Older and Louder: Slayer at Birmingham’s Iron City April 24

Review by David Feltman, Photo Courtesy of Andrew Stuart

Being the most controversial and notorious member of the Big Four, Slayer shows have developed a reputation for violence and crazy fans. But Slayer is also the most battle worn of the Big Four, having been whittled down to just two of its original members over the course of its 30-something year career. So the announcement that Slayer was playing a fairly classy venue like Iron City and charging $53 a pop couldn’t help but raise the eyebrows of local metal fans. That sounds more like a Metallica show. Has Slayer mellowed out in their old age?

Iron City is a solid, medium-sized venue, but it’s not equipped to handle walls of amplifiers and big pyrotechnics. And while it has hosted some of the heaviest metal acts, it’s still a nice enough venue that old gimmicks like the raining blood would be off limits. What really made the billing for this show interesting, especially in the absence of any flashy stage show stunts, was the lack of an opening act. No blood, no explosions, no other bands, just Slayer.

So back to the question, “has Slayer mellowed out in there old age?” The answer is no. The audience had been milling around, drinking beer, buzzing with amicable chatter. But the very moment Slayer started up with “World Painted Blood,” bodies started flying like a bomb went off. Male and female alike, fans started throwing themselves into the pit, slamming, swinging swarming. Anyone that picked a spot anywhere near the stage got sucked into the vortex.

The band played for two hours straight, systematically working through every song a fan could hope to hear, “War Ensemble,” “Angel of Death,” “Dead Skin Mask,” and “Raining Blood.” In fact, the set list was so thorough that at the end of the show none of the audience members could think of a song to scream out to call for an encore. They still, of course, chanted “Slayer!”

The simplicity of the performance made it feel all the more raw. There was nothing to detract attention away from Tom Araya and Kerry King except for the overenthusiastic fans pounding away in the pit. Slayer felt as aggressive and abrasive as ever, but it would be a lie to say that guitarist Jeff Hanneman’s absence wasn’t felt. The older and diminished band is missing some of the weight it used to pack behind its sonic punch. Araya and King are holding the center, but their grip feels like it might be starting to slip.

Slayer is a stalwart metal band that has been around for a very long time, but its continued longevity may not be long lived. Every good metal fan should make the pilgrimage to see Slayer and tempt fate in the pit at least once, but if this is a pilgrimage you’ve yet to make, you should make it now. Araya and Kerry have staid heavy all the way into their 50s, but it’s hard to imagine seeing them perform at this level in their 60s.