When Slayer were last in the UK, the death of talismanic guitarist Jeff Hanneman in 2013 had visibly taken its toll. For the first time, the undisputed kings of evil thrash metal seemed vulnerable, and there were fears that the band would never be the same again. Judging by tonight’s performance by the reconfigured lineup, however, Slayer are back on the kind of form that made them such a revered part of the metallic furniture 30 years ago.
With able and effusive support from brutal Norwegian rock’n’roll tearaways Kvelertak and fellow Big Four incumbents Anthrax, LA’s Slayer could coast through their biggest anthems and still leave as heroes, but there is a thrilling intensity to the show that confirms their renewed commitment to the infernal cause. The stage is adorned with huge inverted crucifixes and the band’s logo, all bathed in bloody red or sinister green. It would be schlocky nonsense in the hands of amateurs, but Slayer’s trademark sound – all devil’s triads, slithering menace and jarring bursts of feral speed – more than supports the visual conceit.
As chief representatives of metal’s dark side, they have little to prove beyond sustained longevity, and yet the way they rip into hallowed gems such as Postmortem, War Ensemble and Mandatory Suicide belies the security of their late-career comfort zone. It’s a simultaneously relaxed and rampaging display, that takes in everything from new songs Take Control and Vices through to ancient anti-hymns Hell Awaits and Die By The Sword. Everything sounds vital, vicious and loud enough to bring the ceiling down. They finish with Angel of Death, still the most thrilling five minutes in metal history, and with their reputation as masters of this malevolent music newly enhanced. Still slaying after all these years, bless ’em.