Music review

Slayer plays to its strengths in free Sinclair show

Slayer performing at The Sinclair on Wednesday night.
Ben Stas for The Boston Globe
Slayer performing at The Sinclair on Wednesday night.

CAMBRIDGE — You didn’t have to work hard to determine that Tom Araya, the longtime frontman and bassist for Slayer, was enjoying himself during the band’s show at the Sinclair in Cambridge on Wednesday night. You heard it in the good-natured, almost incredulous laughter that slipped out between the lyrics he barked about war and pestilence, Ed Gein and the devil. And you saw it on his face every time he made eye contact with a frenetic audience member — really saw it, because Slayer, which routinely plays to mobs numbering in the thousands, had an uncommonly good view of its constituency in a club that holds 525.

Maybe it should be de rigueur for any world-beating star to play a date in such close quarters every now and then. Not that Slayer is known for phoning in shows, even now that it’s passed the 30-year mark. But you sensed at the Sinclair, where the band played a free-by-lottery show during the Converse Rubber Tracks series, that Araya and his bandmates — original guitarist Kerry King, second guitarist Gary Holt, and drummer Paul Bostaph — were gorging on the wild energy churned up by a heaving, moshing throng.

It was good timing, even for a band whose legacy is bulletproof. After original drummer Dave Lombardo departed during a contract dispute in early 2013, and guitarist Jeff Hanneman, who founded Slayer with King and wrote much of its classic material, died a few months later, the band’s decision to forge onward drew skepticism online — this, despite the fact that Bostaph previously played in Slayer from 1992 to 2001, and Holt, the chief architect of Bay Area thrash band Exodus since 1981, is among the few figures Araya and King might deem a peer.


Change is hard, and doesn’t come at once. Slayer released a new single, “Implode,” a year ago, and another, “When the Stillness Comes,” in April. Neither song, nor anything else from a new album presently underway, turned up in the band’s tautly paced Sinclair set, which opened with the title cut from 2009’s “World Painted Blood” and mixed three more cuts from that LP among the requisite barrage of can’t-miss staples from the band’s early prime.

Tom Araya, the longtime frontman and bassist for Slayer.
Ben Stas for The Boston Globe
Tom Araya, the longtime frontman and bassist for Slayer.
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An absence of fresh cuts and a reluctance to fold Holt into the songwriting process reported in recent interviews suggest a tentative outlook. You’d never have guessed it from the machine-gun riffs, flame-tongued solos, and piston-pumping beats that Slayer reliably dispatched as it savored, visibly and audibly, what amounted to a working holiday for a band with nothing left to prove.

Doomriders, performing in support, swung like a 50-pound hammer at the end of a rope. Fronted by Nate Newton of Converge, the quartet mixes the hardcore gnarl of Newton’s main gig with sinuous, unabashedly retro twin-guitar flights. If Slayer lords its dominion over all that lies south of heaven, Doomriders staked a fair claim on what lurks south of the waistline. Full marks to opener Rozamov, a young local trio that leavens sludgy contemplations in the key of murk-flat minor with limber blastbeats, for tackling a nightclub freebie with intensity and verve sufficient to reach an arena’s cheap seats.


With Doomriders and Rozamov

At: The Sinclair, Cambridge, Wednesday

Steve Smith can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @nightafternight.