By: Matt T.A. Smith
Photos: Ed Sprake | More Photos
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Usually I write a slightly poetic introduction to live reviews of this ilk, but this time I’m doing things differently. There are only three things that you, the reader, need to know in order to set the scene for tonight’s show; the line-up is ridiculously heavy, the audience is ridiculously excited, and Manchester is ridiculously wet (as usual). Let’s get into this.
Kvelertak‘s Vidar Landa opens tonight’s proceedings with an undulating guitar line that leads into the mighty ‘Åpenbaring’, while vocalist Erlend Hjelvik strides into view wearing an owl on his head. Yep, an owl. With light-up eyes. Why? Who knows, but I’m into it.
Although the zany headdress lasts just one song before Hjelvik decides to get rid of it, the band continue to play full pelt throughout their time on stage. Hjelvik proves a formidable frontman, powerfully commanding the fore of the stage as if delivering a demented homily from behind his thick veil of hair. Tonight’s is a thunderous performance replete with howling guitar solos and topless growling, and although Kvelertak’s stunning triple guitar assault is nothing short of crushing, unmistakable ’70s rock and roll tendencies leak through their barrage of sludgy metal. The band marry the two styles seamlessly, proving themselves an impressively worthy opening act.
A prophetic pit opens long before Anthrax take to the stage and burst into spectacular opener ‘Caught In A Mosh’; a clever move that immediately spurs on the frenzied crowd. Energy levels remain high for the duration of the band’s short set, juxtaposing older tracks largely taken from 1987’s Among The Living against more recent compositions. Frontman Joey Belladonna’s vocals are on top form throughout, as he constantly runs the length of the stage, initiating hand claps and crowd calls and responses. Meanwhile, bassist Frank Bello can be found bouncing around the stage singing seemingly every lyric, regardless of whether or not a microphone is in front of his face.
Whilst newer addition Jon Donais looks a tad uncomfortable at times, glancing nervously over at fellow guitarist Scott Ian on occasion, his delivery is almost impossible to fault as he fills Rob Caggiano’s previous role with aplomb; his solo during ‘Antisocial’ fulfilling all scientific criteria so as to be officially categorised as ‘face-melting’. New track ‘Evil Twin’ from the band’s upcoming For All Kings record proves a promising sign of things to come, although tonight’s highlight is an incredible, show-stealing ‘Indians’. At the show’s finale, Belladonna swings his mic stand like a baseball bat in time to the last few beats of ‘Among The Living’; a fitting conclusion given that tonight, Anthrax knocked it out of the park.
A white curtain descends, cloaking the stage ahead of tonight’s headlining performance. Projected upon it are the blue, white, and red of France’s national flag, in remembrance of the victims of the attack at Paris’ Bataclan Theatre not yet two weeks prior. A respectful symbol of condolence and solidarity, the ensign holds with it a powerful realisation that tonight’s circumstances are eerily similar; a prominent rock show; a major European city; a crowd of a couple thousand strong. After a short while, the tricolore is replaced by a series of crosses, slowly rotating until fully inverted, signalling Slayer’s arrival to the stage. Although both an atheist, and well-versed in the band’s usual harmless, anti-religious theatrics, it’s an awkward juxtaposition that strikes me as distasteful at best, although the baying throng appears to have no such issue.
The shadow of the Bataclan seemingly hangs heavily over the first half of Slayer’s set. Whilst the enthusiastic crowd go unsurprisingly mental, the band seem positively static, especially when compared to Anthrax’s impassioned performance. Starting with a deflated ‘Repentless’, I worry that the thrash stalwarts may finally be on the decline, although it soon becomes clear that, instead, there’s a certain level of trepidation at play this evening. “This is normally the part of the show where I ask everyone if they are ready”, offers frontman Tom Araya. “But tonight, I’m not going to ask if you’re ready. I’m going to ask; are you prepared?” Araya soberly closes with; “You need to be vigilant. You need to be aware of your surroundings.” A tangible sense of unease ripples through the crowd, as it realises just how right he may be.
Although ‘Disciple’ and ‘When The Stillness Comes’ prove early highlights, it’s not until Slayer roll out a blistering ‘Die By The Sword’ that the band truly hits its stride. From this point on, just past the halfway point of tonight’s 20-song (!) set, Slayer start to hammer adeptly and ferociously through the best of their blood-curdling back catalogue. An explosive ‘Seasons In The Abyss’, featuring a flawless solo by newly-instated guitarist Gary Holt, is followed by a sublime airing of ‘Dead Skin Mask’, introduced by a smirking Araya as “a Slayer love song”. Incidentally, whilst Holt may be tamely sporting his clichéd ‘Kill the Kardashians’ t-shirt tonight, you simply cannot argue with his guitar chops. Whilst he could be credited alone for having the balls to play opposite the revered Kerry King, Holt undoubtedly steals the show tonight, far outshining King in almost every twin guitar attack.
Unrelenting, the band launch into ‘South Of Heaven’, churning the audience into a viscous, moshing mass, until familiar thunderous, grinding distortion is joined by a distinctive floor tom’s ‘thud thud thud’… The fevered congregation are delivered a pounding one-two punch of ‘Raining Blood’ and ‘Angel Of Death’, with the band wasting no time on an encore.
Whilst they may have started the evening timidly, the grins plastered across both the audience’s and Araya’s faces as he leaves the stage say it all; Slayer are still reigning.