Hell Awaited

It seemed fitting that the weather was a sweltering, hellishly humid assault on the sweat glands for Slayer’s first stop in Michigan on their final world tour. As the gates opened, the air was thick and the sea of black T-shirts were quickly soaked with perspiration. Since the tour’s lineup is packed with metal royalty, the seats were nearly filled by the time Testament, the day’s first act, hit the stage. You could almost say it was a testament to Testament, but don’t.

The aforementioned lineup, which consisted of Slayer, Lamb of God, Anthrax, Behemoth and Testament was bulletproof. There were no weak links in the chain, no sickly gazelles falling behind the herd to be slaughtered by the pack of metal-hungry lions in the audience. Every band was on point, and they all looked like they were having a blast. If you follow any of the members of these bands on Instagram such as Gary Holt, Scott Ian or Nergal, you’ll see plenty of photos of guys from the various bands hanging out together backstage. It’s as if Slayer didn’t just pick bands that would help fill the seats, they brought guys they actually like as human beings. The camaraderie on the tour shows, and likely contributes to the good vibes onstage.

The opening acts averaged seven songs a piece, and each was an abridged version of the strongest works in their respective catalogs. To borrow an old phase, it was all killer no filler. There was little time for between song banter, but every front man on the ticket managed to connect with the crowd, from the antics of happy-go-lucky Joey Belladonna to the bellowing corpse painted shouts of Nergal. The ticket had a nice flow. The straight-ahead thrash of Testament coalesced nicely with the darkness of Behemoth, which in turn blended seamlessly with the fun of Anthrax and the ferocity of Lamb of God. It was the perfect build to the oncoming explosion.

Darkness descended. The curtain fell. The pyrotechnic flames arose. And Slayer began their bombardment. Their opening salvo was Repentless, the title track from their most recent and presumably final album.  It was a direct hit to the collective consciousness, and the crowd was more than ready for the sonic barrage that followed. The setlist ran deep, covering ten of the band’s twelve studio LP’s and included the perennial favorite, Chemical Warfare from the 1984 EP Haunting the Chapel.

The band was in nothing less than top form. Founding members Kerry King and Tom Araya were almost stately in their attack. Araya has taken on the look of a sage, while King looks like someone you would loathe to meet in prison. Guitarist Gary Holt fits so well in the band since replacing the late Jeff Hanneman that it feels like he’s been there all along. And Paul Bostaph who is five years into his third tour of duty as Slayer’s drummer, has done enough time in the band to be considered the fifth Beatle.

There are few bands more important in the evolution of heavy music than Slayer. They’ve influenced countless metal bands the last 35 years. Death metal, black metal, and the recent resurgence of thrash owe much to these pioneers of darkness. It’s telling that just as they are hanging up their horns, a whole new generation of fans are discovering the forefathers of extreme metal.

Todd Gilleland
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