Slayer Live at Arena, Birmingham [Live Review]

SLAAAAAAAYER! It’s a name that cannot he uttered in a traditional manner. It needs to be screamed like a screech from the bowels of hell. Few bands can command such a majestic legacy as Slayer, and on their final tour, legacy is front and centre. The very way in which their name is shouted from heavy metal rooftops is testament to their influence, and their songwriting chops have birthed some of metal’s definitive releases. Tonight is all about the heaviest quarter of The Big Four. Apart from the other bands on the bill of course.

Opening the night was deathened thrash delinquents, Obituary. Bounding onto the stage they begin with a slightly-too-long introductory instrumental, before vocalist John Tardy graces the stage to roar in gleefully expectant faces. They smash through as truly awesome set filled with fan favourites, before the climax of Slowly We Rot. A rapturous reception greets this final pummelling piece, and bathed in a glow of blood reds and septic flesh green, the band leave. It’s a short set, but a night powerful performance.

Representing the New York contingent of the Big Four was Anthrax. There are two schools of thought among ‘Thrax fans; those who prefer John Bush, and those who are wrong. By the third song of the set, Joey Bellandonna is seeming remarkably out of energy. His powerhouse wailing begins to fall out of Key more and more frequently, and his cartoonish demeanour cannot make up for it. He does know how to work a crowd to its fullest potential, something remarkable in itself given how famously difficult Slayer’s crowds can be. The setlist is absolutely flawless and performed respectably by the band. Caught in a Mosh and I Am The Law from opus Among the Living, both go down as fervently as would be expected, while now classic covers of Got the Time and Antisocial remain staple highlights. It’s a decent enough performance, undercut by a diminishing vocal delivery.

Many bands talk about Birmingham as being the home of heavy metal. Very few can actually namecheck influences in the way Randy Blythe does. Thanking Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler personally, before turning his praise to Napalm Death, Godflesh and Judas Priest, he speaks volumes about what the band really is. They might be a bunch of punks who happen to play heavy metal, but they are fiercely intellectual about it. Lamb of God are the standard by which all metal bands should set about their careers. Opening with the mid-tempo Omerta, there’s a lumbering hostility that captivated the venue as Blythe stalks around the stage like a savage beast. Both Mark Morton and Willie Adler play with technical precision, but a lackadaisical feel good factor as they ride the riffs that weave a grooving tapestry. Walk With Me in Hell sounds monolithically imposing and inspires huge circle pits that don’t let up until the set’s climax of Redneck; an undeniable classic in the echelons of Duality or Enter Sandman. It’s a truly awe inspiring display, feeling more like a tearing away of the torch than a celebration of Slayer. Lamb of God did not come here to bow their heads in reverence, they came to destroy. They steal the night because they are Lamb of God, from Richmond, motherfucking Virginia.

How do you put a full stop on one of the most prestigious legacies in metal? By almost burning the venue down while playing some of the greatest music to ever grace our genre. Slayer are firing on all cylinders tonight. Opening with the title track of what is now their final album, Repentless, the band do not waste a second and are intent on snapping necks and melting faces. Kerry King and Gary Holt trade riffs and squealing solos back and forth throughout what is a ludicrously brilliant display of technical prowess and craft, slowly switching sides of the stage in that threatening Slayer way. Paul Bostaph bashes his drum kit like it slept with his significant other, with hyper speed double bass work on the likes of Disciple and War Ensemble. Tom Araya meanwhile anchors himself at the forefront of the stage like a demonic tree, shouting the words to these diamonds of heavy music. Every song receives a rapturous scream of ecstasy from the twenty or so thousand in attendance.

The stage production is the best Slayer have ever had: swathes of bloody red lights bathe the band in hellfire, while the stage spends most of its time actually ablaze. They sound incredible, with no note falling victim to the mix, and every part in its place. By the time the encore – and what an encore – rolls around all too soon, we are treated to an unbeatable salvo. South of Heaven, Raining Blood, Chemical Warfare, Angel of Death. You cannot beat it.

Truly a celebration befitting of their grandeur, Slayer bow out the way they lived; by crushing the skulls of everyone in their path. At the best they have been since the glory days of ’86-90, it is the only way to say goodbye. Not with tears, but with roars.

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