Gentle acoustic sounds for avid gardeners

Prices: $40.25 for one ticket. $13 for parking. $5.50 for a 12-oz beer. $3.75 for a small Coke. To precisely what target demographic does the music industry think it’s catering? The typical metalhead, including this writer, can’t afford a live show without trading jailbait sister and the rest of the immediate family as collateral. With package tours à la Ozzfest 2001 on the rise, prices have soared and expectations have diminished.

Jeff, my death-metal cohort, and I, came to see two bands of the five offered on this late July night at the Compaq Arena in San Jose. Although we were disappointed by the drive, we were further peeved by the time allotted to our favorite acts. After all, who wants to hear 30 minutes of their favorite act when they can wait till their headlining tour and hear a full set for half the price?

Morbid Angel opened the Extreme Steel 2001 tour as invited guests of Phil Anselmo, lead singer of headliner Pantera and avowed black/death-metal enthusiast. Seeing a death-metal act in a 14,000 capacity venue is a spectacle in itself. As it jumped in their first song in front of the 5,000-plus crowd at 6 p.m., it was clear that Morbid Angel, Florida’s finest, had something to prove. As Anselmo sat on the side of the stage looking like a kid at Christmas, Trey Azagzoth and Eric Rutan led a crushing dual-guitar assault of sonic bliss. Pete Sandoval, perhaps the greatest death-metal drummer, played with ferocity and tenacity and let his double-bass calisthenics do the talking. Sporting a new singer (Jeff Tucker is currently on temporary leave), Morbid Angel showed no sign of weakness; it careened through a varied set with material from its Earache and Giant/Warner Bros. eras, highlighted by my favorite tunes—“Rapture” and “Day of Suffering,” on which Anselmo joined in on vocals.

Two bands later (Skrape, then Static X) and $32 more in the hole—I had to buy a damn T-shirt, see—it was time for Slayer, which has been making a new album, God Hates Us All, that will be released September 11. ’Twas obvious from the reaction of the 12,000 in attendance what tonight’s main course was. Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman, looking as if they’d indulged in a little too much fine cuisine between recording takes, still looked as menacing and evil as their younger Show No Mercy era years. Tom Araya still looked pretty much the same—long, flowing curly mane—and Paul Bostaph looked as if he’d been hitting the weights.

Slayer launched into “Reign in Blood,” followed by “Chemical Warfare,” from the infamous Haunting the Chapel EP. Los Angeles’ blaspheming bad boys showed they haven’t lost their edge and played cuts from every release. Even the lackluster “Bloodline” from the horrific Dracula 2000 and “Stain of Mind” sounded phenomenal. Of course, such staples as “Dead Skin Mask,” “Angel of Death” and “South of Heaven” only made the evil air a little thicker.

How could Pantera top that? With our question firmly answered, my buddy and I descended the stairs of Compaq and into the South Bay air. If Slayer wasn’t the best band on the planet, ever, it was tonight. March to the kingdom of the dead, dammit.