Slayer and guests bring down the arena
At least five police cars with flashing lights were planted in the hotel parking lot across the way. Three more pulled in as I made my way down the block to the arena. It was an overcast evening with crisp air breezing by from time to time so it seemed like a fitting atmosphere.
Starting outside among the scattered people coming from all directions toward the Big Sandy Superstore Arena’s main entrance, it was almost immediately apparent that I wasn’t the only one engaging in the unofficial concert ritual activity of eyeing out some of the coolest pieces of band merch worn by other concertgoers. Guessing where their attire originated–“How’d she get that shirt?” “Is that a bootleg or a special design?” “I’ve never seen that patch before!”–was inexplicably amusing and, frankly, fun to do.
Just past security was an extra large crowded table sitting under a huge display of tour merchandise there in the entry foyer. That was the first thing that we saw after getting our tickets scanned and it had an obvious effect on the people who were still milling about before the show began. As bodies continued filing into the arena there was an ambiance of excitement and tension that would consistently continue to build through the course of the night’s events.
Cannibal Corpse took the stage first, early and promptly. The still-growing crowd responded appropriately when hit with the band’s signature brutality and ferocity. Between their special blend of the trademark dizzying windmilling, sonic fury, and a clear and crushing live sound, Cannibal Corpse immediately set the bar for the night. It was unfortunate that their stage time only allowed for about six songs. You’d think that their enduring presence over the last 30 years would’ve put them in a bit of a better slot. With more than 14 studio albums out in the world, it must’ve been a difficult task to whittle out a varied selection of songs, but they did, in fact, manage to come through with a crowd-pleasing set that included classics like “I Cum Blood” and “Hammer-Smashed Face” before their departure.
Still more people were slowly filling empty holes in seats as Amon Amarth prepared to come out. A stoic Norse melody cut through the air just after the lights went down for the second time. Then only the stage area was illuminated in blue, creating an almost tranquil lead-in. A huge end portion of a Viking ship that served as a drum riser grabbed attention as the centerpiece of their stage show. It was almost instantly that they found their own flow with their distinct melodic brand of death metal rather than riding the proverbial coat-tails of Cannibal Corpse’s residual energy. Their sound was clear, epic, and massive. It took almost no time for vocalist Johan Hegg to establish a rapport with the growing crowd. His way of engaging the fans clearly won more people over song after song. With their new album Berserker freshly released, they charged through new songs like “Crack the Sky,” “Raven’s Flight,” and “Shield Wall.” After almost a dozen songs, they closed strong with “Guardians Of Asgaard.”
The evening continued with the crowd and the air continuing to increase in density. As the lights went down, the Lamb of God backdrop and their added stage show props helped fuel the sense of impending frenzy that was coming from the audience. Opening with “Omerta,” the floor crowd attempted to engage in some kind of meaningful circle pit action that would eventually pick up as the set went on. By now, vocalist Randy Blythe is an especially apt frontman who can effectually elicit favorable responses from his audience per his command. He easily found common ground to work from, at one point illustrating how the band is from only a few hours away in Richmond, Virginia, and their guitar tech is native to these parts. Steadily moving through their set, the crowd was eating up the band’s general live presence, which was surprisingly commanding as they cruised through more crowd favorites like “Walk With Me In Hell,” “512,” and “Redneck.”
A huge black curtain was drawn to obscure stage activities leading up to the point of Slayer’s entry. The lights went out as the sea of bodies migrated toward the front of the house. The band’s “Delusions of Saviour” introduction played while four projected crosses on the curtain turned simultaneously to a 180-degree position of inversion. The palpable anticipation could be cut with a knife. Inverted crosses turned into four Slayer logos moving briefly across the curtain just before a huge blast of fire arose from behind it. As that black veil fell, the band came out at full-throttle breaking into “Repentless” with the speed and fury that is their trademark. The sound was huge – rumbling guitars and drums like thunder. Delivering his unrelenting, rapid-fire vocal flurries in a live capacity, Tom Arya’s vocal intonation revealed a lot of their early punk influence. It’s an element that’s always been in Slayer’s sound and particularly distinguishable on their most recent album Repentless, but there’s just something about the live delivery that draws it out closer to the forefront. Guitarist Gary Holt is a little more extroverted when working with the crowd but Kerry King’s mere presence is iconic and he allowed it to be felt in spades wherever he happened to be at any particular moment in the show. The band operating at the highest level as a unit tends to be rather astounding to watch as they play song after song with a consistent and elevated level of intensity up until they’ve played their last note. Just the thought a band like Slayer having forged ahead with such unrelenting severity for more than three and a half decades is mind-boggling.
The setlist seemed to remain surprisingly balanced in terms of the albums that were represented. Following 2015’s “Repentless,” they went back to 1983 with “Evil Has No Boundaries.” After “World Painted Blood” from 2009, they went into “Postmortem,” from 1986. 2009 to 1990, 2001 to 1988, 1984 to 2001–the pattern kept the flow of material even and ultimately pleasing to everyone involved in the night. The final portion of the show represented nothing after 1990 which the audience seemed to feed on more and more until the band ended with a visceral rendition of what is arguably Slayer’s crowning achievement; “Angel of Death.”
It wasn’t until the music was over that the true reality of what this tour really means for Slayer as a band of artists and heavy influencers was clearly apparent. There were no extended gratuitous guitar and drum solos, no extended banter, no unfortunate attempts at humor, no encores. It was a final run-through of Slayer’s most influential moments that culminated into one last meaningful moment after the music was all over with. Paul Bostaph threw out his last sticks and Gary Holt and Kerry King threw their guitar picks, all for the benefit of pleasing a few rabid fans vying for any kind of lasting tangible piece of the last night on Earth to see one of the most iconic bands of the last 40 years. Calmly walking to stage left, then to stage right, and finally to the middle of the stage, Tom Arya was the last man to leave the stage as he clearly wanted to take in that energy from the fans that he helped create for one last time. He walked up to the mic, pressed his open hands together in thanks and said, “Thank you. Good bye.” And then he was gone.