SLAYER LIVE IN a pentagram-shaped bubblethey rarely let anyone in, and they certainly never step out. If you're wondering what's new on the extreme music landscape, then by the hairs of great Satan's soul patch, don't ask the L.A. band. Sure, bassist/vocalist Tom Araya and guitarists Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman are responsible for crafting thrash metal's holy grail with 1986's still scathing Reign in Blood, but 17 years and six bone-breaking workouts later, Slayer are utterly incapable of recognizing any of the death metal, black metal, metallic hardcore, or noisecore evolutions they helped foster.
To wit: When I interviewed Araya only two years ago, I asked him what effect he thought metal's resurgence in popularity would have on Slayer. His response: "Listening to our record and listening to what's out there, it seems like people have finally caught on to us!" Yes, Tom, but only after they've lapped you a dozen times.
For the band's last studio album, 2001's almost listenable God Hates Us All, the group chose to work with a producer other than audio shaman Rick Rubin for the first time in 15 years. But after finishing the record with the more than capable Matt Hyde (Monster Magnet, Porno for Pyros, Hatebreed), the band delayed the record's release so Rubin could remix the album and, as they later explained, "make it sound more like Slayer." Almost progress is better than no progress . . . almost.
But that's life in a bubble. Think about it: Slayer has been the only creative vehicle of expression for each band member. No one in Slayer has ever been permitted to work on a side project. The one near-exception is drummer Dave Lombardo, who has recorded with Mike Patton- fronted experimentalists Fantomas, neo-thrashers Grip Inc., as well as classical music writer and conductor Lorenzo Arrugaall of which took place only after he was expelled from the band. He's since rejoined. Even if Slayer weren't deathly afraid to take risks, chances are they'd have no idea how to go about taking them.
If you are still really thinking about scooping up any Slayer album recorded after 1990's Seasons in the Abyss, which is kind of like a Slayer record made by people who really like Slayer but aren't, you know, Slayer, then prepare to get yourself an eBay seller's account. But if you just want to see Slayer at the Moore on Tuesday, then disregard the above (except, please, please don't buy their albums anymore) and start stretching out your neck. That's because in the spirit of the Ramones, Slayer's latter-day studio works don't qualitatively matter in this context. Each new LP is simply an excuse to hit the open road and leave a trail of bloody carnage in their wake. In fact, the product Slayer are promoting this time around is a live concert DVD called War at the Warfield (Universal). What could be better? Confronted live, Slayer are an unstoppable greatest-hits machine that reaches deep into the early catalog, regularly unearthing grim gems like "Die by the Sword," "Mandatory Suicide," "Hell Awaits," and "Angel of Death," only peppering the set with more recent duds. Of course, Slayer will forever be a consistently strong draw with your older brother's metal crowd. But apparently someone outside the bubble was smart enough to cater to the kids on this tour, aligning the fortysomething thrashers with a pair of the underground's brightest facesbands who actually aren't afraid to experiment!
SWEDISH OPENERS Arch Enemy are the brainchild of guitarist Michael Amott, a 15-year veteran of the international death-metal scene who cut his teeth in Swedish cult death-metal band Carnage and British grinders Carcass. But vocalist Angela Gossow is Arch Enemy's true star death-metal's first pinup girl, with a vocal delivery that makes most of the genre's hypermasculine Cookie Monster vocalists sound like preschoolers. The recently released Anthems of Rebellion (Century Media), however, occasionally grinds to a halt when the band's sickeningly sweet Iron Maiden-isms render their death metal attack perhaps a little too, well, pretty.
Hatebreed, on the other hand, aren't guilty of any such melodic excess. Though the lyrical aesthetic and fashion sense of the new The Rise of Brutality (Universal) is clearly rooted in traditional hardcore, much of the band's inspiration is culled from the death-metal underground of the early '90s. Guitarist Sean Martin, in particular, pilfers early Entombed and Bolt Thrower riffs in tracks such as "Doomsayer" and "This Is Now" as if they were a bar band trucking their way through a set of blues standards. But the tough-guy, group-shouted choruses of "Straight to Your Face" and "Live for This" demonstrate that the example of New York City hardcore heroes Agnostic Front and Sick of It All are just as significant. In fact, "Another Day, Another Vendetta" actually reprises the verse lyrics from Sick of It All's down-on-your-luck dirge "Just Look Around," though it curiously omits the song's defining chorus.
Sometimes that drubbing without any melodic massage is all too typical of Hatebreed's approach to metallic hardcore. But when a band actually titles their album The Rise of Brutality, you can be pretty sure they only dropped by to kick your ass.
Slayer, Hatebreed, and Arch Enemy play the Moore Theater at 7 p.m. Tues., Nov. 25. $29.50.