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Slayer, Arena Birmingham - review with pictures

By Pete Madeley | Music | Published:

Since Slayer announced their final tour, a fair few fans have questioned whether this will actually be the last time the world will get to see the thrash titans in all their glory.

Slayer. Picture by: Andy Shaw

After all, 'final' rarely ever means 'final' these days – I'm looking at you Ozzy Osbourne – and it's not unusual for farewell shows to be swiftly followed by a comeback tour.

But cynics be damned, if there is one band in the metal world that simply demands to be seen in such circumstances, it's Slayer.

They are also a rites of passage band that have stood the test of time.

That first metal t-shirt (bought on the South of Heaven tour, 1988); and first metal album paid for with my own cash (Reign in Blood – bought on the same day as Master of Puppets).

Now 37 years down the line from their humble beginnings as a cover band on the California club scene, Slayer can still pack 'em in.

Slayer. Picture by: Andy Shaw

The streets around the Arena are filled with the familiar cry of ‘Slaaaayyyyyeeeeerrrrrr!!!’ – as grown men leap onto the backs of complete strangers in what I assume is drunken anticipation.

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Sadly I miss Obituary and only catch the last couple of songs from the Anthrax set, but the New York thrash legends sound as great as they did on their last visit to the city when they destroyed the Institute.

Ripping through Antisocial and Indians, it is a real joy watching Joey Belladonna tear across the Arena stage like a man reborn.

Judging by the extraordinarily large circle pit that breaks out during the early stages of the Lamb of God set, they could easily be back to headline this venue in the not too distant future.

We're talking at least 300 people creating a monumental swirl that threatens to engulf the whole venue by the time they launch into set closer Redneck.

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It's a spectacular sight from my vantage point up in the (not so) cheap seats.

Randy Blythe is a consummate frontman, coming across like some demented preacher as he gees up the crowd from the word go in his gruff Virginian drawl.

Lamb Of God. Picture by: Andy Shaw

Full credit to him for calling Birmingham 'Brum' and paying homage to local legends Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Napalm Death and Doom mid-set.

The man knows his metal roots, and before he leaves the stage he gives a less than gentle reminder of why we are all here: to pay our dues to the thrash masters.

Slayer defined a genre, creating a quintet of albums up to 1990 that still provide major reference points in the metal world to this day.

Opening song Repentless from their most recent album sets a vicious tone, the band's assault perfectly illustrated by flames leaping high above the stage in front of the trademark pentagram backdrop.

Guitarists Kerry King and Gary Holt storm around the stage ripping out solo after solo, while singer and bassist Tom Araya is on top form as he screams out those grimmer-than-death lyrics to the likes of Blood Red and mandatory Suicide.

Unsurprisingly, it's an emotional night for Araya. At one break in proceedings the lights come up and he stares into the crowd, saying quietly: "I just want to look at you all."

Slayer. Picture by: Andy Shaw

If this was to be a 'greatest hits' set, then Slayer did an excellent job of producing a setlist that encapsulated a celebration of all things Slay-tanic.

The packed Arena clearly thought so, with endless crowd surfers running the gauntlet of toppling over the front barrier into the arms of waiting security bods.

There's always an element of jeopardy at this venue – get taken to the left and you are kicked out, to the right and you live to fight another day.

You could argue that Slayer have never sounded so good, and the absolutely crushing late set triple of Seasons in the Abyss, Dittohead and Dead Skin Mask show they are still one of the greatest live bands on the planet.

It's classic after classic, and South of Heaven, Raining Blood and Chemical Warfare lead onto what is arguably the finest thrash metal songs ever penned: Angel of Death.

Slayer. Picture by: Andy Shaw

Fittingly, as the ominous first notes of the track begin to fill the Arena, a backdrop appears with the words: “Angel of Death – Hanneman – Still Reigning.”

It’s a fitting tribute to their lost brother and founder member Jeff Hanneman, who died in 2013.

This was a performance heavy on emotion in a highly charged atmosphere, and thousands stay behind at the end to salute their heroes for what may well be the final time.

If this is to be the end, farewell Slayer, it’s been a blast.

Pete Madeley

By Pete Madeley
@P_Madeley_Star

Political Editor for the Express & Star. Responsible for local and national political stories, opinion, comment and analysis.

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