Sonisphere 2014: Slayer

The thrash titans headline the Saturn stage

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There are few bands who have a fanbase as dedicated as Soni headliners Iron Maiden, but the Slayer army come pretty bloody close. And they were out in force tonight.

What’s the best way to kill some time before Iron Maiden? With a healthy dose of the day’s last rays of sunshine and the mighty Slayer (or “SLAYAAAAAAARRRRGGHHHH!” as they’re more commonly known around these parts), that’s what. For a band that’s been through the ringer as much as these guys have in the last few years, they remain as fiercely vital as ever, and the Knebworth crowd respond with sheer mania. Horns and fists are raised and stay that way through the entire set.

You’d think at this stage a band in their position might be guilty of phoning it in every so often, but that’s not the case. Paul Bostaph’s frenetic drumming and Kerry King’s furious riffing are executed with the airtight precision that befits a band of their status, while Exodus guitarist Gary Holt more than holds his own sparring with the legendary axeman. Meanwhile, affable frontman Tom Araya offsets the invocation of evil occurring onstage and the vitriol in his screams with possibly the friendliest face you ever saw, etched with deep laughter lines as he beams out into the crowd. And yes, they make it clear they are fucking happy to be here.

After Dead Skin Mask, which Araya introduces as a “love song”, gleefully, the ominous drumrolls that follow signal the inevitable onset of Raining Blood, and when that riff kicks in - the lifeblood of metal fans the world over - the usual chaos ensues. Some things really never do get old. The rapturous response to the unveiling of a banner reading HANNEMAN - STILL REIGNING that acts as silent tribute during the not-so-silent Angel Of Death, the eruption of crowd surfing and circle pits shows beyond any shadow of a doubt that the spirit of the late, great Jeff Hanneman is still raising hell from beyond the grave. Long may they reign!