SLAYER Final Tour 

Valley View Casino Center, San Diego

May 10, 2018

by El Chief

"San Diego, thanks for breaking the cherry on this mother fucking tour," Scott Ian bellowed to a sold out Valley View Casino Center crowd on May 10. The Anthrax guitarist had barely broken a sweat during the 40-minute set, in part because the Gotham thrash titan found himself in an unaccustomed spot: the middle act in a five-band powerhouse bill. But at least on this weekday night no group bitched publicly over their spot in the pecking order. Because the tour Ian had just welcomed 7,500 insane metal freaks to was none other than the opening night on what's shaping up to be an extended farewell for the scariest thrashers of them all: Slayer.
And it was one I almost missed. Fortunately I was able to get a last-minute ticket and, while I arrived too late to bear witness to Testament, the night was worth the extra trinkets I threw into Satan's coffers.

Slayer formed in 1981. Back then, the Gallup organization reported that 87 percent of Americans identified as Christians, with only 7 percent of people checking the box for "not religious." In those formative years of heavy metal, bands largely wrote about drugs, sex and mysticism. But thrash and speed metal aficionados took aim at the Bible, firing lyrical missives at those who preached hypocritical dogmas. While Slayer clearly can't take all of the credit for driving a wedge between the faithful and the skeptical, the percentage of Americans who remained steadfast in their faith had fallen by nearly twenty points.
Set amid eerie chanting, two large balls of flame heralded Behemoth vocalist and guitarist Adam "Nergal" Darski's arrival to the Valley View Casino Center stage. The fire was extinguished, but not the smell of incense, seconds before drummer Inferno counted Poland's black metal legends into the opening chords of the traditional opening song "Ov Fire and the Void." While the bulk of San Diegans had yet to arrive, those who were on hand for the second act were treated to a truncated set of intricately woven Satanic anthems from Lucifer's main men. Nergal acknowledged the problematic nature of fronting a pagan band when he bellowed to the crowd, "We're here to worship music," then somewhat less confidently, "and freedom."  The reference was to his latest brush with zealots, a case brought by his home government accusing him of mocking Poland's coat of arms in a recent T-shirt design. Those charges were dismissed last month, and a check of the merch table showed that trinket to be in stock. It's a beautiful design and, unlike the art on the typical concert shirt, worth the inflated price. But the drop in Nergal's tone betrayed his confidence in being exonerated. Despite nearly forty years of bands like Slayer leading the fight against religious fervor, the crusaders of the cross were still out there, desperately hoping to make the lives of metalheads as miserable as possible. 

That controversy aside, Behemoth whipped through their allotted six-songs in fine form. The group's stellar songwriter skills are best heard in a live setting. It's marvelous to watch the seamless transitions from heavy to light and from brooding to, well, more brooding unfold before your eyes. As the 2013 masterpiece attests, "The Satanist" ranks among extreme metal's most pure albums. Behemoth also unveiled a new track on the night, "Wolves ov Siberia." It's a little tough to tell just how good the track is, though, because the guitars were tuned so low (cue the Deathklok joke: they were most likely set to H-flat) that they withered beneath the punishing drumbeat pulsing from the lightning fast sticks of Inferno.

A half-an-album's worth of songs from Behemoth is a shame, but it's necessary when five phenomenal bands shared one stage on a single night. As a way to atone, Behemoth is teaming up with Lamb of God to do shows on nights between gigs with Slayer. I strongly recommend you catch those, if you can.

In 1981, no one knew if rock 'n' roll could survive a double-fisted threat from punk and disco. It's body further bloodied by several feuds that opened severe rifts—if not complete dissolution—of stalwart acts such as Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. For a legion of emerging guitar heroes, the mellow chords strummed by the likes of the Eagles would not cut it. Little did they know, a youngster with an unassuming name, Jeff Hanneman, was teaming up with another unknown, Kerry King, to reinvigorate a scene that many critics considered to be played out less than two decades after fresh-faced kids like Paul McCartney, John Lennon and Keith Richards stole Prometheus's flame.

