Fifteen thousand metal-heads, ninety degrees of Georgia heat, five thrash bands, and one dixie storm was the formula for the Atlanta stop of Slayer’s current tour on Friday, August 10. Luckily the rain ceased before the beginning of the show, but an early afternoon downpour made sure Cellairis Amphitheater at Lakewood was a steamy cauldron of blood, sweat, beer, and metal for what could be Slayer fans’ last chance to see the band live. Slayer has announced they will be retiring following the conclusion on this tour.
No one would expect to Slayer to end their career quietly and they certainly lived up to expectations enlisting Lamb of God, Anthrax, Testament, and Napalm Death as opening acts to give the thrash kings a proper send off. All the bands date back to the early eighties and the origins of thrash with the exception of Lamb of God, who formed in the mid nineties.
British extreme metal band Napalm Death opened the show working the early crowd into a frenzy while still in the hottest part a Georgia August day. Bay Area thrashers Testament followed. Like most of the bands, they concentrated on fan favorites including “Over the Wall” and “Practice What You Preach,” but also worked some newer tracks into the set. Guitarist Alex Skolnick upheld his reputation as one the premiere guitar players in metal.
Somewhat surprisingly Anthrax was next on the bill. Certainly Lamb of God has been one of the most popular metal bands of the new millennium and many credit them with ushering in a new era of thrash, but as one of the original Big Four (the Big Four of thrash include the original four thrash bands: Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax) many assumed Anthrax would play directly before Slayer. Some fans voiced their opinions that this was disrespectful to Anthrax, but it didn’t dampen their enthusiasm once they took the stage. With original singer Joey Belladonna back in the lineup, they ran down a list of greatest hits from that era including “Caught in the Mosh,” “ Madhouse,” “Antisocial,” “Indians,” and of course the Joe Jackson cover of “Got the Time.” It’s easy to forget that most of the musicians playing Friday are well into their fifties, but Anthrax still performs with the energy they did thirty years ago and Scott Ian is one of metal’s most iconic musicians and personalities. Anthrax has always seemed to be a band that could balance the seriousness and darkness of the music while remembering that ultimately it’s supposed to be fun. It’s good to see that hasn’t changed.
I admittedly have never followed Lamb of God closely but was told to reserve judgment until seeing them live. That was good advice. The band sounded great, but vocalist Randy Blythe commanded the stage with an intensity that could rival any. Pacing back and forth across the front of the stage like a caged lion, Blythe had the pit-faithful in full mosh mode. The front seven rows of seats were removed to make room for a general admission pit directly in front of the stage and the fans put this space to use during Lamb of God’s set.
My indifference to Lamb of God probably stems from an attitude that thrash was not just a style but an era and therefore not seeing any room for something new in genre. I may have to give their music a closer listen to see if I still feel the same way. I would recommend seeing them live and will definitely make an effort to see them perform again.
After four hours of music, the fans were primed for Slayer. They opened with “Repentless” off their most recent album. During the set, flames shot across the stage forming the shapes of pentagrams and inverted crosses. The heat could be felt from at least a hundred out from the stage. They played songs from their entire thirty-eight year career, but the latter half of their set concentrated more on the classics such “Chemical Warfare,” Seasons in the Abyss,” and “South of Heaven,” and the stadium erupted when the opening riff of “Raining Blood” began. Slayer also paid tribute to founding guitarist Jeff Hanneman, who passed away in 2013. A curtain was dropped with the words “Hanneman Angel of Death Still Reigning” written in the design of a Heineken logo, similar to the limited edition beer logo Heineken printed after his death. Knowing the set was coming to a close, Lakewood burst into a deafening roar when “Angel of Death” began. It’s a rare thing to see a band knowing it may be the last time and this was apparent to the fans as few left before the end of the show. It was clear they wanted all the Slayer they could get and Slayer gave them exactly what they wanted.
The tour continues through the end of the year. There are some European festival dates booked for 2019 and rumors of possible Big Four shows in the future, after which Slayer states they will retire. It’s difficult to imagine a metal world without Slayer. Even in my forties it seems like they’ve always been one of the defining bands in metal. Whether this will be the first on many “final” tours or the actual final tour we’ll have to wait and see. I suspect (and hope) that Slayer will continue showing professional dignity and end their career when it’s time without dragging the end out for several years. Either way, a final chance to see them live could be slipping away!