Tom Araya stood stoically near the edge of the stage as waves of applause washed over him.
The Slayer bassist and his bandmates had just finished their final New Jersey show on their current farewell tour. After the final crunch of vicious set-closer “Angel of Death,” the thrash metal heroes took prolonged bows and tossed guitar picks to eager fans. Eventually, only Araya was left on the stage.
He spent at least ten minutes slowly meandering from one side of the amphitheater to the other, basking in the adulation of the crowd. Though he occasionally cracked a grin, Araya stood mostly expressionless as he scanned the thousands of cheering supporters providing a lengthy standing ovation. As much as the road has taken a physical toll on Araya (the bassist has suffered hearing loss and endured back surgery over the years), the decision to retire from touring can’t be an easy one.
As the crowd roared, Araya was likely storing the ovation in his memory banks, to fondly recall during his retirement.
Barring the announcement of additional tour dates, the show presumably marked the final local appearance for Slayer, who are calling it quits after a career of nearly four decades. During that time, the band redefined thrash metal and cemented a legacy as one of the finest heavy bands of all time. And they did it all in uncompromising fashion, refusing to cater to music trends and receiving little support from radio or the mainstream press.
While Slayer was undoubtedly the main attraction at the BB&T Pavilion show, a stone’s throw across the river from Philadelphia, attendees were treated to a slate full of top metal bands.
Death metal veterans Cannibal Corpse led things off with a brief set that included “Hammer Smashed Face,” its best-known song. Next, Amon Amarth impressed with a powerful display of its Viking-themed bravado. Its stage featured a replica of the bow of a Viking ship, as singer Johan Hegg stalked around on tunes like “Twilight of the Thunder God” and guzzled from a drinking horn, toasting Slayer and the other bands on the bill. Lamb of God opted for a sparser production, but kept the energy high during a powerful set, as wiry front man Randy Blythe bounced about like a jack-in-the-box, firing up the crowd during songs such as “Walk With Me in Hell” and “Redneck.”
But as enjoyable as the openers might have been, the crowd was really there for one reason: the mighty Slayer. Leading off with “Repentless” backed by walls of flame shooting up from both sides of drummer Paul Bostaph, Slayer immediately showed that they’re as good as ever. This might be a farewell tour, but the band was not showing its age.
Guitarists Kerry King and Gary Holt traded leads and unleashed a barrage of sinister riffs during a 20-song set that included favorites like “South of Heaven,” “Chemical Warfare,” “Hell Awaits,” and “Raining Blood.”
The band barely paused in between songs, unleashing one furious assault after another. Slayer’s inventive use of flame effects enhanced the show in eye-popping manner, as the fire occasionally made crisscross patterns or the shape of a cross.
Immediately following its set, Slayer invited their entire crew, as well as the band members and staff of the support acts, onstage for a group photo. It served as an indication of the family atmosphere that’s being fostered on this farewell tour, and the efforts to document a band in its final days as an active unit.
After the final ovation, Araya paused briefly in front of a microphone. “Thank you very much,” he said. “We’ll miss you guys.” There would be no lengthy farewell speeches on this night.
With that, he strode offstage as the house lights went up. If this is truly the last hurrah for Slayer as a live act, they left their fans with an incredible memory to savor.