Slayer & Anthrax @ 02 Apollo
Tonight, the fine city of Manchester is truly musically blessed. No less than one half of the Big Four of thrash metal have descended on the historically important venue that is the Apollo theatre tonight to wreck our necks and send us home with severe tinnitus.
As the lights dim over an eager crowd of youngsters hungry for a taste of how the old school do things and a nostalgic older audience eager to maintain youthful memories, the strummed intro to Caught In A Mosh elicits a roar as if a thousand lions were about to charge. As Frank Bellows' bass rumbles the intro, the pit bursts into violent life as primal instinct takes over and all resistance to movement is rendered futile.
Wasting no time it's straight into Joe Jackson cover Got the Time and the momentum of the pit is maintained. Meat Loaf's son-in-law guitarist Scott Ian does his patented stomp around the stage as reinstated classic era vocalist Joey Belladonna traverses the stage engaging the audience, his voice on good form.
Notably absent is Charlie Benante behind the kit, due to recovery from recent hand surgery. He is ably represented tonight by Jon Dette, a powerhouse drummer who has worked with both Slayer and Testament. Rob Caggiano has been replaced by Jonathon Donais from Shadows Fall on lead guitar and he does a fantastic job.
Somewhat of an Anthrax anthem these days and another cover, this time Trust's Antisocial, continues the thrash-paced set in style before moving onto new single Evil Twin. Not a familiar tune to the crowd but it receives a favourable response. In the End, from latest release Worship Music, is preceded by tolling bells. Banner portraits of Dio and Dimebag Darrell are draped over the amps making the song a fine and somewhat emotional tribute to two fallen metal greats.
If there is a greater breakdown within a song than the one in Indians then it escapes me as I'm writing this. It's one of Anthrax's most loved tunes but when the track halts, briefly pauses and Scott Ian's crushing tone brings in that War Dance riff then you can peel everyone off the ceiling. Never has the word ape been more fittingly been combined with the word shit in order to describe the audience reaction to this most perfect of riffs. Among the Living is a stunning piece of manic thrash and an inspired end to a splendidly received performance.
It wasn't the greatest Anthrax show ever witnessed, I think the chemistry still needs to be developed with the new personnel and Benante was definitely missed, but Bello was on amazing gurning form and Ian was at his usual stomping best. Beladonna can't hit the very highest notes live as well as he used to but he is a good front man and able to control an audience well. As good and mosh-worthy as it was, they certainly didn't throw the gauntlet down and create a major challenge for Slayer to follow.
Ah, Slayer. Is there any such thing as a bad Slayer show? Ha ha. Fuck no siree! If one band could be said to define thrash metal it’s this one. Stripping down the more complex arrangements of their first couple of albums, in 1986 they released Reign in Blood, perhaps one of the most influential albums in metal of all time. Contained therein were 30ish minutes of insane speed and fury that changed the face of metal forever. Essential listening.
Recent issues concerning drummer Dave Lombardo have been put to bed with the re-recruitment of the impressive Paul Bostaph and the untimely death of founding guitarist Jeff Hanneman, although still undoubtedly fresh in the mind of band and fans alike, is now behind them with the role securely passed on to the capable hands of Exodus man Gary Holt. Hanneman is and always will be with us and Holt ensures this by wielding a guitar emblazoned with the six-stringers Heineken/Hanneman logo. Listen to new album Repentless to witness a true testament of how to overcome tragedy by releasing one of the best albums of a 34year old career!
Blue, white and red lights form the French tricoleur on the white curtain that shrouds the stage, a defiant symbol against recent terrorist events and a touching tribute to our fellow, fallen music fans. As Delusions of Saviour invades the PA this is replaced by projected Slayer logos and a deafening crowd roar in anticipation. The curtain drops and the band burst forth with Repentless with Tom Araya standing front and centre, an imposing silhouette against the red lighting.
What unfolds before us is nothing short of ferocious. It’s a Slayer fan’s wet dream of a set covering some of the best tunage ever committed to plastic. Rabidly received by the assembled rivet heads, Slayer is on top form tonight as they bulldoze through fan favourites like Postmortem, War Ensemble, Seasons in the Abyss and South of Heaven. Gary Holt is grinning like the Joker had won the lottery whilst Kerry King stalks the stage. His tribal tattooed arms are bigger than Nicky Minaj’s thighs, heavy chains swing from his belt and he sports ever impressive beardage.
Unholy trinity Chemical Warfare, Die By The Sword and Black Magic give the die-hards cause for celebration, in violent form of course as the pit becomes more a fight for survival than anything else. The death threat for me comes from heat and exhaustion, rather than my fellow thrashers. Anyone who has ever survived a Slayer pit knows that the fans look out for each other. The unwritten law of the pit is always obeyed. But to quote Slayer: “A little violence is the ultimate drug, let’s get high!”
When Raining Blood hits as the penultimate slab of evil it comes as a shock that there is any energy left in the place. But there is apparently. The place goes white-coat mental! I’d love to see arial footage of this war zone. I bet it’s an impressive sight. Following this with Angel of Death seems almost sadistic on the bands part and appears as a vicious attempt to kill your own fans but if you’re going to die…there are worst ways to exit this miserable world of ours. Finishing on a thrash anthem, and one penned by the late Jeff Hanneman, is perhaps a fitting way to send a shattered and broken crowd out into the night.
Two words I would use to describe Slayer tonight are relentless and, if it was an actual word, repentless.
Repentless is out now on Nuclear Blast.
Words: Paul Cooke | Photos: Frederick Apps