Slayer @ O2 Academy, Birmingham – 29 May 2010

One of the “Big Four” along with Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax, Slayer still reign as the fastest, the heaviest and probably the best of them all.

I first saw Slayer in 1987, at the age of 17, as one of the last acts to grace the stage of the Birmingham Odeon. That time and particularly that show, helped shape my musical influences forever. More recently they have played the UK as part of their Unholy Alliance tour or at big festivals; so to say I have been getting excited at the prospect of seeing them at the intimate O2 Academy, is an understatement.

From the off they are as immense as ever, opening with ‘World Painted Blood’, the title track from the latest album, followed by ‘Hate Worldwide’. For the first three tracks I’m in the photo-pit, with the band exactly where they belong – in my face!  It’s freakin awesome!

Tonight’s show and all current UK tour dates were originally set to take place in November last year, before being cancelled and rescheduled twice, due to vocalist and bass player Tom Araya injuring his back and requiring surgery. This would explain the lack of his trademark, whirlwind head banging, but his vocals are as ferocious as ever.

Araya thanks Birmingham for being patient, but gives little chance for anybody to catch their breath before introducing ‘Cult’. From here, the speed and intensity is kept at relentless full throttle, with ‘Disciple’, ‘Expendable Youth’, ‘War Ensemble’ and ‘Jihad’.

The set list is a good mix of old and new, including: ‘Beauty Through Order’, ‘Payback’, ‘Seasons In The Abyss’, ‘Hell Awaits’ and ‘Mandatory Suicide’. Guitarists Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King make up for any lost ground on the head banging front, with their signature squealing solos as impressive as ever.

Dave Lombardo is a master of the double bass drum, driving each song with a technical double beat. I watch and listen in awe as he batters his way through ‘Chemical Warfare’, ‘Raining Blood’, ‘Aggressive Perfector’ and ‘South of Heaven’; his pulsating drums a welcome ringing in my ears for days to come.

For the encore comes ‘Silent Scream’, finishing off with my personal highlight, and evidently that of many others: ‘Angel of Death’, one of several controversial tracks that Slayer have released over the years. Perhaps lyrically controversial, relating to Nazi physician Josef Mengele, but musically it is simple, intense, perfection.

It is unquestionable that Slayer still reign as one of the most powerful bands on the planet. With a Sonisphere appearance lined up, they have once again conquered UK shores.

Review & Photography: Steve Johnston