These days, when a band announces that they’re embarking on a farewell tour, they’re met with a healthy level of skepticism. Recent weeks have seen Motley Crue tear up their self-imposed contract and set up dates with Def Leppard and Poison, a mere four years after what was very publicly their L.A. swan song. Ozzy Osbourne went out on his No More Tours tour in the 1990s. We’ve been burned over and over again.
But there’s a slightly different feeling about this Slayer show. First of all, this is a band that has never been about gimmicks and showboating. Slayer might enjoy a bit of pyro, but in general they’ve always gotten up on stage, blasted through their set and then left. No fuss, minimal between-song chat. So the idea that they’ve concocted a plan to milk fans now and then resurface later to do it again on the reunion trail seems overly cynical, even taking into account the aforementioned burns. And at the very end of this “final” show, when frontman Tom Araya stands on stage right soaking in his adoring crowd (Whisper it, but is that the hint of a tear in the corner of his eye?), it really does feel conclusive. Definitely sad, but overwhelmingly celebratory.
The party started much earlier, with former Pantera man Phil Anselmo taking the stage at 6 p.m. with his band the Illegals to run through a 30-minute Pantera set. Dubious politics aside, Anselmo is greeted like a hero as he blasts through beloved metal tunes “Mouth for War,” “This Love” (Aquaman actor Jason Momoa and his kids on backing vocals), “Fucking Hostile” (featuring Anthrax man Charlie Benante on the drums) and the closing “A New Level.”
Next up, Ministry put the deep cuts to one side and gave Slayer’s crowd a set of industrial favorites. The closest they came to a surprise was a cover of Black Sabbath’s “Supernaut,” recorded by Al Jourgensen’s other band 1000 Homo DJs. But that was preceded by a brutal “Stigmata,” and then they fired it up with “Just One Fix,” “NWO,” “Thieves,” and the closing “Jesus Built My Hotrod.” Superb.
On paper, Primus is a bit of a tougher sell to a thrash metal crowd waiting for their heroes. Frontman and bass player extraordinaire Les Claypool knew it too, referring to his band as the “fluffy guys.” But they actually went down very well with their prog-funk jams. They wisely added some crunch, with “Too Many Puppies” sounding particular gnarly. But there’s no doubt that this was a challenging set, and Slayer’s crowd largely lapped it up — including a cover of Rush’s “Cygnus-X1.” They finished strong, with a manic “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver,” and left everyone on a high.
That just left Slayer to put a line under the evening, and their career. As is the norm, there was little in the way of frills. No special guests or anything like that. Araya spoke a touch more than usual, but only a touch.
The set was a classic Slayer set, kicking off with “South of Heaven” and that iconic riff. Crosses lit up and inverted, fireballs rained — it was a metal, but fundamentally Slayer, show and they got on with their business in the manner that they always have done (though how Araya managed to mess up the lyrics to “South of Heaven” after all these years is a bit of a mystery — perhaps hinting that the occasion did get to him a bit).
Guitarist Kerry King’s bulldog stance is an enduring metal image that will be missed, as will his riffs. Drummer Paul Bostaph and guitarist Gary Holt (the latter replacing the sadly departed Jeff Hanneman) soaked it all in and played with typical brutality.
Before we’d blinked, “War Ensemble” smashed us in the face. “Disciple,” with that “GOD HATES US ALL” refrain, was equally welcome, and it just built from there into a fan’s dream.
“Seasons in the Abyss,” then “Jesus Saves,” then “Chemical Warfare.” Holy shit. Take a breath, then “Hell Awaits” and fucking “Dead Skin Mask.” Home stretch: “Show No Mercy,” “Raining Blood,” “Mandatory Suicide” and a closing, frankly awesome, “Angel of Death.”
And with that, they were done. The band embraced — Holt taking a moment to thank Araya for what must have been an extremely eventful last six years of his career. The road crew came on for pictures. The crowd chanted “Thank you Slayer,” and then the band took their final bows. For a band that always just got on with their work, this was a truly emotional moment, and when Araya thanked the crowd again, it felt very real.
Will Slayer return? Never say never. But for now, we believe that their intentions are honorable. Enjoy your retirement, guys.