It was about 9pm when Slayer took the stage at this abbreviated and rushed through Houston Open Air. The Cult played the set prior to Slayer and I wasn’t happy with the live sound. As I mentioned in the HOA event review, Billy Duffy’s guitar was louder than everything else. Nevertheless, these guys sounded alright as they went through their mostly greatest hits set. After “Fire Woman,” I decided to get another beer and reposition myself in front of the adjacent stage for Slayer. The sun was down for The Cult’s set, but they didn’t have any fancy light show. It was a lights up, straight-ahead rock concert. Now Slayer was here to provided the fans with the first sense that we were at a big time show.

Slayer’s set had various backdrops on video and an elaborate light show. Additionally, they were loud as hell with every instrument and Tom Araya’s vocals clear and present in the mix. The band, featuring longtime stalwarts Kerry King (guitar) and Tom Araya (bass, vocals), joined by Gary Holt (guitar) and Paul Bostaph (drums), brought an energy and immensity to the festival their cohorts had previously lacked. Doubtless, the advantage of playing the evening set made the light show possible, but Slayer also sounded like a behemoth metal band. It was instantly gratifying when the band kicked into the title track of their 2015 LP Repentless.

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Drawing mostly from the Seasons in the Abyss, Reign in Blood, and Repentless albums, the band also played a nice selection of songs across their discography. “Hell Awaits,” from the 1985 LP of the same name, and “The Antichrist” from their 1983 debut album Show No Mercy excited the crowd. Deep cuts, like “Disciple” from the God Hates Us All LP and “Dead Skin Mask” from Seasons in the Abyss, received enthusiastic responses from an all around frenetic crowd. Considering most of us waited in the parking lot for 4 hours prior to even entering the event, the Slayer set was energizing. “South of Heaven” received strong sing-along’s from the crowd and “Raining Blood” spurred a furious mosh pit from an understandably exhausted crowd.

Slayer brought not only a high energy set, but really impressed with their overall skill. The blistering leads and solos from both Kerry King and Gary Holt were spot-on and Paul Bostaph’s drumming was exceptional. It was unfortunate that Bostaph received scant video time and spent most of the show in the shadows behind the other three members. Nevertheless, his presence was felt and heard. What really impressed me was how strong and clear Tom Araya’s vocals sounded. For a 55 year old man singing in a louder than hell metal band, he sounded powerful. “Angel of Death” from the seminal Reign in Blood LP closed the show. The thrash-metal classic was the final charge fired into the crowd and an exemplary example of why Slayer is a legendary band. It was relentless, it compelled ubiquitous head-banging, and the silence that lingered after its final note was painfully unwanted.

Slayer is a band of professional thrash metal bad-asses. Witnessing their live performance is all the proof you’ll need to recognize why they’re considered pioneers of the genre. Songs written two-decades ago retain their relevance today and their energy hasn’t waned a bit. Angry, violent, a conduit of aggression; Slayer remains a force to be reckoned with.

J. Kevin Lynch

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