Possibly the most hotly anticipated thrash bill of the year with half of the big four playing on one bill this was a night of thrash remembrance for some and an initiation ceremony for the new fans, and some completed the checklist of seeing the big four this year as both Metallica and Megadeth have played headline shows this year as well. Added to that having Kvelertak as the support must have been a coup for the Norwegian band as I caught this tour twice, the first being in Manchester four days earlier.
I was delighted that Kvelertak (which means chokehold or stranglehold in Norwegian in case you’re wondering) was on this tour offering them a perfect opportunity to showcase their unique approach to metal that is extreme but also extremely catchy as this was my eighth time seeing them and whilst not as fiery or animated as their own club shows I’ve witnessed they stalked the stage with confidence and assuredness when they opened with Åpenbaring” and followed swiftly with “Nekrosop”. Annoyingly the press shooters were delayed entry to the Leeds gig as the guest list and photo passes weren’t down at the box office in time for any photos which is a shame as the band is extremely photogenic when in full flow. Very little chat ensued as each song lassoed the gathering masses to their own choke point with “Ulvetid” and their massive “Blodtørst” being received exceptionally well with the latter being my favourite song of theirs. Closing with their namesake tune the band garnered a new following here and from that should catapult into the more metal mainstream and deservedly so.
Even though Anthrax was a special guest on this tour the whole expedition could have been a double headliner with both playing headline sets as the moshers gathered in force at the front ready for thrash law to be meted out which began with “Caught In A Mosh” and sent the pit into an absolute cauldron of seething bodies flying everywhere. With stage diving and crowd surfing a non starter in major venues these days the crowd writhed around during every song as momentum was maintained with the Joe Jackson cover “Got The Time” which was sang by the crowd word for word. Watching from the balcony the audience behaved more like a hardcore crowd as every time Belladona came towards them they surged forward to try and sing into his mic which they had no chance of getting to. “Fight ‘Em Till You Can’t” was more known than I expected as the crowd caught their breath momentarily and was the inhalation of oxygen required when “Antisocial” created a thrashing stampede equivalent to the wildebeest migration crossing the Mara river where the weaker ones looked left for dead though the thrashers were kind and hauled them off the floor as the crocodiles masquerading as security looked on in bemusement. With momentum at its peak the band aired a new song “Evil Twin” which was adorned on the back of one of their shirts for sale, where they also had, incidentally, a sort of replica shirt for their “Spreading The Disease” tour in 1986 which baffles me why anyone would buy it if they didn’t go, which I did of course but I still didn’t buy it. The new song allowed the audience to gather its energy as did “In The End” which was given as a tribute to Ronnie James Dio and Dimebag Darrel with their pictures draped left and right of the stage, though I think Jeff Hanneman and Philthy Animal Taylor would have been more fitting for this tour. The song caused momentum to wane slightly only for the tribal drumming that followed for “Indians” to catalyse a massive roar of delight from the whole venue. With every person singing the lyrics the song was perfectly played and the delay before the thundering bellow of ‘Wardance’ by the crowd was cataclysmic as I had goose-pimples and a smirk of satisfaction that songs nearly three decades old and probably older than most of the audience were received like sermons on the mount. Closing the set was “Among The Living” equally as huge as its predecessor as Scott teased the crowd with its riff before exploding the song fully and a tsunami of bass emanating from the PA. The song was immense and when the tempo was cranked for the vocal section the pit went berserk and closed a set that most bands would never be able to follow but obviously Slayer was next.
Interestingly you’d think that both Slayer and Anthrax would have an equal footing in thrash with both attracting the same crowd foundation but this was not the case there was a blurred line between them but obviously with a large overlap as the crowd. As the stage was readied for Slayer a white curtain dropped which got a cheer and was emblazoned with the French flag via lights. The rotating crucifixes were shone on the curtain which also got a cheer, the rotating pentagrams equally got a cheer and finally the two Slayer logos got a roar as the tension in the crowd was incendiary when the opening chords of the intro piece, “Delusions Of Savior”, started. The curtain dropped and “Repentless” erupted out of the PA as some of the pit beasts threw their plastic beer cups in the air full or not and must have thought fuck it time for action. The sound was detonating as the three riff masters stood in a line commanding the audience. Putting “Postmortem” as the second tune was a gargantuan masterstroke and contains the best thrash riff ever written in the middle bar none. The triplet of “Hate Worldwide”, “Disciple” and “God Send Death” followed and quite why songs and albums by Slayer from their newer era are vilified is perplexing as the triplet was nothing short of frenzied aural savagery with a pit that was utterly insane.
