SLAYER's Untimely Demise: The Final Tour

June 4, 2018, 2 months ago

Mark Gromen

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For nearly four decades, Slayer fans have relished ghastly tales of death, yet when the band decide to euthanize their career, these same individuals didn't understand, balking and crying foul. Love is a strange emotion! Sadly, the media couldn't adequately chronicle their last show in the NJ/NYC market, as photographers had to shoot from the soundboard, half a football field away. The venue has been a regular summer stop for almost as long as Slayer have been around, yet advance production team somehow didn't realize there's no photo pit (typically shoot from the aisles, with patrons already seated!). What's worse, a week of publicists' time and effort was wasted, sorting out the myriad of photo passes, yet almost all photogs walked away with little to use for their stories/galleries.

Sure, Slayer played Jones Beach, the next day, and Mohegan Sun, the night before (Slayer at a casino? In the ‘80s, never could have imagined!), but this was the final show for the Old Bridge Militia and many other early area supporters. Eleven months ago, the same unholy trinity (Slayer, Lamb Of God & Behemoth) played a special outdoor show in a monsoon (in the parking lot of the Electric Factory, in Philly). Now augmenting that line-up with Testament and Anthrax, many of the same fans (myself included) had to endure 90+ temperatures and the threat of another deluge (that thankfully never developed) in Holmdel, NJ: the PNC Arts Center. Apparently, God Hates Us All.

As with the last few tours, the night begins with a curtain draped across the stage. Since this is outdoors, there's a small conflagration burning either side of the drum riser as spotlights fix various logos (inverted crosses, pentagrams, Slayer sword/eagle insignia) on the translucent wall. As the band walks on, to the opening strains of "Repentless", the drapery falls and 90 minutes of bedlam ensues. The roles are now well known. Gary Holt, jumping around, stage right, like an unhinged, amped up jack-in-the-box. Opposite side, there's Kerry King, bald tattooed and bearded, practically evil incarnate. Truck chains dangling from his waist as he delivers the most sinister hooks a whammy bar allows. In the center, bassist/singer Tom Araya, looking thinner/healthier (maybe it's the return to black hair, dyed, rather than the natural full head of gray/Grateful Dead locks that he's sported the last couple of tours), and dare I say pleased, almost nonchalant. Periodic flames, now and throughout the night, (there's something copacetic about fire and dark sounding music), erupt, as the song continues under flashing yellow and red lights. Crimson is also the color for the short, fog enshrouded "Blood Red" follow-up. A purple that distorts digital cameras, punctuated by angular spotlights of white, for "Disciple", with its familiar crowd sung "God hates us all" chorus, sees streams of flames initially form a pair of upside down crosses, then descend into an across-the-stage firefight.

Quick three songs in and it's on to the old (‘80s) stuff, with blue tinted "Mandatory Suicide", everyone changing places, as King goes right, Holt solos in the center and Araya, after one of his meandering strolls, on the left. A trio of tracer fire is laid down, culminating in multiple full-on sprays of flames. Feel like I need a firefighter's degree to survive the repeated  blazing flare-ups onstage. After racing through "Hate Worldwide", there's the primal bellow of green lit "War Ensemble", a drummer's delight. Come the chorus, the pyro seemingly re-enacts actual warfare. From here on out, they never go more than a couple of songs without returning to the golden era. Although the night begins with a backdrop depicting the current album artwork, during the course of the show it changes. After Tom thanks the crowd, the backline is adorned with a pair of helmet wearing skulls, emblazoned with "Slayer Nation" and a giant depiction of the band's crossed sword logo. 

From here on out, they never go more than a couple of songs without returning to the golden era. Stage black prior to gt-green/yellow "Jihad", begun with only King facing the crowd. Mini July 4th celebration takes back onstage. "Black Magic" (even as only a casual Slayer fan, always loved that tune) and "Postmortem" circle back, to keep everyone interested. Short, yellow lit "Dittohead" adds more fuel to the fire, with yet another backdrop: partial skull and crudely hacked logo.

As with their most recent tours, the final third of the evening houses all classics. An unbelievable run through, shall we say, fan's favorite slices. "Dead Skin Mask", is lit with almost Day-Glo blues, while Araya in fluorescent/glow-in-the-dark green. The cauldron slowly boils on this one. Strobes and omnipresent stage fog, the guitarists switch sides once again and come the chorus, Tom merely sings the beginning "Dance with the dead in my dreams," then walks away from the mic, as fans fill in the requisite lyrics. Rousing "Hell Awaits" is the proper set closer, but Slayer don't play the usual encore trick.   

After a momentary blackened stage, the telltale strains to "South Of Heaven" call out, the stage enveloped in fog and eerie blue lights. From the first verse, the crowd is singing along, although some are unable to keep up as the pace quickens, yet still willing to accentuate the titular chorus. Guess what color the stage turned for "Raining Blood"? All stringed players with back to the audience as a sudden bursts of flames could be felt in the crowd, even on a humid night. It was almost as if there was a hose, dispensing liquid flames being wildly whipped around the stage. Seeing the reaction, I'm convinced a Slayer hologram, complete with accompanying fireworks (literally), would work. Deep blue/purple, with yellow highlights for "Chemical Warfare”, guitarists once again on atypical sides, although King returns to his left before he and Holt trade lead breaks. "Angel Of Death" begins under flood of green, pierced by sea of white headlights. Suddenly a blank backdrop falls, revealing a play on the Heineken logo, commemorating fallen original guitarist Jeff Hanneman. Fire shoots in every direction above the band. Maybe it's the residuals of all the flames, or the speed at which Slayer are working, but clouds of smoke/fog billow behind Araya, center stage. King goes stage opposite to jam with Holt one last time. During the final wild guitar run, the stage literally bursts in to flames, atop the entire expanse of the amps, both sides of the drum riser. 

All night, licked by the flames of Hell, his minions approve. Long live Slayer!

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