Noel Baker heads to see Slayer live at The Academy, Dublin, and finds the band seemingly determined to overcome the tragic lost of Jeff Hanneman last month.

The sound was already tectonic when a man, bespectacled and hobbit-like, grabbed a few of my fingers and almost apologetically hurled me towards the floor. Ricocheting off some flailing limbs I landed right in front of the stage, where four men were forging an apocalypse, all anguished wails and ever-accelerating guitar and drums. Did my life flash before my eyes? Maybe a little. 

This is Slayer on the last night of a triumphant two-nighter in Dublin and the four men on the stage are in the midst of scorching the interior of the Academy on the city’s Middle Abbey Street. If my time on Earth flickered through my head in any way, it’s because I first fell in love with this crowd as a spanner-faced teenager 20 years ago, yet this is my first time seeing them live. It really doesn’t matter because joyously, brilliantly, there is no room for wistfulness at a Slayer gig.

One song in and already the errant crowd surfers are flopping gracefully into the arms of smiling security staff, like some kind of alternative adult baptism.

Through the murky lighting, Slayer look both old and ageless, their brutal but thrilling music still the definitive blend of mosh and pogo. Just last month founder member – and one half of music’s great guitar partnerships – Jeff Hanneman, passed away having spent his last years battling illness, but any notions of sloppy sentimentality are blown away by the sheer velocity of what buzzes through the amplifiers. “Believe it or not this next song is about happiness,” Tom Araya declares. “All our songs are about happiness. You just have to search for the inner meaning.” Cue a lupine grin and the crushing beginning of ‘Mandatory Suicide’.

His teeth might be pure Los Angeles but with his whiskery jowls, Araya at times resembles a slimmed down version of darts player Andy Fordham. Paul Bostaph, once again filling the stool of the legendary but absented Dave Lombardo, is barely visible behind the kit bar the perpetual motion of his drum sticks, while Gary Holt could double as a hirsute WWE wrestler. 

For visual impact, they’ve got nothing on Kerry King. This pyknic, stonefaced demon, this beast with his rope of beard and gladiator’s strut, has a virtuosity that baffles and bewitches. During a punishing rendition of ‘Die By The Sword’ the speed at which he shifts the chords across the top three strings enters the realm of the purely physical, the type of unique skill you might expect of crack military men ahead of a dangerous mission. His solo during ‘War Ensemble’ is the guitar equivalent of the Moonwalk, notes stabbed out with micro-second precision while both pick and fret hands, bizarrely, seem to slow down to tai chi levels. The discombobulating effect is like the aliasing of car wheels in the movies, the act of a conjurer – just one with a tattooed head.

All the while the songs burst forward – and what songs. ‘South of Heaven’, ‘Dead Skin Mask’, ‘Seasons In The Abyss’, ‘Angel of Death’, a tumultuous ‘Reign In Blood’, all present and correct. Given the baying delight of the crowd any gripes about the slightly blanched-out vocal sound or the absence of bass notes seems downright churlish.

Then there’s the matter of the other guitarist. Not Holt, who comfortably owns his side of the stage, but the other one. Before the band took the stage the crowd had chanted Hanneman’s name but in keeping with the celebratory atmosphere the noise then morphed into "Slayer, Slayer, Slayer". It’s only when the band return for the encore that we see their backdrop has changed, the band flag banished and replaced by one blaring the words ‘Hanneman, still the king’. In a way the whole show was a homage to the lost leader, and how could it be any other way? With these songs he and his band mates invented, modified and then perfected an entire strand of music, all the while guzzling beer and occasionally drafting in his wife as a photographic prop.

Hanneman is gone but Slayer continue, a deathless evocation of youthful noise, speed, and dizzying riffs. Then again, after waiting for so long to see them in the flesh, maybe I would say that. If, as John Doran wrote in these pages following Hanneman’s death, this is a band for whom the end has begun, then for the time being they seem perfectly oblivious. “Do you wanna die?" Araya leers as he cues up ‘Postmortem’. And then a laugh: "But not right now, right?"

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