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Metal mayhem slays the bearded and converted

AT a Slayer gig, no one can hear you scream. It's customary, though, for grown men with tattoos on their arms and hair on their chins to try their best. They'll be hoarse for days.

Tom Araya, Slayer's leader, has perfected the art of screaming. And looking tough. Because to be a part of this Californian thrash metal band's extended family, you gotta have some serious neck on you.

Quite literally, if you intend on lasting 90 minutes. Not every noggin was made for such aggressive head-banging. Some fans are forced to leave the floor, missing clothes and, quite possibly, a limb or two.

Get in someone's way and he'll move you. He'll have learned well from Araya and his boys. Who, incidentally, play songs about serial killers and Satan. There is no point in taking it seriously. Not when Araya (52) flashes that wide, unmistakable grin of his. He's also got a tune for the "culturally minded metal head" (Stain of Mind ... a lovely number).

Scary

It would be easy to dismiss Slayer as just another offensive, incoherent, ridiculously over-the-top thrash metal ensemble when, really, these lads practically invented the genre.

Their songs (Payback and Angel of Death included) are not for the faint-hearted, but there's a ferocious energy to their playing and an inherent tightness to Slayer's delivery that is to be admired. It's fast, it's scary and it's loud. And yet, it's hardly the worst.

True, they make Metallica sound like The Beatles, and you have to wonder how things might have gone had they paid more attention to melody than noise, but after 32 years, still to be plugging away, 11 albums deep ... well, that's some achievement.

It hasn't all been plain sailing. Drummer Dave Lombardo was sacked in February. Founding member and guitarist Jeff Hanneman died of liver failure last month. A huge banner in Jeff's honour descends for the encore. Surprisingly, there's a lot of love in the Slayer community. You need it for when your fellow man flings his sweaty hair in your face. HHHII


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