Review by Daniel for Slayer - Live Undead (1984) Review by Daniel for Slayer - Live Undead (1984)

Daniel Daniel / December 13, 2018 / 1

1984 was a huge year for Slayer fans. Not only did we receive the classic "Haunting The Chapel" E.P., but Metal Blade Records also felt the need to put a live release out to showcase the sheer violence & electricity of a live Slayer show. It would be recorded in New York City but as with Warlord’s “And The Cannons Of Destruction Have Begun…” live album they'd released only a month earlier, Metal Blade had unusual ideas on how it would come together, not feeling any necessity for the record to reflect a truly live club show. The Warlord record was advertised as having been recorded in an empty theatre & was billed as the very first Warlord live show which ended up being completely inaccurate as it eventually came out that the whole thing was put together in a recording studio & was poorly mimed for the accompanying video that came with the album. Well the circumstances around the recording of Slayer’s “Live Undead” E.P. have a few more unknowns about them & it’s really up to the listener as to how much they let these effect their overall enjoyment of the record.

For starters, we know that this isn’t a legitimate live show. The band’s management have been open for many years about the fact that it was recorded in a studio with 50 friends of the band in attendance to add the audience noise. But what’s not 100% clear is whether that audience was in the same room at the same time that Slayer performed this material or whether they were simply screaming their heads off for the fun of it & inserted at a later stage. From the hints that producer Bill Metoyer has given in interviews it sounds like he wants us to believe that the crowd were in the room with the band but the audience noise didn’t get picked up well enough in the recording so it was re-recorded & pasted over the top of the band. This makes sense to me on the evidence on display on the recording so I’m gonna go with that story & I’d imagine that our audience will be a little divided about whether they can accept this as a genuinely live recording under those circumstances or not.

The other major talking point is the necessity to put out a live release at all given that Slayer had such a small amount of material at the time. I mean the original release of “Live Undead” featured six songs; five of which appeared on their debut full-length “Show No Mercy” from the previous year & the other one having seen the light of day only two months earlier with the “Haunting The Chapel” EP. And when you take into account the fact that these arrangements are all very similar to the originals & recorded in a studio it begs the question on what the point of the whole exercise was. Apparently the six songs that made it to the record were selected from 19 that were recorded in total across three sets that included a maximum of nine different songs with the tracklisting being completely out of order from their usual live sets.

Well……. now that we’ve got that all out of the way, it’s lucky for me that I’m able to see past all of those topics pretty easily & I subsequently  find “Live Undead” to possess some unique characteristics that make it an essential part of any Slayer fanatics collection. One of the bigs pluses is that the production is excellent for a "live" release. It really showcases the electric energy of a live Slayer with all of the instruments being well defined. The two guitarists sit at either side of the stereo spectrum & achieve tones that are both raw & chaotic & searing & modern at the same time, with the solos being presented in emphatic fashion. Tom’s bass guitar can actually be heard which is more than I can say for many Slayer studio outings & he sounds thick of warm here. And Dave Lombardo’s drum kit sounds more powerful than we’ve heard from him to date with a kick drum sound that went a long way to defining the path forwards for extreme metal. There’s more click to it than we'd heard previously which makes it more defined & gives the rhythms more precision. In fact, Lombardo’s performance is a big differentiator for “Live Undead”. His ability behind the kit at this stage in the game is simply light-years ahead of where it was for “Show No Mercy” & this gives these songs more life than they had previously. Particularly due to the drastically improved double kick work which is a real highlight & gives the songs a lot more urgency than they had previously.

The only “Haunting The Chapel” track included is “Captor Of Sin” & it benefits greatly from the cleaner production afforded over the original recording. Tom’s vocals are harsher & more evil sounding than they were on “Show No Mercy” & you would honestly never know that this wasn’t a real live club gig on the evidence of his performance as he genuinely seems to be interacting with the crowd. I actually think this performance places him way ahead of the rest of the thrash front men metal fans had experienced to the time. His ability to balance sheer aggression with melody is unparalleled & his between-song banter is totally bad-ass & would definitely leave a live crowd riled up & ready to attack each other. The sound of the audience certainly leaves you feeling like they actually do too. These dudes sound like complete psychos throughout the recording & that’s pretty much in line with what my teenage self always imagined from a Slayer club crowd. If you want to hear what Hell sounds like then this is as close as you’re gonna get with the audience being mixed a little louder than you’d usually expect for a live release which seems to be a bit of bug-bear for some listeners but personally I really enjoy it & think it gives the E.P. a unique character.

Perhaps the fact that I was introduced to “Live Undead” before I’d ever heard “Show No Mercy” or “Haunting The Chapel” has had an impact on my overall feelings on this release but I have to say that I fucking love it. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it just slightly eclipses “Haunting The Chapel” for my favourite Slayer release to the time. I honestly couldn’t give a fuck about how the recording came to be. I didn’t have any idea of those circumstances when I first became acquainted with “Live Undead” & I’m not sure it would have made a difference anyway. I just base my judgements on the music coming from those speakers & the way it makes me feel & on that basis alone it’s hard to deny that “Live Undead” is a showcase for the elite thrash metal of one of the greats of the genre when they were just hitting their straps. I’ll never get the opportunity to see them at this early stage of their career but this E.P. serves as a very nice insight into what a live Slayer experience might have been like at that point in time.

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