saturday. Needless to say, my concert and flight tickets were purchased within minutes of seeing this announcement on Slayer’s Facebook page. I didn’t even ask my boss for permission to leave the country. I just said, “I’m fucking going to Tokyo this weekend.”
My History with Slayer (The Short Version)
Like most metalheads, I have a decades-long history with Slayer dating back to middle school. Check out the shirt I’m wearing in this pic from my 16th birthday:
And it wasn’t just me. Notice what my buddy Jeff is wearing in this pic taken a year or so later.
For a period of time between 8th and 9th grade, my friend Dane sported a Slayer logo pendant as part of his daily wardrobe.
He wore this while drawing a series of comic strips entitled “Slayer Forever in Hell” in which Slayer would invite horribly out-of-place guest stars like Vanilla Ice, Barney, and the rapper Snow to perform at their concerts. These guest stars were inevitably ripped to pieces by rabid Slayer fans at the end of every strip. Dane also made me extremely jealous by showing off his effortless ability to play “Spirit in Black” and “Postmortem.” (Years later I would discover that neither song is especially difficult, but it was a very big deal to a middle school student.)
Another friend of mine famously used Slayer’s “War Ensemble” as the background music for his answering machine message (remember those?). I doubt the original recording still exists, but I once re-enacted it as part of a camcorder movie.
And finally, when I first came to Korea in 2011 I was ambushed by an evangelical missionary at Dunkin’ Donuts who started our conversation with, “Jesus Christ gave you the keys to Heaven. What has Satan ever given you?”
Without missing a beat, I said, “Slayer.” Confusion and hilarity ensued.
And yet, for all my years of listening and spreading the good news, I somehow never managed to catch Slayer on tour before Loud Park.
So you can imagine how excited I was when I stepped off the subway at Saitama Super Arena and was immediately approached by a Japanese guy who took one look at my Slayer hoodie, threw up the horns, and yelled, “FUCKIN’ SLAYER!!” I was home.
On my way over to the arena I became fast friends with some guys from Malaysia and the Philippines, all of whom had flown over for the show. No joke, if I hadn’t known where I was it would have been almost impossible to tell from the crowd. During the course of the day I met people from Japan, Canada, Argentina, the States, and even Russia.
Once inside I quickly realized that Saitama really had its shit together in terms of crowd control. Instead of crushing everyone together like cattle, they had a barrier running straight down the middle of the hallways. Merchandise and concession stands were on one side. Foot traffic was on the other. If you weren’t buying anything, you could just walk along without having to fight your way through a crowd. Well done.
The stage setup was a similarly well-oiled machine. At the front of the arena there were two stages sitting side by side (seen in the pic above). Whenever a band was playing on one stage, the next band’s crew was setting things up on the other. Like clockwork, one show would end and another would start five minutes later. No rest for the impatient.
Because I’m not one of those toolbags who goes to concerts and stands around with my phone in my hand, I don’t have a lot of pics and/or videos to share. Fortunately, a lot of the toolbags who do that shit have posted their videos on YouTube. Here now are a few choice moments from Loud Park along with my commentary.
The first band I saw perform was L.A. Guns. Good showmen, but not my style. They were one of the minor bands from the glory days of 1980s hair metal. You might remember their biggest hit, “The Ballad of Jayne.” (Fun fact: in the mid ’80s, a few members of L.A. Guns and another band called Hollywood Rose got together and formed a new band called….? Guns N’ Roses.)
One of the crown jewels in my high school collection of death metal cassettes was my copy of Brujeria’s Matando Gueros with the uncensored cover (featuring actual photos of a severed head). I had to special order that bad boy from Bebop Record Shop and wait two or three weeks for it to arrive, presumably from Mexico. I played it for the Spanish exchange student my family hosted and sat by like a little ghoul while he translated all the fucked-up lyrics for me. (Turns out “Matando Gueros” means “Killing Whiteys.”) Brujeria kept the circle pits blazing, led two or three anti-Trump chants, and ended their set with a marijuana version of the Macarena. Don’t believe me? Just watch the video above. (Note: this video is not from the Tokyo show, but they did the same thing.)
How Winger ended up on the same bill as Slayer and Emperor I’ll never understand. While they were busy sucking, I struck up a conversation with a very loud, very drunk Canadian guy who asked which bands I’d come to see. When I said “mostly Emperor and Slayer” he proudly showed off the Emperor tattoo he’d recently gotten on his bicep and explained how he and his girlfriend had completely changed their Asian travel plans just to come and see this show. He also made an interesting point that seeing Emperor live was actually a pretty rare experience for North Americans, given that they don’t often tour the US and only play a few shows when they do…See how I’m writing about Emperor under Winger’s heading? That should tell you my level of interest in seeing Winger.
Opeth is one of those bands that a lot of people are really into, but which for some reason I just can’t find a lot of enthusiasm for. From what I understand their earlier albums are completely brutal, but most of what they record nowadays is melodic and proggy. I don’t dislike them – they put on a good show with some pretty heavy riffs – but I’m not hooked yet. All ears if anyone wants to point me toward the albums I absolutely need to hear from them.
Overkill was hands-down the biggest surprise of Loud Park 2017 for me. Growing up I was (obviously) a big fan of thrash metal – The Big 4, Exodus, Dark Angel, Testament, Sepultura, Virus, Kreator…. – and yet I never owned any albums by Overkill. Huge mistake on my part. They tore it up and rivaled Brujeria for the wildest pits. Lately I’ve been making up for lost time, going back and getting their albums. Really great shit. And their lead singer, Bobby Blitz, is fucking hilarious. Glad I got to see them.
Loud Park 2017 marked the third time I’ve seen Alice Cooper in concert. The first two times were in my hometown of Biloxi and the neighboring city of Gulfport. (He plays the casinos there quite a bit.) I’ve also seen Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie, which grants me membership in a special club for people who’ve seen all the major shock rockers. (Unless you count KISS as shock rock – I haven’t seen them.) Alice always kills it. The man’s a legend.
I would have been stoked to see any of the second wave Norwegian black metal bands, but seeing Emperor was the best of all possible worlds. If you follow my Instagram, you know that Emperor was the band I always turned to when my students had their weekly violin lessons in my classroom last year.
They were also my soundtrack of choice when I toured the Forbidden City in Beijing. Incidentally, the album I listened to that day – Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk – turned 20 in 2017, so, to celebrate, they played it in its entirety. An amazing experience.
I’ll have a lot more to say about Emperor in Part Two.
Do I even need to tell you that Slayer lived up to their name? They ripped through all the classics (even “Fight Til Death“!) and all the best tracks from the later albums. The wall of death for “Raining Blood” was a thing of beauty. And Tom’s scream at the beginning of “Angel of Death” was quite possibly the best I’ve ever heard him do it live. This is what keeps fans loyal for a lifetime. Fuckin’. Slayer.
Continued in Part 2