Slayer Close Out First Leg of Farewell Tour with Blistering, Career-Spanning Austin Performance

 Scott Legato/Getty Images
Tom Araya and Kerry King of Slayer perform at Michigan Lottery Amphitheatre on May 27, 2018 in Sterling Heights, Mich.

Tom Araya can still scream longer and harder than anybody else. 

Slayer’s grizzled lead vocalist and bassist asserted his laryngeal dominance over some 14,000 fans at the Austin360 Amphitheater on Wednesday night (June 20), the final stop on the first leg of the thrash titans’ hefty farewell tour. Araya, now 57, bade the audience to help him introduce the band’s 1990 classic “War Ensemble” by screaming “Waaaaarrrrrrr!” at the top of their lungs. Even the most valiant headbangers’ cries quickly dissolved, giving way to Araya’s inimitable, bloodcurdling roar. 

Since their inception in 1981, Slayer have built a career out of playing harder and faster than their peers and making virtually zero mainstream concessions. The SoCal four-piece released a string of seminal thrash classics in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, including their genre-defying 1986 magnum opus, Reign in Blood. In other words: Slayer doesn’t really do sentimentality, and if you expected a warm, fuzzy walk down memory lane from their farewell tour, shame on you. The band’s blistering 90-minute performance only showed a few telltale signs of a final voyage: The flaming pillars burned a little higher than usual, the rotting Christ stage backdrop shone a little brighter this time around, and the four men onstage played with more calculated fury than they had in years. 

Eager to dispel the “nostalgia act” label early, Slayer opened their 19-song set with the title track from their most recent studio album, 2015’s Repentless. Araya barked his societal indictments with gusto as drummer Paul Bostaph (who replaced Dave Lombardo in the ‘90s and again in 2013) mixed nimble fills and breakneck beats. Co-founding guitarist Kerry King traded bludgeoning riffs and dizzying chromatic solos with newer axe-wielder Gary Holt, who expertly filled the shoes of late founding guitarist and chief songwriter Jeff Hanneman, as he has since first joining the band on tour in '11. 

Primitive production stripped early Slayer classics of some of their power, but onstage, each song roared to life with newfound muscle and urgency. The band sampled its entire discography (save for 1998’s nu metal-inspired Diabolus in Musica), pairing 21st-century sluggers like “Payback” and “Disciple” with menacing, mid-tempo throwbacks like “South of Heaven” and “Mandatory Suicide.” Unlike some of their Big Four thrash brethren, Slayer have refused to alter their tempos or play in a different key as they’ve aged: When Araya roared “I reject this fuckin' race, I despise this fuckin' place” on “Disciple,” it still packed the same bone-crushing wallop as it did upon its release on Sept. 11, 2001.

Playing 19 songs in 90 minutes is no small feat, and Slayer left little downtime to address the audience, instead opting to barrel through songs with machine-gun precision. Bostaph teased the intro to “Raining Blood” with tantalizing tom hits before King and Holt unleashed the hellish, descending riff that’s inspired countless bedroom shredders and thwarted infinite Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock players. The two guitarists closed the song with a cacophony of feedback and whammy bar squeals that was simultaneously awe-inspiring and nearly unbearable. 

Yet even “Raining Blood” paled in comparison to Slayer’s final song, the epochal Blood​opener “Angel of Death,” which morbidly chronicles the human experiments that Nazi physician Josef Mengele conducted in concentration camps. Araya loosed an inhuman scream that sounded like he’d been shocked by 10,000 volts, cast in shadow by the flames licking the sky on either side of him. A banner emblazoned with Hanneman’s name in the shape of a Heineken logo and the words “Angel of Death, 1964-2013, Still Reigning” fell from the rafters as the band thrashed incessantly, summoning their final reserves of strength for their sprint to the finish line. 

And then, it was over. The audience roared as the band wordlessly finished “Angel of Death.” The band handed off their instruments and welcomed the entire cast and crew of the tour onstage for a “family photo,” and Araya addressed the crowd one last time. “Four simple words: Thank you very much,” he said. “We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you.” 

With the first leg of their farewell tour under their belt, Slayer inched closer to leaving this world just as they entered it: on their own terms.


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