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Paul Mann: Slayer Leads Heavy Metal Assault at Vina Robles Amphitheatre

Iconic guitarist Kerry King and the band Slayer rock the Vina Robles Amphitheatre in Paso Robles as part of a triple-header of hard-core music Tuesday night. Click to view larger
Iconic guitarist Kerry King and the band Slayer rock the Vina Robles Amphitheatre in Paso Robles as part of a triple-header of hard-core music Tuesday night. (L. Paul Mann / Noozhawk photo)

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Heavy metal madness descended on Paso Robles on Tuesday night with a triple-header of hard-core music at the Vina Robles Amphitheatre.

As thousands of black-shirted metal fans flocked to the magnificent outdoor venue, the music began early with a sunset appearance by Polish hard-core metal band Behemoth. The Polish band has been an important mainstay in the hard-core metal scene in Europe since they were founded in 1991.

The veteran rockers have 10 albums under their belt and have gone from being a traditional black metal band to one of the most hard-core occult metal bands in the world. Controversial lead singer-guitarist and actor Adam Darksi, who goes by the moniker Nergal, has had run-ins with authorities in his homeland for being “anti-religious."

The band arrived with all the accouterments of black metal, including thick makeup, black leather outfits and even ceremonial incense burners. But the theatrical nature of the group did not make their raw talent as one of the best metal bands in Europe. The group was allowed only a short 30 minutes for their opening set, but music fans who arrived early savored every moment of it. Fans in the general admission pit wasted no time getting into a head-banging and mosh pit rhythm, and the band left the crowd screaming for more after their short set.

As twilight fell on the Vina Robles Amphitheatre, the warm summer air blew across the packed venue and fans swarmed the stage for the second act, Lamb of God. The veteran rock band from Virginia formed in 1994 and has helped forge a new wave of heavy metal in the United States. The Grammy-nominated band has released eight albums that have sold more than 2 million copies collectively.

The band's vocalist, Randy Blythe, also has been a controversial figure. In 2012, he was arrested by Czech police after pushing a fan off the stage during a concert. The fan hit his head and later died from his injuries. The singer was found civilly but not criminally liable for the fan's death. The incident hasn't stopped the animated vocalist from performing, though, and Blythe jumped about the stage like a teenage gymnast, constantly launching off any fixed obstacle on the stage. The band played with intense ferocity, and fans loved it — even singing the chorus on several songs.

By the time the legendary band Slayer took the stage, the crowd was ready to break into a crazed dance frenzy. Slayer has been one of the most influential bands in heavy metal music since their debut in 1981.

The California veterans are one of the big four thrash metal bands, including Anthrax, Megadeth and Metallica. Despite controversial lyrics and constant run-ins with censors of all kinds, the group has managed to accrue five Grammy awards over the years. The band is fronted by two of the four original members, including bassist and lead vocalist Tom Araya and iconic guitarist Kerry King. Drummer Paul Bostaph has played with the band on and off since 1992. The newest member of the band, guitarist Gary Holt, took over for original guitarist Jeff Hanneman, who died in 2013.

Slayer launched into a 19-song set of powerful trash metal songs culled from the group's eight studio albums. The general admission floor of the venue turned into a giant mosh pit as the thunderous sound system inundated the amphitheater with the thunderous rhythms of heavy metal. Occasionally the group would leave Araya on the stage by himself to banter with the crowd and tell anecdotes of the band's history. The group played straight through until near curfew time without pausing for an encore, ending with one of their biggest hits, "Angel of Death."

It was an impressive presentation of hard-core metal music rarely seen in the tri-county area of California.

— L. Paul Mann is a Noozhawk contributing writer. The opinions expressed are his own.

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