For going on forty years, Slayer have been a living tornado, an unstoppable natural godforce that eviscerates all in its path. No other band has been able to replicate their violent gestaltist energy in concert, and all one can do to experience it is to withstand it.
On this, what is purported to be Slayer’s final tour, they brought along pesky New Yorkers Anthrax, Southern axe-murderers Lamb of God, burly California thrashers Testament, and blackened Polish death metal nihilists Behemoth. I had feared at first that these acts were hitched onto the bills to fill venues that might have been too large for Slayer. I recalled 2015’s Mayhem Festival stop at what is now called KeyBank Pavilion, an event that drew so poorly, attendees with lawn tickets were forcibly upgraded into the seats. Slayer headlined with King Diamond underneath. 1991’s Clash of the Titans Burgettstown date, at which Slayer also performed last, only saw 5,000 fans come out that day to a venue that holds 23,000.
Days before this blowout extravaganza, I managed to snag a pit ticket, putting me at the front of the stage. That there was one available was both exciting and worrisome. As the show rolled on, I would look behind me every so often in the thick of each set only to see more and more bodies in the grass and under the roof as the pit became less and less spacious. Before long, I was surrounded by tattoos and black t-shirts.
Someone working a security detail told me that at least 13,000 tickets were sold. I had expected little more than half that figure. I was relieved that Slayer would gallop off into the apocalypse with dignity.
Nonetheless, the atmosphere was at once both thrilling and somber. Some fans moshed furiously, as if they’d be able to no longer post-Slayer. Others stood with a mixture of reverence and awe knowing that this would never happen again, like it were a rare meteor shower. Slayer are this galactic giant, the progenitors of a number of metal genres, a branded influence on an uncounted number of musicians. And after the four opening acts fired up the swelling mass of denimed, leathery humanity composed of everyone from Gen Xers to elementary school kids, Slayer would smite our corner of the world one last time below aphotic skies to show us their terrible power. Executioners Kerry King and Gary Holt riddled the air with bullets of sound as flames burst into the air. Paul Bostoph operated the drum kit as if it were a tank and Tom Araya plucked the fat strings with ease, barking tales of war, genocide, self-abuse, death, and insanity at us in an attempt to warn us of man’s evil one more time in vain.
Testament were the first heralds summoned to make way for the grand destroyers. Chuck Billy’s imposing, pro-wrestler presence, signature bearish growl and sawed-off microphone stand with which he mimicked the guitarwork of master bandmates Skolnick and Peterson made him the highlight of the set. With drum deity Gene Hoglan slamming the skins, it was almost a demonstration of virtuoso heft as much as it was a stoking of the furnace. Impressive is par for the course when it comes to Testament who aptly connected with the audience.
The frightsome and infamous Behemoth were next. Led by hooded, sepulchral hobgoblin/bass archer Nergal, and backed by a row of Satanic mercenaries, Behemoth acted as harbingers of doom, reapers sowing seeds of occult wrath. Seeing them at Ozzfest 2007 made me believe in their infernal grasp of underground metal and their aural spectacle of noir. This was no exception, Behemoth proving themselves to the Celtic Frost of this era with ashen chords and Nergal’s horrifying, possessed snarls.
Subversive, punchy, mighty, Anthrax effectively played their usual role of the smirking, agile gremlins, lightening the mood with their upbeat, melodic yet muscular jabs, reassuring us in so many words that a metal world without Slayer is possible. As I’ve observed before, Joey Belladonna sings better than he did three decades before, his vocals and overall performance maturing somewhat. Ian, Bello, Benante, and relative new hire Donais were all in prime form, backing one of the great frontmen with their rippingly warm musicianship.
Lamb of God were the penultimate omen of destruction. Randy Blythe, LoG’s slasher of a vocalist, stomped and roared about the stage, his dreadlocks flaling about like prehensile tendrils as he successfully riled up the congregation once more prior to this rapture. Adler and Morton, his able marksmen, sawing through the thick, heavy air as if they were firing sawblades at any and all charlatans and moral degenerates. Rabid, razor-sharp, righteous, Lamb of God made the wrongdoers afraid, bidding them beware as they snatched the flag away from lesser bands and declared themselves the new rulers of New American Metal atop a heap of wilted scrap iron.
I was somewhat disappointed that Slayer didn’t try to fit in a couple more songs, ending their stand anti-climactically more than ten minutes before curfew. Tom Araya said his goodbyes softly, almost apologetically, the impact left in their wake seemingly beyond their control along with their own demise.
Long Live Slayer.