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Saturday 10 November 2018

A View From The Back Of The Room: Slayer (Review By Paul)

Slayer, Lamb Of God, Anthrax, Obituary, Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff

There wasn’t enough pyro over the entire fireworks weekend to match the ferocity that accompanied the final show in Wales from arguably the most influential metal band of all time. The juggernaut that is Slayer, accompanied by a bill that was sufficiently robust to have sold out many arenas without the headliners, rolled into the Welsh capital for one final reminder of their supremacy and sheer power.

Slayer have never been the most frequent visitors to Cardiff, having made a mere three appearances before this gig; all at the Motorpoint Arena with their last show the 2008 Unholy Alliance III show. Their last visit to South Wales had seen them sell-out the Newport Centre with ease in 2015. Now, 30 years after their initial appearance in South Wales when I was present at the Newport Centre on the World Sacrifice tour, it was time to pay respects and throw those horns as the Slatanic Whermacht assembled once more on the streets around the Motorpoint Arena. The buzz had been building for weeks but walking from the station one could sense the anticipation and excitement in the air.

With doors at the early time of 17:30, the MIA staff appeared to have done a bloody marvellous job of getting everyone through quickly and it was with relative ease and little queuing that we headed into the darkness in time to see the glinting backdrop of Floridian Death Metallers Obituary (8). If you want no frills, gnarly yet superbly executed death metal no-one does it better. With a short slot the band wasted no time in levelling the arena with an eight-song set which tore through the packed arena like chainsaws. Redneck Stomp set the pace, which didn’t let up. The buzzing guitars of Trevor Peres and Kenny Andrews hit low and hard, John Tardy prowled and growled and as the pits erupted it was pleasing to see that the Cardiff crowd were able to respond in appropriate style. As the strains of Slowly We Rot faded at the end of their blistering set, the arena was already gasping for air and steeling itself for round two.

There’s a standard reliability about Anthrax (7). They have some massive tunes and they hit the stage 20 minutes ahead of schedule with an urgency that was breathtaking. Thumping out Cowboys From Hell before launching into a rabid Caught In A Mosh, the arena melted into chaos and carnage and when the band then burst through Got The Time and I Am The Law it was, for a brief moment, 1986 all over again. With Scott Ian as intense as ever, Frank Bello running back and fore as it trying to extinguish a fire and Joey Belladonna on fine vocal form, Anthrax were looking good. Be All, End All from State Of Euphoria was a welcome addition to the set list, allowing guitarist Jonathan Donais to show his chops. All the while Charlie Benante hammered seven shades out of his kit. Evil Twin dropped the pace a little and as I’ve commented before, Antisocial weakened the set further. As I headed toward the back before the end of the set the traditional pantomime of Scott Ian stopping Indians for the 'War Dance’ cry played out. Don’t get me wrong, Anthrax were great, but out of the four bands this night they were the weakest for me.

I’d missed Lamb Of God (9) on their last tour but there was not a chance in hell I was doing that tonight. As the Virginians caused mass explosions across the arena with their choice to open the set with a monstrous Omerta. I know various people who don’t like LOG but they were clearly in the minority as the bulk of the crowd lost their shit. The groove metal that the band from Richmond play is infectious, and with a killer set this was a demonstration of potential future arena headliners. Ferociously heavy at times, Randy Blythe was the very picture of focus and intensity he prowled the stage, flanked by guitarists Willie Adler and Mark Morton. John Campbell’s thunderous bass lines linked with stand in drummer Art Cruz, the Prong drummer who has been filling in for Chris Adler for the past few months. Ruin was simply huge, whilst the three beasts dragged in from Sacrament destroyed. Walk With Me In Hell encouraged huge vocal support whilst the pits never stopped moving. The middle section contained two tracks from VII: Sturm Und Drang whilst it is unlikely that there are many better double endings than Laid To Rest and Redneck. It was infectious stuff and, in my opinion, fully justified the decision to put the band directly before Slayer.

9.25pm. The house lights dimmed, and four huge white crosses hung above the stage. Slowly, as Delusions Of Saviour poured out of the PA system, the crosses inverted and disappeared, replaced by the Slayer logo. Huge explosions and it was time for an hour and a half of unrelenting Slayer (10). I’ve seen Slayer many times, and there have been occasions when the band have been less than inspiring, but this show was as aggressive and violent as anything I’ve ever witnessed from them. The set list was immense, top track after top track bludgeoning the rabid crowd, all drawn towards the massive stage set, complete with copious amounts of flame and pyro. Repentless passed in the blink of an eye, Blood Red and Disciple came and went with similar ferocity, before the slower Mandatory Suicide allowed the old school to loosen necks and limbs. With Tom Araya almost static in the middle of the stage, and suddenly looking old and slightly unwell, it was left to Gary Holt and Kerry King who sliced, diced and shredded with a brutality almost beyond comprehension.

