The floor moves, little ones pass overhead and anyone falling is in danger of being trampled: riotous SLAYER pit, or Black Friday shopping frenzy? Few family holiday gatherings can compete with a Jagger amped Kerry King (guitar) and the sinister, serial killer inspired stare of frontman/bassist Tom Araya, the lone remaining original members of SLAYER. Any tryptophan hangover, or midnight shopping spree malaise was quickly blown away, as the thrash legends dominated the Susquehanna Bank amphitheater, enclosed for the winter months. Only one more day left on the current North American tour.
Just in time for the holidays, the precious gift (offering?) of an old-school set. Probably seen the band in concert more than two dozen times: headlining arenas, festival appearances, even back in the club days, yet I don’t consider myself a SLAYER fan. Have amassed almost their entire discography, although never bought a single one. When it comes to requests or jukebox plays (ask BraveWords founder Metal Tim about the post-Wacken bar in Gluckstadt), I’m exclusively drawn to the first four albums (EPs too), a time when I was a younger, the band was rawer and the music “new.” I respect their position in the metal hierarchy and the fire and brimstone live show still exudes primal aggression, but this Back To The Future evening was killer!
On paper, the idea of a holiday concert date sounds great. In reality, it proves to be a double edge sword. Travel plans, family commitments (kids home), money earmarked for other needs, all conspired to dwarf (elf?) ticket sales, necessitating a $1 sale for the month leading up to Nov 29th and ultimately a ticket giveaway! For some SLAYER fans, an early present. Needless to say, when the band took the stage, the indoor arena was packed. The Jumbotrons on opposing walls gave an overview of the sparse stage (a quartet of inverted crosses hang from the sky, but no mountain of amps, just a drum rise and neatly disguised lighting effects), but the up-close cameras, typically utilized during the summer, to simulcast events to those on the grassy lawn, were no in use. Too bad, as fans missed Tom Araya’s playful smile, especially directed at bushy bearded guitarist Gary Holt (EXODUS) whose head was a riveting jackhammer all night long. On the opposite side of the stage, truck chain wearing Kerry King was the wizard of hammer ons and whammy bar. Sick stuff!
The lights go black and smoke billows from a white curtain. Election of a new Pope? Far from it, “Hell Awaits” greets the screams of ravenous fans, the stage bathed in a fitting crimson hue. Araya is center stage, flanked by a guitarist either side of him. He moves precariously, the back surgery that forced him to cancel shows earlier this year, still fresh in his mind. He is, however gingerly, traversing the entire stage, once more. Besides, he has two hyperactive dynamos next to him. For ‘The Antichrist’, Araya and Holt enjoying a chuckle as it kicks in, and ‘Necrophiliac’, the lights alternate between blue, green and the omnipresent red. Like Reign In Blood, the sonic delivery is fast and virtually non-stop, one song segueing into the next with no chatter from Araya. When he does finally address the crowd (some five songs in), the bassist thanks everyone for being there and also makes a plea to watch out for the women in attendance: “I know you like to go in a circle and beat the shit out of each other, but be mindful of the women. Be mindful of who you’re hitting.” These days, he looks like the cross-pollenation of Jerry Garcia (GRATEFUL DEAD) and hippie cult murderer Charles Manson.
‘Captor Of Sin’ sees the suspended crucifixes joined by the first of several backdrop changes, his one featuring the SLAYER embosses military helmet wearing skull, as red/pink fog floods the stage, King threatening to work the whammy bar loose from his guitar. The cannonading drums, now occupied, once again, by Paul Bostaph (EXODUS), signal a green & yellow lit ‘War Ensemble’, which sees King leave his side of the stage for the first time, to partner up with Holt. I’ve not been in battle, but every movie/documentary shows the battlefield to be a shadowy, smoke screen landscape. From the seats, the stage looks similar, a barrage of flashing strobes, back lit figures shrouded in smoke and those ominous crosses, now highlighted in gold, piercing the mystic veil.
‘Postmortem’ sees Araya stroll to King’s vacated spot, as the guitar duo is once more stage right. Unlike television shows, movies and video games, this SLAYER show possesses no medical warning about the tremendous use of rapid fire strobes. Blinding! During ‘Altar Of Sacrifice’ Holt finally greets the fans on King’s side of the stage, having thus far remained in his own realm. Another backdrop change for ‘Die By The Sword’, to the classic SLAYER logo inscribed in a pentagram of swords. The once offset crucifixes now sparkle silver, having been aligned, all four level across the stage. As the night wore on, it was evident Araya was getting more into it, throwing caution to the wind. No, he didn’t headbang or run around the stage (none of them do that), nor did he rarely venture beyond his circle from the mic to drum riser and back, but his entire body was keeping time with the music, throwing himself into it (the best he can, yet maintain a margin of safety).
The band took the stage at 9:30 and by 10pm, all beers vendors had closed up shop for the evening. The food stalls were still operational, but not the “refreshments”. Dorothy, we’re not in Germany anymore! Following the meandering, almost acoustic intro, ‘Seasons In The Abyss’ had the guitarists completely swap side, as the crowd sings the familiar, machine-gunned lyrics: “Close Your eyes and forget your name. Step outside yourself and let your thoughts drain As you go insane!” Since there are now as many members of EXODUS and there are SLAYER originals, nice tip of the cap to Holt and Bostaph “helping” them out, by airing a frenetic ‘Strike Of The Beast’ (which fits nicely amongst the Slatanic originals), off Bonded By Blood. The wicked trio of ‘Dead Skin Mask’, a red lit, feedback induced ‘Raining Blood’ (Holt with his back to crowd at the start) and ‘Black Magic’ ended the proper set.
There were a couple of notable holes left in the program, but fear not, as a sea of fog and strobe blitzkrieg render the band ghostly silhouettes for ‘South Of Heaven’, while ‘Angel Of Death’ was predominately in blue foggy haze, until the very end, with a culminating eruption of white lights (only such visual of the night) as Araya shouted the titular phrase one final time. At the end, Araya made sure to introduce and thank both Holt and Bostaph, who came out from behind the drums, to the front of the stage.
Given what I witnessed tonight, pretty sure the band will continue and well they should.
More photos from Philadelphia can be seen here.