Slayer | 05.15.14

live slayer 75In a cloud of smoke and a hardy Hail Satan came the four members of Slayer to the opening strains of “Hell Awaits.”

live slayer 500

w/Suicidal Tendencies & Exodus
The Pageant, St. Louis

On the way to the long-awaited Slayer concert at The Pageant, I couldn’t help but think the previous evening’s serving of rain and hail would have been so much more apoco-propriate for such an event. Alas, the sun had the nerve to be out on an only mildly cloudy sky as denim and leather–clad metalheads excitedly shuffled down Delmar and into the venue. Cars passed the concert traffic with drivers yelling “SLAYER!” eliciting cheers and shouts from fans queuing up to get in. Absolutely nothing brings complete strangers together quite like a metal show.

Exodus hit the stage right at 7:30, and kicked the evening off with probably the bill’s best representation of straight-ahead, old-school thrash. Ironically, it was one of the band’s latest tunes, “Blacklist,” that seemed to elicit the biggest response from the sold-out crowd. Vocalist Rob Dukes was mildly frustrated by the lack of moshing, perhaps missing the memo that The Pageant prohibits that particular type of tomfoolery. That memo would be put to the test with the arrival of the next band, So-Cal’s Suicidal Tendencies.

Suicidal hit the stage like five human cyclones, led by founder-singer Mike Muir, who has somehow maintained the exact energy level he had when he led the band through headline gigs at the old Mississippi Nights over 20 years ago. It’s difficult to explain Muir’s stage presence, but I’ll do my best: Imagine Curly from The Three Stooges having a seizure after swallowing a jackhammer. While the crowd was fully engaged throughout the entire set, it was the songs “I Saw Your Mommy” and “Cyco Vision” that impacted the most.

Then, in a cloud of smoke and a hardy Hail Satan came the four members of Slayer to the opening strains of “Hell Awaits” from their groundbreaking sophomore album of the same name. Though the other members of the band maintained an imposing visage, singer/bassist Tom Araya couldn’t keep a smile off his face. He was clearly enjoying the all-ages crowd and even remarked at one point, “This has to be the happiest crowd I’ve seen yet on this tour.” It was actually refreshing seeing him enjoying himself to that extent after being in the game for so long. As kids banged their heads in front of him, he pointed to his neck and shrugged, silently referencing the back surgeries that have prevented him from taking part in the metal ritual for a few years.

Guitarist Kerry King churned out riff after crushing riff with the help of returning drummer Paul Bostaph, who had no problem filling the shoes of fan-favorite Dave Lombardo. While King cranked out his trademark whammy-bar solos, it was guitarist Gary Holt (also a member of Exodus) who stole the show with intricate solos that cut through the wall of sound with melody and fire.

Center-stage under four suspended upside-down crosses, Araya was in fine voice on classic material like “War Ensemble,” “Seasons in the Abyss,” and “Dead Skin Mask.” The St. Louis stop is part of a short tour that is serving as a sort-of victory lap, finding the band playing their most popular tunes before they head to the studio to record a new album, due out in 2015 on Nuclear Blast Records.

The band was, of course, called back for an encore with a backdrop that paid tribute to Slayer’s chief songwriter and co-founder, the late Jeff Hanneman, who passed away in 2013. “South of Heaven” and “Angel of Death,” both written by Hanneman, served as a fitting finale for a long night of sweaty, loud, old-fashioned thrash. | Jim Ousley

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