So, this is it then. The end of an era. A bruising, sweaty, and sometimes controversial, earache-inducing era which spanned over three and a half decades ends with the three words I never wanted to write: Slayer are retiring.
But let’s not get too downhearted. Yes, they’re retiring, but this farewell tour will continue long into 2019, and who knows? With an appearance at Hellfest already scheduled for next year, maybe a brief return to these shores for one last hurrah isn’t actually too farfetched?
Due to a minor technical hitch with the journey to Arena Birmingham (I absolutely did not mix up the venues and go to the Genting Arena instead, and I will fight anybody who says otherwise) I missed opening act Obituary. Even more annoyingly, if what I overheard people saying about them was true, then I apparently missed an absolutely cracking half an hour of swampy Floridian Death Metal.
After getting into the arena and handing over several crinkly bits of paper at the merch stand, second band of the night, New Yorkers Anthrax took to the stage and immediately began whipping up the crowd as only they can do. Absolutely no signs of retiring for these guys as they blasted their way through a crowd-pleasing forty minutes of old favourites like ‘Caught in a Mosh’, ‘I Am The Law’, and ‘Be All, End All’, plus the traditional covers of ‘Got The Time’, and ‘Antisocial’. ‘Evil Twin’ was the sole representative from the band’s recent For All Kings (Nuclear Blast) album, and the band finished with a thoroughly vicious and warlike ‘Indians’.
With the crowd raring to go, Lamb Of God (“From Richmond, Virginia!” of course) stormed the barricades as many of the elder metal gentry made their way to the bar. Whereas Obituary and Anthrax had warmed up the crowd nicely, Lamb of God sent the younger hordes completely over the edge. Circle pits opened up and crowd surfers were launched over the barriers as for the next forty minutes, Arena Birmingham became a warzone.
Over the years, singer Randy Blythe has become a seriously accomplished frontman, and tonight he had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand as the band thrashed and slashed their way through a set that began with ‘Omerta’ and then just got noisier with ‘Ruin’, ‘Walk With Me In Hell’, ‘Now You’ve Got Something to Die For’.
‘512’, ‘Engage the Fear Machine’, Blacken The Cursed Sun’, and ‘Laid To Rest’ followed before the crowd simply fucking exploded to a face-shredding version of ‘Redneck’. Before the show, many people – myself included – wondered why Anthrax were beneath Lamb of God on the bill. A bigger and more respected act they might be, but one look at the audience reaction tonight illustrated instantly how it was the only sensible choice.
Whereas the turnaround between the first three bands had been swift and precise, Slayer hid behind a massive black curtain and made everyone wait that little bit longer. Maybe because they felt the audience needed a little more time to recover after Lamb of God, or possibly just because they’re Slayer and don’t fucking complain about it.
With anticipation building to fever pitch, the lights suddenly went down and across the huge black curtain, four large crosses appeared. The right way up at first before slowly inverting to a huge roar of approval. Slayer had arrived. After the intro ‘Delusions of Savior’ ended, the curtain dropped, the lights came on, and with a huge burst of flames from the back of the stage, the band tore into a monstrous version of ‘Repentless’. With no introduction, and the stage bathed in a deep crimson glow, ‘Blood Red’ came next, followed with zero faffing around by a ridiculously savage ‘Disciple’. This was their final tour and by God, they were on a mission.
Pits opened up everywhere, the crowd surged from front to back and right to left, and still the band didn’t relent. ‘Mandatory Suicide’ ended and ‘Hate Worldwide’ took over with barely a second to gather your senses. Pandemonium. Finally, Tom let the crowd take a breather for a moment before getting everyone scream “WAAAAAAARRRRR!!!” at the top of their lungs before catapulting into an utterly apocalyptic ‘War Ensemble’. ‘Jihad’ followed, and for the first time tonight, the band – against their nature (and pun completely intended) – showed mercy by slowing things down with the dark and moody ‘When The Stillness Comes’.
‘Post Mortem’, ‘Black Magic’, and a terrifyingly brutal ‘Payback’ had the crowd fighting for air once more before tipping many over the edge with a thunderous ‘Seasons in the Abyss’. ‘Dittohead’ simultaneously destroyed thousands of necks, ‘Dead Skin Mask’ was scary enough to give anyone nightmares, and I don’t ever remember hearing set closer ‘Hell Awaits’ played with such fury.
After a short break, in which the word “Slayer” may have been chanted many times, the band eventually re-emerged to the opening strains of ‘South of Heaven’, and off we fucking went again. As encores go, this was simply one of the best I’ve ever heard. Just when you thought there was nowhere else to go, Slayer created another level of Hell with the inhumanly barbaric ‘Chemical Warfare’ and ‘Raining Blood’ before trying their damnedest to kill everyone in the place with the obvious, but no less face-melting finale of ‘Angel of Death’.
Crowds usually disperse at the end of a show but everyone was so thoroughly worn out from all the circle pits, moshing, crowd surfing (especially during ‘Angel Of Death’) that it took Tom to come back out one final time and say a brief, “Thank you, we’ll miss you guys” before the exhausted throng finally turned to leave.
We’ll miss you guys too. Make no mistake about that.
WORDS AND PHOTOS BY GARY ALCOCK