Slayer kept turning up the house lights on Monday at the jampacked 9:30 club. Were the thrash-metal pioneers trying to pick out troublemakers and hecklers? Nope.

They just wanted to behold the sea of sweaty metalheads and soak in their appreciative howls and devil-horn salutes during the 85-minute set. Bassist-vocalist Tom Araya even broke into a smile at one point and said, "I feel the love."

After 25 years of grinding out heavy, ultra-fast metal, Slayer still seems to love what it does. While the band's super-loud concerts are relatively bare-bones affairs -- an illustrated backdrop of Jesus wearing a T-shirt that read "Jihad" was the only prop -- all Slayer needs to put on a riveting show is its relentless music.

Throughout the set, guitarists Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman stood in front of an enormous wall of Marshall amps and traded riffs, solos and twin leads. Drummer Dave Lombardo furiously double-timed his drums before switching into head-banging breakdowns. And Araya growled anti-establishment lyrics (many directed at organized religion) and thumped his bass until he stepped away from the mike and swung his long, gray-flecked mane into a twisted tornado.

But even if the core of each Slayer song remains essentially the same, the band's fierce musicianship always tweaks the tunes enough to make each one feel like an individual punch in the face rather than one long beat-down.

After delivering pulverizing versions of songs such as "Die by the Sword," "Seasons in the Abyss," "Dead Skin Mask," "Mandatory Suicide" and the incendiary new number "Cult" (from last year's "Christ Illusion" CD), Slayer closed its encore-free set with a punishing version of "Angel of Death." With that, the house lights went up again -- and the whole band was smiling.

-- Christopher Porter