The speed was punishing. Little conversation from Araya allowed the band to bulldoze through the set, although his introduction to War Ensemble did allow for the crowd to join in. Paul Bostaph's battering ram drumming was exceptional. Postmortem and Black Magic were welcome additions in the middle of the set, both greeted by huge roars from old school fans. And so, it continued. Song. Bam. Song. Bam. Flames and pyro and lighting. Fast, furious and epic. So much lighting, cleverly matching the several switches of back drop enhanced the set and focused on separate periods of the bands career. This was a band who clearly wanted to ensure that they do go out with a bang. In what seemed like minutes it was Hell Awaits, with raging infernos at the back of the stage, it really looked like the band were playing in Old Nick’s front room.

The encore was perfect and if there were four songs that encapsulated what Slayer is all about, then it was these four. South Of Heaven segued into the most gargantuan Raining Blood I’ve ever seen, and suddenly it dawned that this was the end. Chemical Warfare snarled and ripped, played at breakneck speed before Angel Of Death, complete with Hannerman backdrop picked off the final survivors. As Araya said goodbyes, this was it. Hopefully it will be. As fantastic as Slayer were, one can only hope that their farewell tour really is that. Memories galore abound, and this was an evening with which to cement those memories and pay tribute to a truly legendary band.

Slayer, Lamb Of God, Anthrax & Obituary, Birmingham Arena

With ears still ringing from their epic finale in South Wales a mere two days before, I ended a busy work day with a rush across the second city to catch Floridian death metal legends Obituary (8) pick up from where they left off a couple of days before. The Birmingham Arena is at least twice as big as the Motorpoint in Cardiff and whilst the hardcore were crammed down the front there was vast spaces in the seats and towards the rear of the standing area. Undeterred, Obituary crashed through the same set as earlier with even more intensity and power. There is nothing about this band that isn’t worth watching, with the buzzsaw guitars decimating all around. From the opening bars of Red Neck Stomp to the grinding devastation of Slowly We Rot, Obituary continue to be one of the seminal bands from the death metal camp and remain mesmerising to watch despite the limited movement on stage. Crushing death metal at its absolute best.
Movement has never been a problem for New Yorkers Anthrax (8) who upped their game substantially from their performance a couple of nights earlier. Whether it was being in the home of heavy metal, the larger crowd or just a bit of rest between shows I don’t know but this was Anthrax hitting top gear. I still get irked by a double cover in a set of eight songs but whilst Antisocial still does little for me, Got The Time was blistering. Evil Twin remained a weak link but when you can bookend your set with Cowboys From Hell and include the monsters from Among The Living it certainly wasn’t a bad set. I’d still prefer Madhouse or Metal Thrashing Mad but fair play, Belladonna, Ian and co played a blinder.

On Monday I was close to the front for the raw aggressive groove of Lamb Of God (9). I’d taken a position much further towards the back but despite the additional distance there was no less fire in the Richmond outfit’s performance as they ripped through their set. Randy Blythe continues to run around the stage like a man possessed and his short speech about Black Sabbath raised a massive roar. The addictive groove laden metal these guys deliver really gets me moving and I was given a number of curious looks as the small bloke in a Motörhead Cymru t-shirt repeatedly lost it to the likes of Ruin, Laid To Rest and Redneck. Whilst the Birmingham crowd may have the numbers, the Welsh crowd certainly have the passion. A huge circle pit ensured that the action at the front was ferocious but towards the back there was lots of static observers. Such is life I guess.

Slayer (10) played an unrelenting barrage on Monday and didn’t look as if they had stopped. The larger arena allowed me a bit of distance to admire the stunning stage set, the pyro and lighting as heat inducing from 50 metres away as it was from ten. The set list may not have changed but there was nothing routine about the band’s effort. Holt and King riffed and shredded with a venom not seen for a long time, with War Ensemble and Dead Skin Mask particularly epic. The spectacle of Hell Awaits with huge swathes of flames burning at the back of the stage produced gasps from the audience whilst I was able to stand back and soak it up. The very bowels of hell on stage. Seasons In The Abyss and an even faster Dittohead also stood out, but it was the smooth taper from South Of Heaven into Reigning Blood that once again captured essence of Slayer. With the Hanneman banner once more choking me up as the band closed their set with Angel Of Death, I reflected that I still have one more opportunity to see this most relentless of metal outfits once more; roll on Madrid for viewing number 3.

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