Slipknot / Slayer / Hatebreed / Mastodon Birmingham National Indoor Arena, 05/10/04 By Philip Whitehouse A very interesting line-up, this one - a relative newcomer in the extreme metal scene opening, followed by the monarchs of the tough-guy metalcore scene, preceding a double-headline act featuring the most respected, consistent band in the thrash metal genre and perhaps the most successful, but also most reviled mainstream metal band of recent history. It's up to Mastodon to kick things off, and to warm people up for the set, Brann Dailor takes to the drum-stool, lets fly a flurry of cymbal crashes and tom-rolls, then the band launches into the lurching, disorienting groove of 'March Of The Fire Ants'. Robbed of some of their elemental power by a somewhat muddied 'first-band-sound', Mastodon nevertheless get the arena headbanging successfully during their four-song set. The hypnotising, elephantine grooves in their songs carried over the bottom-end drenched sound, the vocalists' howls and screams carving a path through that sludgy tide like dolphins through an oil-slicked ocean. Throwing classic rock-star shapes throughout, the guitarists alternate from lead-heavy riffage to intricate and intriguingly amelodic dual harmonies, before slamming into a Sabbath-on-Mogadon passage that demolishes all in it's wake. An impressive start, then. Hatebreed follow the intricacy and technical approach of Mastodon the only way they know how - with a straight-forward, vein-bulging intensity and efficiency. From the opening notes of set-starter 'This Is Now', the arena floor erupts into a frenzied mosh-pit that only grows in intensity with ringmaster Jamey Jasta's repeated calls for bigger and bigger circle-slams. The loss of Boulder on guitar hasn't harmed the 'Breed much, as 'Doomsayer', 'Live For This', 'Last Breath' and crowd-pleasing finale 'I Will Be Heard' lay waste to the venue, with a crushing bottom-end punch and savage, machine-gun riffage. By now fully pumped and ready for action - if not utterly discombobulated by the street-gang-esque violence on display during Hatebreed's set - the audience's rapturous reception for Slayer is matched only by how utterly bat-shit the crowd go for the thrash metal quartet's note-perfect renditions of 'Chemical Warfare', 'Seasons In The Abyss', 'South Of Heaven', 'Angel Of Death', 'War Ensemble' and various other workouts in triplet-wristed, furiously played thrash masterpieces. The intro to 'Dead Skin Mask' literally sent chills down your humble scribe's spine, and one surmises that the furiously headbanging trio of Tom Araya, Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman were internally glad of their decision to steer largely clear of Diabolus In Musica and God Hates Us All material tonight. The only thing that rankled about Slayer's set was their decision, at the end, to thank only the long-standing, veteran fans rather than the thousands of more recent converts turned on to thrash through the last couple of albums. What the hell though, I have my copy of Reign In Blood...[/b] Finally, Slipknot. Tonight was the second time I've seen Hatebreed, the third time I've seen Slayer, and also the third time I've seen Iowa's eighteen-legged hate machine in action... except tonight, the masked marauders were missing two legs. It seems spiked-diving-helmetted sampler Craig is in hospital having surgery, but the 'Knot decided to carry on regardless. Perhaps a tad unwise, considering his absence made little noticeable difference to Slipknot's sound, highlighting to the more perceptive how accurate the observations made by 'Knot haters as to the surplus-to-requirements nature of at least three of the members... but I digress. As a spectacle, Slipknot are awesome... first time around. However, this was third time round for me, and now all the trash-can whaling, drumkit riding, nose-wanking and head-slapping antics are starting to come across as rather choreographed, and thus less effective. Lucky, then, that the material from Vol. 3 : The Subliminal Verses adds to the enjoyment significantly. The unusually intricate riffage and sublime push-and-pull dynamics of 'Duality' raise the roof tonight, as does the pyrotechnic energy of 'Pulse Of The Maggots'. The over-long and over-blown 'Vermillion' threatens to derail the momentum, but luckily first-album stalwarts 'Spit It Out' and 'Surfacing' are on hand to regain the spite. Corey is still the consumnate showman, by turns confrontational and confessional, having the crowd eating out of his hand the entire time - and it's impossible to ignore the sheer dedication Slipknot get from their fans - not even Slayer got the venue going quite as crazy as this, although that could be down to the exuberance of youth. However, perhaps that was the whole point of the gig - Slipknot's almost exclusively 10-18 year-old audience being given the chance to check out more diverse and extreme music that MTV and Kerrang! wouldn't otherwise have encouraged them to see. Under those terms, tonight is a complete success.