All good things must come to an end. All things utterly evil, too, if the final UK shows from thrash metal’s most unequivocal sonic terrorists are anything to go by. The final destination may not yet be determined for the four-piece, but, ending with Monday’s chaotic showing at Glasgow’s SSE Hydro, their six-night rampage through UK arenas assured fans that they are most certainly on their final run – delivering a victory lap as only Slayer ever could.
Jumping in the pit for those final dates, we got to add a few more battle scars to our increasingly grotesque collection. More importantly, we made six (six six) important observations at the end of this extremist era.
1. They’re going out with a massive bang…
“You’ve still got it!” rings a chant from the pit, fondly hijacking pro-wrestling parlance in Newcastle on Saturday night. Brilliantly, it’s justified. This isn’t the ‘classic’ line-up of Slayer. It’s not even close. With the untimely passing of legendary guitarist Jeff Hanneman in 2013 (and the departure of peerless percussionist Dave Lombardo in the same year), that bulletproof ensemble was forever fractured. Replacement axeman (and Exodus thrash icon in his own right) Gary Holt is no slouch, of course, and veteran drummer Paul Bostaph brings a particular bludgeon to proceedings, but, from clashes of style to those of the political nature, there’s still never been that old cohesion. The buzzing guitars and tumbledown drum-fills of Postmortem and Angel Of Death aren’t the same, still, yet here, egged-on by sprawling crowds and the decisiveness of it all, with a conflagration of pyro exploding around them, of it all they get pretty damn close.
2. Slayer fans don’t stop. Full stop.
Slayer isn’t just a band. It’s a way of life. Milling amongst the bars and through the between-set milieu we run into a cast of characters worthy of the most cultured of splatter movies. We meet world-renowned Northern Irish painters, Michelin-starred English pastry chefs, respected Welsh academics and Scottish newspaper editors. Any other day of the week, they’d be the sort of respected professionals you’d never expect to find with their eyes sweat-glazed and their noses mashed halfway across their faces. These are not other days, however. Elder statesmen compare the number of times they’ve borne witness to the chaos (this writer’s meagre 42 shows pales in comparison to the 67 of said painter), with many booking tickets to multiple dates across the tour. Young guns rush in excitedly, inviting injury with utter recklessness on their first (and perhaps last) chance to witness these lords of chaos. It’s hardly surprising that Newcastle’s rock bars are packed out on Saturday night. That Glasgow’s pubs are almost as rammed on Monday stresses the point that this really is a time to put normal life on hold…
3. Show No Mercy isn’t just an album title, it’s a state of mind.
When you can drop Repentless, Blood Red, Disciple and Mandatory Suicide in the first four songs of your set, you’re in your own special sphere of sonic punishment. The standard of violence that erupts down the front (and most of the way to the back) of these arenas is befitting of such classic smash anthems. Resembling a cross between some sort of free-for-all heavyweight wrestling match and an old-fashioned demolition derby, there seem to be crowdsurfers surfing crowdsurfers at times, with the pit sharks taking bites out of each other. Following Tom’s infamous unholy commandment (“If someone falls down, you pick them up!”), there’s an incongruent injection of chivalry at times, with numerous moshers taking knees to temples in the name of aiding fallen comrades. But as long as we keep to our feet it feels like every man for themselves.
4. They’re leaving the metal community in capable hands.
Between the draw of their reputation and the sheer fearlessness of their accept-all-challengers attitude, Slayer have always boasted the best touring packages in metal. From the ’90s infamous Clash Of The Titans run alongside Megadeth, Suicidal Tendencies and Testament, through Extreme Steel with Pantera, Static-X and Morbid Angel to the original Unholy Alliance out with Slipknot, Mastodon and Hatebreed, they’ve always delivered value for money in terms of the sheer number of fists to the face. With tickets tipping the £60 mark (including fees) here they need something special to keep up that reputation. In Virginian NWOAM veterans Lamb Of God, New York Big Four contemporaries Anthrax and Floridian death metal legends Obituary, they deliver it. None of those acts are figurative spring chickens, but as well as a perplexing number of tracks with the word ‘redneck’ in the title, they deliver the energy and enthusiasm of a promise: that truly heavy music is in safe hands for years still to come.
5. It’s an occasion that’ll see even the hardest bastards shed a tear.
We’re not crying, someone just gouged their finger into the back of our eye-socket. Seriously. Of course, there isn’t much time for real sentiment as the Huntington Park thrashers’ career through their set with all the crazed momentum of a freight train with its brakes detached. There’s something stirringly warlike about watching the band sweep past each other without making eye contact, all focus on hammering away at their none-heavier workload like butchers on an overloaded abattoir kill-line. But when we do manage to look up from the carnage – as at the points during slow songs when swirling backlights and fixed pentagrams turn the stage into a scene from some satanic movie poster – you can just about make out hints of sadness in their eyes. “Thank you. Goodbye. I’ll miss you guys…” nods Tom simply from the front of the stage at the end of the set, 37 years of memories flashing through his mind. It’s the hardest gut-punch of the night.
6. The UK might get one last chance to dance…
Spilling out into the autumn cold, sweat-soaked and utterly spent, its hard not to feel a mingle of adrenalised catharsis and funereal finality. It’s a confusing mixture of satisfaction and sadness. With Chemical Warfare and Raining Blood still ringing in our ears, it’s hard not to catch the eyes of fellow fans and smile. That encore nearly ended us, but we’d still take one more. Tantalisingly, we might just get it. On June 21 and 22 next year, the band have confirmed that they’ll be playing Graspop in Dessel, Belgium and Hellfest in Clisson, France respectively. That’s smack-bang in the middle of festival season, in the UK as well as mainland Europe. Is it possible that we’ll get one more chance to absolutely wreck ourselves in the open battlefield of an outdoor festival setting? Is ‘the final swing’ still to come? We’d bet out last unbroken bones on it…
Words: Sam Law
Kerry King photo: Gene Ambo