Published Nov 22, 2013A surprising venue change from modest arena Ricoh Coliseum to mid-level downtown staple the Kool Haus made this the first club show Slayer have played in Toronto in over a decade, and it was an all too appropriate atmosphere for a lengthy set which promised to focus exclusively on their classic, pre-Divine Intervention material.
With the venue gradually filling up and ecstatic chants of "SLAYER!" echoing through the foyer, Australian upstarts 4Arm took the stage. Wisely keeping unnecessary banter to a minimum, the band ripped through a quick half-hour of sturdy, if unremarkable, throwback thrash that promised little more than a competent riff on their expected influences (not the least of which were the headliners) and delivered.
Somewhat more of a curveball were French progressive death four-piece Gojira, whose presence on the international scene has been steadily strengthening since breakthrough effort From Mars to Sirius and has led to them securing the lion's share of the mainstream's most coveted opening slots. While their somewhat repetitive "chug, pick scrape, save the whales, repeat" formula grew tiresome past the mid-way point, their set was a pillar of professionalism and provided a palatable segue into the main attraction.
The passing of guitarist Jeff Hanneman, unceremonious firing of founding drummer Dave Lombardo and return of his original replacement Paul Bostaph were certainly cause for scrutiny regarding both Slayer's decision to continue and their ability to deliver the goods under such tumultuous circumstances. Fortunately, lingering doubts were swiftly vanquished as they ripped through opening numbers "Hell Awaits" and "The Antichrist," leaving little room for catching one's breath as classics such as "Necrophiliac" and set mainstay "Mandatory Suicide" hammered home the group's continued relevance with shocking ferocity.
Frontman Tom Araya's vocals were in peak form, and truth be told, the band sounded eerily rejuvenated and arguably tighter than they have in years. What little crowd interaction occurred ranged from amicably shouting out "familiar faces" to chastising security for throwing out concertgoers, all of which the audience ravenously lapped up between forays into the churning mosh pit. Replacement guitarist Gary Holt beamed appropriately during the mid-set Exodus cover, and the home stretch beginning with "Dead Skin Mask" and ending somewhat predictably with "Angel of Death" packed enough punch to nullify the need for an encore.