The end is nigh. We go backstage at SLAYERRRR!’s final London show.
Soon, Slayer will be no more. As we prepare to bid farewell to a legend, we went behind the scenes and front row for their fire-fuelled final London show...
The dictionary defines it as “someone who kills a person or animal in a violent way”. For the army of metalheads snaking their way around the network of footpaths that connects Wembley Park Tube station with the legendary Wembley Arena, it’s evidently a six-letter word that encapsulates what metal is all about. One word. Two syllables. Sweary prefix optional. Fuckin’ Slayer.
There it is, as reassuring and inevitable as the rising of the sun: a cry goes up, echoing into the frosty evening air, followed by an immediate, much louder response from a hundred disparate but joyful voices… that word again. No other words required. It’s fuckin’ SLAAAAAAAYYYEEEERRRR. And tonight, they are bidding farewell to London.
The news broke in January. Slayer were to embark on one final world tour, before hanging up their evil boots for good. Although no official explanation has been given for exactly why the band have decided to call it a day, the combination of the loss of Jeff Hanneman in 2013 and frontman Tom Araya’s well-publicised back problems would seem decent enough reasons to at least bring extensive touring to an end. But this was still a shocking announcement: Slayer have always seemed invincible, one of a rare breed of bands that transcend the music itself and become emblematic of something bigger, deeper and impervious to the passage of time. In January, Slayer’s statement was typically abrupt – ‘The End Is Near’ – leaving a global army of fans to brace themselves for the unexpected but sure-to-be explosive climax to one of metal’s most seminal sagas.
As 2018 unfurled, it became clear that Slayer were not pissing about when it came to saying goodbye. The first US leg of a world tour that looks to continue long into 2019 boasted a stellar line-up: Lamb Of God, Anthrax, Behemoth and Testament, with bonus Napalm Death thrown in on certain dates. It’s almost as if Slayer are both celebrating their legacy and passing the torch to those who still adhere to the same fearless musical ethos. In the UK, the bill feels designed as a similar show of strength from metal’s most vital veterans: Lamb Of God and Anthrax are on board again, with Floridian death metal legends Obituary opening the show. As the black-clad hordes begin to pour into the venue, we chat with Obituary drummer Donald Tardy backstage. As he prepares to make his Wembley Arena debut, he eagerly acknowledges the huge influence that Slayer had on his band and the entire extreme metal scene.
“Slayer are in our DNA”, he states matter-of-factly. “They changed everything for me as a drummer. If you didn’t draw power from what they were doing, there was something wrong with you! I remember I was in my bedroom at my mom’s house, listening to [Slayer’s 1983 debut] Show No Mercy on vinyl. Trevor [Peres, Obituary guitarist] had a copy and I couldn’t believe it. It changed everything for me. I grew up with Southern rock, with Lynyrd Skynyrd and Molly Hatchet, you know? But I got into metal and Slayer changed it all.
I tripped immediately. It was what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know you could do it that way. Slayer were a guiding light for us.”
Receiving the offer to tour with Slayer for the first time must have blown your mind, then…
“Oh man, I went back to that same age, back to being a 14-year-old kid in his bedroom with a broom in his hand, just going for it!” Donald grins. “We knew we should be part of this and we couldn’t be more excited and proud and just amazed to be here.
It’s fuckin’ Slayer, man.”
The Obituary drummer is correct. Like Sabbath, Priest, Maiden and Metallica before them, Slayer are not just acknowledged for the greatness of their music and the extent of their influence; they’re fucking Slayer and they represent something that goes beyond songs, gigs and good times.
They represent metal. They represent us.
All of which makes this concluding trundle around the world feel
“SLAYER CHANGED EVERYTHING FOR ME” DONALD TARDY, OBITUARY
less like the end of something than a simple reminder that this music ain’t going anywhere. When Obituary hit the stage at what would normally be a prohibitive 6:20pm, this cavernous venue is at least half full. By the time Anthrax come on, the arena is fucking heaving and it truly feels like a party, albeit a deeply rowdy and drunken one that unites to scream along with the evergreen Antisocial.
Afan since he first heard Show No Mercy and a friend of the band for more than three decades, Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian has spent a lot of time on the road with his fellow Big 4 comrades, particularly in recent times. Backstage at Wembley before his band’s set, he posits his theory as to why tonight’s headliners have become such an iconic force.
