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.

Live Review: Slayer at The Tabernacle Nov. 22

Featuring photography by Michael Bradley (http://www.rockhousephoto.com)

To say it’s been a rough few years for Slayer would be putting it mildly. The classic thrash metal act saw its first setback when longtime guitarist Jeff Hanneman procured a rare disease that left him unable to play, ultimately resulting in his unfortunate passing (a Heinekin-esque backdrop appeared in tribute to Hanneman during show-closer “Angel of Death”). Political issues then plagued the group as drummer Dave Lombardo had a falling out with the band, resulting in a series of ugly accusations on various social media outlets. Yet through the turmoil the group trudged on, with the return on Divine Intervention-era drummer Paul Bostaph and Exodus guitarist Gary Holt bringing some much needed attitude to the band. Perhaps it was precisely because of these setbacks that Slayer’s show at The Tabernacle Saturday, Nov. 22 was such a triumphant performance, fueling the band to perform with more rage and vitality than they’ve shown in years.

Slayer, Live at The Tabernacle in Atlanta, Georgia.

Pentagrams and similar iconography danced around a massive curtain as the opening notes of “World Painted Blood” teased the audience with the imminent arrival of the thrash legends. The entire performance was nothing short of ferocious from the moment the aforementioned curtain dropped, and it’s clear Slayer hasn’t forgotten its roots. Much of the performance stemmed from the band’s earlier albums, including the return of Hell Awaits tune “Necrophiliac” and Show No Mercy classic “Die by the Sword.”

The show featured what was perhaps Slayer’s most well-balanced set list in years, excellently combining the classics of the older albums with the more contemporary World Painted Blood and God Hates Us All tracks. Slayer managed to keep the show moving at a consistent break-neck pace and weaved tracks in a natural and effective progression, resulting in an equilibrium that many similar acts struggle to find.

While Kerry King walked around stage headbanging with fans, vocalist and bassist Tom Araya was noticeably bored and frustrated throughout the set. In Araya’s defense, the source of his anger was most likely a projectile beer that pelted the vocalist early on in the performance. Yet for the remainder of the show it felt as if Araya genuinely didn’t want to be there, as the frontman rolled his eyes during “Snuff” and said virtually nothing to the audience aside from thanking them twice. “Thanks for the drink, but I don’t typically drink and play,” he quipped afterwards. Perhaps it was simply an off day, but several audience members noticed the lack of excitement.

Slayer, Live at The Tabernacle in Atlanta, Georgia.

Even with the perceived boredom, the band sounded better than they have in years. Holt’s performance in particular was excellent, as he seemingly never missed a note, and Bostaph’s kick drum during “Disciple” could be felt throughout the venue. Veterans King and Araya also played admirably, with Araya’s goosebump-inducing screams during “Angel of Death” and “War Ensemble” sounding better than they have in years.

The performance quelled any potential concern about the band’s future, and while it’s rare to see a band achieve such a sense of consistency over the years, it’s clear why Slayer has maintained an overwhelming popularity. The excellent set list mixed with the band’s unforgiving voracity is truly something to behold, and hearing several Hell Awaits tracks alone is worth the cost of admission. Whether fans were only familiar with “Raining Blood” or knew every incendiary lyric to the group’s deep cuts, Slayer’s performance at The Tabernacle gave any and every fan an excellent opportunity to witness a group of legends at the top of their game.

 

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