Tonight, we are dealing with proper metal icons. Kerry King and Scott Ian, whose immediately identifiable silhouettes are admittedly similar these days, have passed into legend.
These two provoke happiness on sight, even before they crank out a skyscraper-crushing riff. And what Tom Araya might now lack in headbang mobility these days he more than makes up for with his enduringly thunderous voice and close resemblance to a chilling cult leader. When such icons share one venue, Xmas comes early.
Bare-chested KVELERTAK  frontman Erlend Hjelvik arrives wearing a huge stuffed owl on his head, with glowing red eyes. While these Norwegians ripple with conviction and attitude, they’re weirdly moving away from what made them really interesting: gene-splicing rock’n’roll with black metal. Tonight, it’s either admirably honest or a terrible mistake for them to downplay their more obvious black metal elements. Throw in a bassy, indistinct sound mix, and they probably strike most newcomers as a straight rock band, earning a muted response.
“Do you like thrash metal?” yells Scott Ian halfway through ANTHRAX’s** ** set. “I’m gonna be presumptuous and say you’ll like this one,” and the band blast out the riotous Evil Twin, from their splendid forthcoming album, For All Kings. While this is wisely the only new song they air, it’s amidst a slightly curious choice of songs. Three cover versions in a support slot, even if Antisocial and an unexpected March Of The SOD are obviously great? Still, it’s impossible to begrudge a performance bookended by Among The Living tracks. The opening Caught In A Mosh gets sacrificed to the sound gods – the volume is unimposing for the whole set’s first half, before receiving a welcome boost – but is of course a stormer. And no one’s going to argue with the closing duo of Indians, complete with one of Metal’s Finest Ever Riffs in its breakdown section, and Among The Living itself, which is a contender for Metal’s Chuggiest Song Ever. Heartwarming onstage banners depicting Ronnie James Dio and Dimebag Darrell only add to the sense that tonight is about celebrating metal gods.
Bands are at their most fired-up with something to prove, and following the tragic loss of guitarist Jeff Hanneman in 2013, **SLAYER  **no doubt feel a need to establish that they can still bring the house down. Consider that done. There’s an astonishing moment during Seasons Of The Abyss, two-thirds of the way through the set, when we realise Slayer are demolishing us despite having played only one song from their classic album Reign In Blood, in the shape of the malevolently surging Postmortem. Just as with veterans Anthrax, everyone wants different favourites from Slayer, yet the full impact of this gig transcends the setlist itself. The band are so damn powerful and the sound so clear, backed up by wonderful visuals, that the whole experience becomes blurringly hypnotic. It’s one enormous 666 scorching through your brain, rendering song-choice quibbles irrelevant.
The stage set inspires awe too. Four huge inverted crosses float around on wires in front of three striking backdrops: the first based on the new Repentless album art, somehow given a 3D sheen between songs by ingenious alternative lighting; the next taking it old-school with the sword-pentagram logo; and finally, the wonderful tribute to Jeff Hanneman based on the Heineken logo. For a generally no-nonsense band like Slayer, this all feels like precisely the right degree of concession to putting on a real show, while honouring their fallen brother.
The pacing is superb. When The Stillness Comes truly comes alive onstage, providing both band and audience with a well-earned breather after War Ensemble and before the brutal Take Control. Mandatory Suicide’s mid-paced grind slams into vintage thrasher Chemical Warfare, while the brilliant one-two punch of oldies Die By The Sword and Black Magic is placed right before Vices, another Repentless track and one that really asserts its might in the live arena. South Of Heaven is a masterclass in dynamics, all by itself.
Exodus’s Gary Holt is one of the few living men who could convincingly follow Jeff. Technical ability aside, the reason is sheer authenticity. Gary lives and breathes this shit; he was there back in the day, when every Slayer song burst into being. When he noticeably thrashes extra hard during a truly phenomenal Hell Awaits, which threatens to suck Brixton into the abyss, you know and feel that he’s loving it as much as us. It’s also good to see him comfortable being Gary Holt, as opposed to some stock replacement, as he strides purposefully around, sometimes hoisting his guitar overhead.
Unbelievably, by the time immortal gems Raining Blood and Angel Of Death bring proceedings to a frenzied close, they feel like gratuitous violence. No one hangs around expecting or needing an encore. We file out in a daze, chock-full of metal. Ruined by icons.