“I honestly think a lot of it has to do with Reign In Blood”, Scott notes. “With that record, they created something that left such an indelible mark on everybody that heard it. They created a piece of art that is undeniable in its power and its strength. That’s not to take away from the rest of their catalogue and everything they’ve done, but with the biggest bands, there’s usually one record, one specific time and place, and that’s the big one for Slayer. But the Slayer thing, whatever that is, is even bigger than who they are as a band or what they’ve accomplished commercially. Everybody knows Slayer.”
In one sense, Scott is right. But one huge part of the band’s enduring appeal has been their stoic refusal to stop being, erm, Slayer. A consistent vision in pentagrams, spikes and fire, they have always looked – Tom Araya’s irresistible broad grin aside – like they might stab you up for looking at them funny. That edginess has served them well over the course of 35 years, but Scott Ian mischievously confirms that – whisper it – Slayer can be cuddly, too.
“They’re retiring now so I can let the secret out… Slayer laugh!” he chuckles. “Anyone that doesn’t actually know them, they’ll have an image of them being a certain way because they’re fucking Slayer and they don’t smile in photos. There’s an image to uphold when you’re in that band and I get that. But really they’re just great dudes. They smile a lot, they laugh a lot. They really like funny things! Kerry’s an animal lover. Tom dotes on his grandchild. They’re regular dudes!”
Having fulfilled both the first US leg and this European leg of Slayer’s final world tour, Anthrax look a safe bet to be out on the road with their friends for quite a while yet. As the two bands have effectively grown up together, it must be strange for Scott to contemplate his long-time contemporaries’ decision to quit.
Has it made him think about the end of Anthrax at any point?
“No, it hasn’t,” he states firmly. “We’ll be working on a record next year and our 40th birthday is 2021 and I see no problem making that! If we can all be up there doing it, we will. I saw the Stones not that long ago and Jagger was still fucking amazing, so why not?”
In fact, Scott isn’t yet 100% convinced that Slayer are soon to be gone forever.
“I know that there will eventually be a ‘last show’,” he says. “But maybe they’ll play a show here and there, you know? Stop touring? I understand that. But get together and play a show once in a while? Or if Metallica call and a Big 4 opportunity came along again, why wouldn’t you do that?” Scott was quickly proven right: Slayer have since announced what will be an unmissable final UK show at Download this summer. Expect it to be emotional.
It’s not hard to see what keeps musicians like Scott Ian on the road, either. As Anthrax conclude their set with an exuberant Indians, it briefly looks as if the entire standing section of the crowd is directly involved in a circle pit. At one point, there is Amon Amarth-style rowing breaking out on the floor. The mayhem continues throughout Lamb Of God’s set, with a top-form Randy Blythe saluting Slayer’s supremacy before a feral version of Redneck prompts a mass outbreak of crowdsurfing and yet more wild circle-pitting.
By the time Slayer hit the stage, we should all be exhausted. But these are metal gods, and resistance is futile. From the opening eruption of Repentless onwards, this feels more like a reasserting of authority than a fond farewell. Kerry King and Gary Holt are a ferocious, headbanging, solo-spitting tag team, drummer Paul Bostaph is an octopoid, steam-spraying blur and Tom Araya strides the stage, visibly delighted but still oozing charisma and menace.
There are vast walls of fire bursting from the stage, towering backdrops resplendent with Slayer’s most iconic artwork and imagery and, most importantly, four diehard musicians at the top of their game. The setlist is an outright feast, with songs from nearly every Slayer album and the band’s most cherished classics, all delivered with the kind of venomous intensity that you really wouldn’t expect from a band edging towards retirement. But this is Slayer, after all, so it’s time for one last bold visual tribute to Jeff Hanneman and a final, four-song explosion from the depths of Hell: South Of Heaven, Raining Blood, Chemical Warfare, Angel Of fucking Death. Songs that defined an era and that continue to inspire and exhilarate, performed by one of the greatest metal bands ever to do it.
Not so much “goodbye” as “follow that, fuckers!” Tonight wasn’t just a gig. It was a fuckin’ Slayer gig.
What a way to go.
“Slayer have an image to uphold, but they laugh, too!”
SCOTT IAN, ANTHRAX
Nearly four decades in, we can probably allow tom araya some downtime Scott Ian playing some red-hot table SoccerBall
Fun note: this was actually taken at a michael Bublé show (it wasn’t)
Pfft, poser. Probably got all those patches from h&m
It’s not goodbye, just… actually, no, it is goodbye
You just don’t get this shit at Disney on Ice. er, we hope…
Slayer play their final UK Show at download in jUne.Obituary iS oUt now via relapSe. anthrax’S FOrall Kings iS oUt now via nUclear BlaSt