June 24, 1985. It’s a clammy night in Central London and to those assembled for a pre-gig drink in The Ship on Wardour Street there is a genuine sense of anticipation about the night’s proceedings. The lank-haired landlord pulls pints, fag-in-mouth and liberally sprinkles ash into our lagers, but we are too excited to even notice. For those of us obsessed with the burgeoning U.S. thrash underground, Slayer’s first show on these shores has been a long time coming.
In fact, it’s been close to two years since the Californian four-piece made their mark with Aggressive Perfector, the opening track on Metal Massacre III – the latest in a series of ground-breaking, underground collections compiled by Brian Slagel, the head honcho of the fledgling Metal Blade label. Since then, the band have delivered their debut album, Show No Mercy, and its successor, Hell Awaits - arguably the more accomplished of the pair.
As the four-piece step out on to the stage at an ultra-sold Marquee Club, bass-playing frontman Tom Araya – an impressive mess of flailing hair and a man armed with a genuinely disturbing piercing vocal scream-cum-growl – establishes himself as an instant focal point. His dextrous playing interlocks immediately with Dave Lombardo’s tenebrous bass drum fills and drives the band’s sound relentlessly on.
Guitarists Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King’s ability to deliver ferocious riffs with near-surgical precision and lightning-fast solos further define Slayer’s approach. While King is the more flamboyant of the two, festooned with studs, Hanneman exerts a more controlled, street-punk presence, sporting a biker jacket, a small silver inverted cross hanging from his neck.
A 14-song set flies past as the 500-plus capacity crowd slams itself into near-exhaustion with a callous disregard for the blood that splatters across the dancefloor. An encore of Chemical Warfare leaves us all utterly drained and staggering out of the club in search of air. The talk is simple: it does not get more extreme than this…