The kings of thrash metal took their South Texas fans on one allegedly final speed-of-light ride into hell. And they brought along a few friends capable of assuming the role atop the throne.
Having announced a farewell tour eight months ago, Slayer finally made it back to the Alamo City on Wednesday night, unleashing a 90-minute sayonara to an estimated 3,000 fans at Freeman Coliseum. Spreading hate worldwide, condemning religion and musically commentating on topics such as terrorism from the perpetrators' perspective since 1983, Slayer has been responsible for breaking necks along its 35-year path of destruction -- even causing its singer/bassist, Texas resident Tom Araya, to cease headbanging several years ago.
But that didn't stop a swell of moshers, stationary-yet-appreciative onlookers and those witnessing the hellacious thrashers for the first (and final) time from being a part of history.
Not to be outdone were Lamb Of God, Anthrax, Testament and the only non-American band on the bill Napalm Death from Birmingham, England. But as Lamb Of God frontman D. Randall Blythe appropriately announced, the reason everyone was there was Slaaaaaayer!
Playing nine years and a day to their Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival performance next door at the AT&T Center, Araya and his original remaining cohort, guitarist Kerry King, were again accompanied by longtime Slayer drummer Paul Bostaph and veteran shredder Gary Holt. With an inferno being lit even prior to the curtain dropping, Slayer burst onstage with the title track to its latest and final album, 2015's Repentless, as it has been doing since its release.
Araya was adorned in a "Slayer vs. Slayer" shirt from the infamous Nov. 30, 1984, show here at The Villa Fontana. That evening marked the only time Slayer and San Antonio's version -- which included Riot bassist Don Van Stavern, guitarist Art Villareal and Machine Head drummer Dave McClain and was named S.A. Slayer -- shared a stage, when the "real" Slayer was touring in support of debut EP Haunting the Chapel.
Along with the usual staples "South of Heaven," "Chemical Warfare," "Disciple" and "Dead Skin Mask" (see setlist and 191-photo slideshow below), Slayer dusted off a pair of tracks it hadn't played in several years: "Payback" and "Dittohead." As one who goes nuts for rarely played tracks from an artist witnessed live many times, those two were arguably the highlights of the night.
While Araya's screams throughout several classics are bone-chilling, his barking of "Payback's a bitch . . . motherfucker!" is just as menacing. Especially considering the track closes God Hates Us All, which was released the morning of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, something ATM spoke about with Bostaph as Holt listened during the 2015 Mayhem Fest (watch here).
"Dittohead," meanwhile, was effectively the track that began Slayer's less-popular mid-'90s era, though it's just as punishing. Lasting less than two minutes with Araya tearing through King's lyrics such as "This fucking country's lost its grip, sub-conscious hold begins to slip, the scales of justice tend to tip," it's no wonder Slayer does thrash like no other. Even the lines, "Here in 1994, things no different than before, violence is what we adore" can hardly be argued are as relevant today, if not moreso.
Slayer has never compromised its sound or style, or catered to the critics -- reasons just as viable for its devoted following worldwide as for the music. Wednesday's show was another example, as the band eschewed the common encore and simply tore all the way through its 19-song performance that included flames shooting out in tune to the riffs, such as on "War Ensemble" (ATM footage below).
Perhaps a harbinger of things to come in all genres of music, two sign-language interpreters have been present throughout the tour. Perched atop their own mini-stage, they mouthed lyrics and expressed their air guitar, drums, and even cello intro on Anthrax's "Be All End All." Lindsay Richards-Cross could be seen screaming out to one of Araya's patented chills, the ending to "Mandatory Suicide," as flames burst around the band (see slideshow).
But it was Blythe who acknowledged the interpreters better, and more, than any other artist. Not only was he the only one to do so, the Lamb Of God frontman dedicated "Walk With Me in Hell" to them, pointing to Richards-Cross and saying, "This one's for you, sister!" Blythe added: "They made 'Good Morning America' the last time we did this shit," referring to a viral video from the tour's June 20 stop at the Austin 360 Amphitheater. Toward the song's end, the dreadlocked Blythe leaped off the stage and ran to the interpreters' set-up, joining his female friend in rocking out, her face lighting up in smiles as they did so.
Along with guitarists Willie Adler and Mark Morton and bassist John Campbell, Lamb Of God again was supporting Slayer at the Coliseum as it did in 2006. This time, they were joined on drums by Art Cruz, who's filling in for Chris Adler on this leg. Cruz was here in the spring behind the kit when Prong co-headlined Paper Tiger with Helmet (coverage here). The VIP section of fans flashed their horns at Willie Adler on occasion (see slideshow) as they rocked to brooding opener "Omerta" plus "Now You've Got Something to Die For" and "512."
