Slayer, Testament and Carcass Live at Boston’s House of Blues
Tom Araya is a man of few words, between songs at least. Slayer’s grizzled frontman barked lyrics at a frantic clip, but kept his addresses to the crowd to a polite minimum over the course of the band’s nearly two-hour set on March 6 at House of Blues in Boston, Massachusetts. The sold-out crowd, which spanned from giddy teenagers in Metallica shirts to scene veterans sporting well-worn battle jackets, needed no hyping up, and Slayer were committed to giving them exactly what they came for in a brutally efficient, no-nonsense performance.
Slayer are currently on the road with fellow California thrash mainstays Testament and Britain’s legendary Carcass, supporting their first studio effort since the death of founding guitarist and songwriter Jeff Hanneman. It’s tempting to think of Repentless and its ensuing tour, also less founding drummer Dave Lombardo and leaving just Araya and guitarist Kerry King as original members, as representing a lesser version of the band. In some ways of course, it is, but King and Araya’s decision to soldier on doesn’t ring hollow from the stage. There was a reverence for Slayer’s legacy apparent in how vicious and vital both the new songs and the classics sounded.
Araya’s vocals have lost none of their coarse effectiveness after all these years, and King’s wildly technical fretwork flowed with confidence. With erstwhile drummer Paul Bostaph standing in for Lombardo and Exodus’ Gary Holt doing an admirable job in Hanneman’s place, the rounded out lineup also has pedigree – and more importantly, chemistry. Standing front and center as the first notes of Repentless’ title track rang out and the physically overwhelming blast of low-end punched its way forth, there was no mistaking this for some invalid version of Slayer. The sheer sonic magnitude of the set appeared to overpower and temporarily cripple the venue’s rather robust PA system – a first in the many shows I’ve seen there.
Slayer’s setlists aren’t known for their unpredictability, but the guarantee of hearing “Raining Blood” and “South of Heaven” regardless of the night is certainly not a bad one. The latter remains a song so immortally badass as to spontaneously inspire a satellite mosh pit between three guys at the merch table. Repentless isn’t going to become anyone’s go-to Slayer album, but the selections slotted in here held up amid the fan favorites. After a 22-song set that delivered many of the essentials concluded with “Angel of Death” – and the stage backdrop switching up to bear a Hanneman tribute – it was hard to imagine anyone leaving unsatisfied.
That can be credited in part to the band’s impeccable choice in tour-mates, as well. Carcass’ melodic death was the genre outlier of the night, but the crossover appeal was evident in the room’s excited buzz before they took the stage. The Liverpool foursome mounted a comeback more successful than most with 2013’s excellent Surgical Steel, their first record since 1996, and ripped through four of its tracks along with pairs of Necroticism and Heartwork favorites in a furious opening set. Like Slayer, the band’s lineup now features a pair of original members in bassist/vocalist Jeff Walker and guitarist Bill Steer along with newer additions on second guitar and drums, but hardly sounds hindered by it. Walker was in fine gravel-voiced form, and the band made the most of the unfortunately brief time constraints of their set.
If Carcass were the night’s outliers in terms of sound, it was Testament’s air-guitaring, mosh-encouraging antics that incorporated a bit of a rock and roll partying vibe absent from the show’s first and last sets. Vocalist Chuck Billy was clearly having a blast playing ringleader while the band traversed its 30-plus year history, touching on six of its ten albums since 1987. Testament may have lacked the precision heaviness of Carcass and the grim intensity of the night’s headliners, but the touch of levity offered by their raucous set brought balance.
While the future of Slayer beyond the promotion of Repentless remains to be seen, a tour with curation and performances as strong as this one wouldn’t be a bad note to go out on. It’s an early contender for Q1 2016’s best package deal.