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July 30, 2014

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Review + photos: Slayer and frontman Tom Araya are ‘all about love’ at the Joint

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Erik Kabik/Retna/ErikKabik.com

Slayer performs at the Joint on Friday, Oct. 25, 2013, in the Hard Rock Hotel.

Slayer at the Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel

Slayer performs at the Joint on Friday, Oct. 25, 2013, in the Hard Rock Hotel. Launch slideshow »

It takes a certain kind of character to declare that a concert is “all about love” when one writes songs about psychopaths, warfare and the occult. But it doesn’t take long to realize that Slayer frontman Tom Araya is, indeed, a character. And that he might be on to something after all.

The bearded, long-haired lead singer is the spitting image of thrash metal and, although he can’t head bang for medical reasons – years of his famously aggressive head banging can do that – he still whips an audience into a frenzy, impressing on the high-register wails and the more guttural screams for which he’s known.

This tour’s setlist features the band’s more famous heavy hitters (“Raining Blood,” “South of Heaven,” “Seasons in the Abyss”) and recent work (“World Painted Blood”) per usual, with the addition of some deep cuts and early material.

Of note were “Black Magic” from the band’s debut album and the night’s rendition “At Dawn They Sleep” – a lengthier ode to the badass pre-“Twilight” bloodsuckers of yore – which builds from a sludgy gloom to a thrashy climax with a concert hall full of hardcore heshers chanting “Kill!” with Araya. It’s a goosebump-inducing moment and a reminder that Slayer can still pull off lengthier, wait-for-the-payoff songs.

Despite a few protests of “put Lombardo up there,” Paul Bostaph – who replaced drummer Dave Lombardo in February after contractual disputes with the band – closed that track out with a frenzied drum solo, which received a largely positive reaction.

Late Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman would be memorialized in the set in a way only Slayer could — with a tribute backdrop toward the end and the Joint’s video screens playing vintage concert footage and candid videos of Hanneman and the band behind-the-scenes. This also would receive a huge ovation from a sea of leather and denim at the Joint.

Gary Holt of Exodus has been filling in on guitar since Hanneman’s health first took a turn in 2011 and continues to work adeptly with Araya taking bass and guitarist Kerry King. King, shaved-headed, tattooed and with his own iconic beard braided tight, will always draw attention, but his showboating and jamming with Holt and Araya sealed the deal as they drew toward the night’s closing song, “Angel of Death.”

One curious thing about Slayer shows: If you ever stumble in and somehow forget the band’s name, just listen to the die-hards before, during and after the show. Those seemingly random cries of “Slayer!” directed at one another mean a little bit of everything: a greeting, an acclaim, excitement and that weird sense of kinship for fellow metal heads who are here to rock.

Now that’s love.

GOJIRA AND 4ARM

Gojira’s energy is as monstrous as their sound working the front of the stage, as well as the back, with even drummer Mario Duplantier rising up a few times to thrash about. Luckily, the band’s odd song structures and sound work as well live as they do out of the studio, with the light show to match the boom-y start-stop of songs like “Heaviest Matter in the Universe.”

Though the vocals in 4Arm’s opening set were a bit drowned out by the drums, techs must have addressed the issue for Gojira’s set, where it would have probably been a bigger concern. That 4Arm will be a band to watch in coming years.

The Australian band has cited Slayer and 1980s thrash bands as idols of sorts, and singer Danny Tomb faintly channels Araya at times, with shades of Venom and Machine Head in his style of vocals. It’s a shame his voice had to compete with the drums for much of the show, but that’s something that will hopefully be refined as the band continues touring.

Regardless, these guys are pure thrash. Despite the obvious influence from the genre’s ’80s heyday, it’s definitely new and exciting thrash – reaction to the tracks “Raise a Fist” and “Spent and Bled” and the presence of more than a few 4Arm T-shirts among the audience say 4Arm is a group who could be the influencers someday.

Jorge Labrador is the news assistant for Las Vegas Magazine, a sister publication of Las Vegas Sun.

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