Blythe wrote "512" about "a little shitty place I spent some time in" as he said on the band's live version of the track from Bonnaroo in reference to his Czech Republic jail sentence in 2013 for a manslaughter case stemming from a 2010 concert there. He dedicated it Wednesday to Anthrax, as Blythe was also the only frontman on the bill to ask for applause for each of the other openers (ATM footage here). Lamb Of God also dedicated closer "Redneck" to the late drummer Vinnie Paul of Pantera and Hellyeah because "he loved this song."
Speaking of Anthrax . . .
Vocalist Joey Belladonna, lead guitarist Jon Donais, rhythm guitarist Scott Ian and bassist Frank Bello were accompanied by their own fill-in drummer in Testament's Gene Hoglan, who pulled back-to-back double duty. Hoglan presumably was filling in for Charlie Benante due to his bouts with Carpel Tunnel Syndrome, which Benante addressed with ATM during the 2015 River City Rockfest (watch here). He also spoke with ATM for AXS.com during last year's 70000 Tons of Metal cruise (watch here) prior to coverage of the bands' two sets (here).
Though Anthrax was the middle band on this bill, it would've been nice to see them break out a different song or two. While "Caught in a Mosh" and "Indians" (ATM footage here) are mandatory at every gig, it's perfectly OK if they give covers "Got the Time" and "Antisocial" a rest for good in favor of others from its vast catalog, especially when they only have time for seven tunes. Anthrax, too, gave an ode to Paul and his late brother "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott by opening and ending the show with the "Cowboys From Hell" riff. No words were necessary. The riff spoke volumes.
But it would be nice if Ian stopped asking the crowd if it likes or loves thrash metal, given that he's been asking that for the better part of the past five years. Less talking more stomping from the band's co-founding rhythm guitarist would suffice. Regardless, Anthrax is always a treat to see live. Let's just hope they mix up the setlist next go-round (watch ATM's 2017 interview with Belladonna and Donais here and listen to a 2016 chat with Bello here).
Testament, the second band on the bill, had the largest mosh pits (see slideshow) thanks to staples "Practice What You Preach" and "The New Order." Like Anthrax, they performed seven songs, but Testament found time to dust one off like Anthrax should have, as Testament brought back 1994's "Dog-faced Gods." Vocalist Chuck Billy, guitarists Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson, bassist Steve DiGiorgio and Hoglan always deliver no matter how much time they're allotted. Skolnick, in fact, will be delivering again in a different fashion when he brings his jazz fusion outfit, the Alex Skolnick Trio, to Fitzgerald's Bar on Thursday, Oct. 18 (tickets here). Peterson, meanwhile, is getting set for a Sept. 21 release of Dominion from his death-metal band Dragonlord.
Though Napalm Death had the unenviable task of a 4:30 set in the middle of the week, those who didn't have to work or simply blew it off caught the England deathcore band in fine form. Playing tracks such as "Standardization" and ending with an 80-second cover by The Dead Kennedys, Napalm Death picked up where Behemoth had left off on the first leg of this tour.
But in the end, it was all about Slayer's finality.
Though there was no mention, and none was expected, of original drummer Dave Lombardo -- who had several contentious back-and-forth dealings in his various stints but was no less of a contributor -- San Antonians will get their chance to see him with Suicidal Tendencies at the sixth annual River City Rockfest on Saturday, Sept. 22, outside the AT&T Center (tickets here). Original guitarist and chief songwriter Jeff Hanneman, however, received his tribute on closer "Angel of Death" with his name and "1964-2013" emblazoned on the logo in the shape of his favorite beer Heineken.
"Thank you. Thank you very much. We're going to miss you guys," Araya closed somewhat emotionally as he quickly walked off the stage. King took the opposite approach, triumphantly raising his arms and howling like a bear as Holt and Bostaph continued to toss out souvenirs.
Considering Slayer's merch didn't make reference to this being a farewell tour, there's always hope for another visit. Or, more likely, some will end up joining the thrashiest band alive in the mosh pits of the abyss one day. Such folks can only hope they crank up the music down there, too.
SLAYER SETLIST: Repentless, Blood Red, Disciple, Mandatory Suicide, Hate Worldwide, War Ensemble, Jihad, When the Stillness Comes, Postmortem, Black Magic, Payback, Seasons in the Abyss, Dittohead, Dead Skin Mask, Hell Awaits, South of Heaven, Raining Blood, Chemical Warfare, Angel of Death
LAMB OF GOD SETLIST: Omerta, Ruin, Walk With Me In Hell, Now You've Got Something to Die For, 512, Engage the Fear Machine, Blacken the Cursed Sun, Laid to Rest, Redneck
ANTHRAX SETLIST: Cowboys From Hell riff/Caught in a Mosh, Got the Time, Madhouse, Be All End All, Evil Twin, Antisocial, Indians/Cowboys From Hell riff
TESTAMENT SETLIST: Brotherhood of the Snake, Rise Up, Dog-faced Gods, The Preacher, Practice What You Preach, The New Order, Over the Wall