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Music DVD Review: Slayer – War at the Warfield

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Slayer has been at this game for a long time. When they take the stage, they know what they need to do. The fans in the pit know what to expect. You, reading this right now, know what to expect. This is, after all, a Slayer concert DVD and if you are a fan of Slayer you have to be prepared.

Attending a Slayer concert is not for the weak of heart. You cannot be afraid, you cannot be averse to a little blood, and you must be prepared to leave with a pounding head. I have had this experience twice, both times I left hurt, exhausted, and thirsting for more.

Now as for this DVD, War at the Warfield, it was filmed (obviously) at the Warfield theater in San Francisco in November 2001. It captured them in support of God Hates Us All and the set list features a strong mix of new cuts and classic hits. Nineteen total tracks and 90-minutes of pure thrashing Slayer. How can you say no?

I recently looked at another Slayer concert DVD, Live Intrusion, and for as much as I loved that, I think this one tops it. Don’t get me wrong, Live Intrusion is a wild show that captures the band at their most raw, doing what they do best. However, time can have a positive effect on a band and the six years between these shows has definitely made a difference.

There is not much difference to their stage show: there isn’t much of one and for the most part they don’t need it. Marshall stacks, a drum riser, a few lights and microphones and you are set. Tom Araya, Kerry King, Jeff Hanneman, and Paul Bostaph (making his last recording appearance here) come out on stage, take their positions and very rarely move very far from them. They know their music does the talking. And talk it does!

They open with “Disciple” and move right on into “War Ensemble.” Now if that doesn’t get your blood moving, you should probably check for a pulse. Granted, Slayer only have one speed, but they know how to work it. Their fast, chaotic sound is surprising in how it blends the raw punk aesthetic with a more technical metal sound to create a unique thrash flavor. Simply put, they sound pretty great here. The sound is full and in your face, just the way you want it.

Overall their performance is first rate, although Tom Araya’s voice sounds a little rough at points, particularly noticeable during “Seasons in the Abyss.” Still, he he is giving it all out there, I am sure my voice would be a little rough singing like that every night! What I loved was watching the play between Hanneman and King, one of the best guitar duos to ever play metal.

Highlights of this set include “War Ensemble,” “Here Comes the Pain,” “Dead Skin Mask” complete with Araya singing some without back up, “Bloodline,” and “Angel of Death.”

I guess I should mention that interspersed throughout the concert are interview clips with fans demonstrating their love for Slayer. Personally, I could have done without them. I would have preferred to watch the show straight through.

The production qualities of War at the Warfield are a definite step up from Live Intrusion. This is not high definition and it does look it, but it does come with good colors, nice detail level and an acceptable level of grain/noise. Some may not like the grain/noise, but I think it adds personality to the show. There are other “flaws” caused by the live lighting set up, but it hardly takes anything away. In a way, it makes it feel more like actually being there. It is a widescreen presentation (1.85:1) and the frame is used well to deliver some nicely composed shots of the band and the individual members.

Audio is presented in both 5.1 surround and stereo. Both do a nice job of putting you in the middle of the action. They aren’t the best sounding concert tracks I have heard, but they are very solid and there is nothing to complain about. I loved the clarity that came with many of the solos, no one plays quite like these guys do.

The DVD also has a rather lengthy documentary called Fans Rule that comes in near 50-minutes. This includes interviews with fans about what Slayer means to them and why they are fans as well as the band and other artists (like Scott Ian of Anthrax and Kirk Hammett of Metallica). The clips in the concert were taken from this. It is pretty interesting in a bit of a sideshow way. Slayer fans are insanely dedicated. Now, I am a fan, but my interests don’t allow me to have the laser beam-like focus that these guys have. I respect that just as much as I am glad not to be a part of it. This is definitely a love letter to the continuing life of Slayer and shows how much of an impact they have had. Love it.

Also included is the video for “Bloodline” and a photo gallery to round out the package.

Bottomline. This is as much a must have for fans as is Live Intrusion, although if I had to choose one, I would take War at the Warfield. The band sounds a bit tighter, they have a longer set, and the production values are a definite upgrade.

Highly Recommended.

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