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Timothy Finn blogs about the Kansas City music scene

Slayer overcomes loss with a bone-rattling show at the Uptown

05/14/2014 7:13 AM

05/14/2014 9:35 AM

Death can't stop heavy metal. In its first area appearance since the 2013 passing of guitarist Jeff Hanneman, Slayer remained as powerful as ever in a dominant performance Tuesday at the Uptown Theater.

Many in the audience of almost 2,000 weren't alive when Slayer began its reign of terror as one of the preeminent thrash bands over thirty years ago.

The California-based group has courted controversy since it was cofounded by Hanneman in 1981. In addition to upsetting heavy metal conventions by introducing punk rock's speed and aggression to the form, Slayer has alarmed and offended listeners with gruesome subject matter and an ongoing flirtation with the occult.

Bathed in lighting that alternated between shades of sickly green, ghostly white and ominous crimson, the revamped quartet performed with a backdrop of four inverted crosses. Opening with the macabre "Hell Awaits" and ending with the controversial "Angel of Death," Slayer's 90-minute performance was a punishing test of endurance for even the most devoted of fans. The bone-rattling volume and the unrelenting viciousness of its material made the band's outing a physical and psychological baptism by sonic fire.

Slayer's best songs are concise bursts of maniacal fury.

Renditions of the spine-chilling "South of Heaven," the cataclysmically savage "War Ensemble" and the fearsome "Raining Blood" were brutally cathartic. "Dead Skin Mask," a selection that vocalist and bassist Tom Araya amusingly introduced as a "mood-setting song," was among a handful of compositions that were less vital.

Guitarist Gary Holt ably replaced Hanneman. Holt's band Exodus also opened the concert. Kirk Hammett co-founded Exodus in 1980 before joining Metallica three years later. Lineup instability -- including the death of its vocalist in 2002 -- likely contributed to Exodus' lack of commercial success. Exodus instigated a fierce mosh pit throughout its impressively unforgiving outing on Tuesday.

The presence of Suicidal Tendencies on the bill emphasized the role punk played in the evolution of metal. Partly because the band overlays its metallic punk with humor, the men in Suicidal Tendencies resemble the brutish younger brothers of the Ramones.

Vocalist Mike Muir is the sole remaining original member, but the current version of the band is powered by the celebrated drummer Thomas Pridgen. The quintet's new level of musicality added depth to 1980s gems like "Subliminal."

Aside from a muddled motivational speech delivered by Muir, the concert's sole somber moment was Slayer's acknowledgement of Hanneman's death. His contributions were celebrated on an irreverent banner modeled on the logo of a brand of Dutch beer that was unveiled during Slayer's encore. The gesture served as a reminder that while practitioners of heavy metal are mortal, the music they create may be eternal.

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