Tom chatted to the audience after the triplet by bellowing ‘are you ready!’ then screaming ‘Waaarrrrr Ensemble’ as I could see that Kerry had his massive chains hanging down from under his shirt and was headbanging like a nutter for the song. Gary Holt was on fine form playing the riffs and leads brilliantly but injecting his own trademark fret smouldering. Taking an opportunity to capitalise on the crowds convulsing fervour “When The Stillness Comes” and “Take Control” from the new album were aired and whilst some bands are nervy of new material these were received like old favourites with mental pit action to accompany them.
Old dinosaur thrashers like me within the audience crave old material and tonight they were given a new leash of life when “Mandatory Suicide” started up initiating a four song section of old stuff that was breathtaking as Tom roared ‘Suicide’ right before the double kick starts up and was fantastic vocally, no straining and hitting the high end of his range superbly. The riff and drum fill to “Chemical Warfare” followed immediately as Gary and Kerry stood side by side headbanging together with Tom stood at his mic spitting out the lyrics. As the song blazed towards the midpoint double kick the pit waited with bated breath for Tom to scream ‘fuck it up’ which he did with ear piercing clarity sending the pit into its next phase of violence. Pausing momentarily Tom asked if we were having a good time and followed by saying ‘it sure looks like you’re having a good time, it’s awesome’ and sniggered as the crowd shouted Slayer for the billionth time this evening, leading him to say they’re going to play something from “Show No Mercy” when he shouted ‘if you must live by the sword… you will “Die By The Sword”‘ as the sound was incrementally getting louder with every song played. “Black Magic” flowed from the guitars seamlessly as Bostaph cymbal tapped the intro section of it with bass kick giving the audience an opportunity to clap before crashing their heads forward for the riff break.
By now the place was sweltering and you could see a lot of the fellas with no shirts as “Vices” was played and again the crowd went bonkers only to be slowed down by the opening tones of “Seasons Of The Abyss” and one of the slowest circle pits I’ve ever seen as they waited patiently for the song to get going when the main riff came in. Vocally Tom was on fine form as this was possibly the most challenging song of the set to sing but as Kerry and Gary flanked him headbanging he pulled it off devastatingly leaving Kerry to choke his guitar on the lead break. Melding the song with “Hell Awaits” its opening drum stomp and hook is surely the best opening to any thrash metal song and whilst Tom can’t headbang these days Gary and Kerry made up for it even with short hair or no hair at all. The next song is a love song announced Tom and proceeded to serenade us ‘dance with the dead in our dreams’ and screaming ‘temptations lost all control’ then stopping and saying something like it’s a good thing I have a microphone then hollered ‘dead’ which the crowd replied with ‘skin mask’ in total unison.
As the set was approaching its conclusion the intro sequence to “World Painted Blood” started up allowing the boys a breather before returning to the front of the stage. Possibly the only lull in the pit throughout their set which was quickly remedied by the unique riff to “South Of Heaven” which was greeted with a tremendous cheer but not like the next song was which was teased out via Bostaph with Holt, Araya and King facing his kit wondering when he was going to start the drum beat to “Raining Blood” under a canopy of red light. They obviously didn’t know when he was going to do it as you could see the guys anticipating then relaxing by knocking out guitar feedback and notes and took nearly a minute for that drum beat to come in and its inimitable teeth smashing riff. As the song picked up the pace the pit practically filled the whole downstairs floor and looked like a fluidise bed of human beings all writhing around each other. As “Raining Blood” ended the lights changed to a venomous green and the riff to “Angel Of Death” was upon us and obviously the end of the set and Tom did its opening scream flawlessly in a lower tone obviously. King and Holt traded leads as the song hurtled towards its finale as the double kick fill was the starting pistol to all out war in the pit and ended Slayer’s monumental set in Leeds. Slaaayyyeeerrrr!!!!
Words: MARTIN HARRIS Photos: © ANDY POUNTNEY