Review by Ben for Slayer - Live Undead (1984)
A bit of a grab for cash by Metal Blade, but too much early period Slayer is surely never enough.
If it wasn’t already apparent that Metal Blade owner Brian Slagel wanted to make the most of the burgeoning popularity of Slayer after the rushed release of the Haunting the Chapel EP, it certainly was three months later when Live Undead was released. Producing a live album for a band that has only one full length album to their name seems a bit superfluous in general, but to do so with rehearsal material rather than an actual concert just screams of greed. The Live Undead performance was played in the studio with a bunch of the bands friends in attendance and considering this fact was not mentioned anywhere on the album sleeve, it’s hard not to feel a little bit cheated. Still, this is Slayer we’re talking about and it’s very hard to refuse anything related to these guys from their early golden years. One look at the track listing and you realise that one full length album and an EP was more than enough for Slayer to have enough great material to fill a punishing set list. With tracks like Black Magic, Die by the Sword, The Antichrist and Captor of Sin already under their belt, the quality of the music itself was never going to be of concern.
The main thing that blights my enjoyment of Live Undead is the hooligans Slayer chose to hang out with. You’d think that the small scale environment would mean that audience participation would be negligible, when in fact the opposite is true. Whoever these dudes were crammed into that New York studio, they fucking loved Slayer! They scream and shout at the top of their lungs the entire time and from the crazed manner of these hollers, one can only assume there were several cases of beer consumed that day. I must admit that I often get frustrated with live albums where crowd involvement is limited to the short breaks between tracks and then entirely cut from the mix for the rest. Surely this technique isn’t the best way to give an indication of what experiencing a live concert is really like is it?! Well, listening to Live Undead is all the explanation I need for why bands and labels often use this method, as I seriously just want these guys to shut up. Their distracting whistles, screams and calls of Ssslllaaaayyyeeerrr are constant throughout the recording and really start to get on my nerves quickly. Anyway, I’ve whinged about that enough, what about the music.
Even at this very early stage, Slayer was a damn tight unit. Most tracks sound almost identical to the album versions, which is testament to the talent of the band. Araya spits his vocals out with serious conviction and aggression, giving a few of these tracks extra brutality that was perhaps missing on the debut. Of course the production is not fantastic and pales in comparison to the massive Decade of Aggression release that would arrive some seven years later, but everything is perfectly audible throughout if you ignore the possessed morons screaming in the background that are recorded at the same volume. Sadly Chemical Warfare is not included in the set, which makes me sad. The studio version did end up making an appearance on the CD version of Live Undead, which was released in 1987, but as incredible as that track is, I must question this decision given that one studio track stuck on the end of seven live ones stands out like Kerry King at a ballroom dancing competition. In the end I guess too much early Slayer is never enough, but Live Undead is certainly the least essential disc from this period.