I never got to see Anthrax in the years when John Bush fronted the band. But it's hard to believe that those concerts were more enjoyable than the three times I've seen them led by lead singer Joey Belladonna. I don't know what's happening in Belladonna's life, but if there's even an ounce of darkness there the dude does not let it show. It's easy to presume that the eternally bouncy long hair is probably the only thrasher who punctuates his emails with enough happy faces to make you wonder if the text was written by a prepubescent girl. So, it's no surprise that Belladonna refused to leave the stage until he improvised a ditty about rock never being allowed to die.
Longtime Anthrax fans can turn on you in a second just for mentioning Bush. The band routinely fills out its setlist with nary a nod to the years 1992-2005. That's a shame, because "The Sound of White Noise" is my favorite Anthrax long-play, and even the underrated "Volume 8: The Threat is Real" is better than the two records Anthrax has produced since Belladonna returned. When they trotted out "Evil Twin," the circle pit slowed to a crawl and people seated near me headed for a piss break and beer refills.
Holding a spot in thrash metal's "The Big Four," Anthrax, to me, is best known for figuring out how to bridge the gap between rock and rap during the '80's. For that reason, I was a little bummed Anthrax didn't play any of the songs that helped usher in the much-despised era of nu-metal. However, I was pleased with the songs they did perform, with the highlight being "Antisocial." My love for that song is so strong that I would not have minded if that was the only song on the set list, blasted on repeat.
In rock's formative years there was a natural progression for bands. Newcomers were relegated to opening act fodder for established acts. For example, several 80's hair bands like Dokken cut their chops warming up crowds for heavy hitters like AC/DC. The first time I saw Metallica was when they opened for the Scorpions and Van Halen. But this was also back when several metal/hard rock bands could fill arenas. 

Back in 2008, I was able to see Lamb of God for the first time. They were wrapping up the "Sacrament" tour by opening for Metallica. I thought that was great news because metal's most commercial act was handpicking Lamb of God to be the next Big Thing.  But then the world was turned upside down, studios lost their power, and the headbangers hailing from Richmond, Virginia, were relegated to opening mid-level venues. Not that they could complain, though, because other acts breaking around the same time as Lamb of God have yet to even achieve that level of acclaim. Deserving extreme metal bands like Gojira, Meshuggah, and Goatwhore must tour practically non-stop and often have to craft supertours just to be able to fill up a 5,000-person capacity concert hall. With the imminent loss of Slayer, metal and rock acts still capable of playing stadiums are essentially down to Metallica, Iron Maiden, U2, Foo Fighters and Pearl Jam.

Randy Blythe damn near smashed his face before Lamb of God had even launched into the chorus of "Omerta," which had replaced "Desolation" as the group's opener. The stick pole of a man was a flurry of dreadlocks and legs as he vaulted high off the drum riser, something he's probably done hundreds of time before. But this time, his feet didn't plant fully on the ground. He stumbled and lurched toward the front edge of the stage before those spindly legs finally steadied and kept him from flying over the monitors. He played the pratfall well, not missing a single screamed lyric. But for all of us in the audience who felt every bit of Bylthe's 47 years on the planet, we knew what happened: The body just ain't what it used to be. 

Blythe seemed to admit it a few minutes later when he joked, "Welcome to the Grown Ass Men Tour, 2.0." While he was referencing the fact that Lamb of God and Behemoth opened for Slayer last year, he was also admitting that Thursday night's lineup didn't include a single act whose musicians were not playing the back nine of life. If Slayer could have gotten their farewell tour sponsored, AARP or Geritol would have had their names plastered on the banner.Blythe and the rest of his Virginia hellions deserve better. Millions should be worshipping at the steady beat of drummer Chris Adler and becoming entranced by the snaking leads from guitarist Mark Morton. But Blythe is resolved to being little more than a "glorified black T-shirt seller." Several times Lamb of God have tried to take a breather and deal with family matters before finding themselves being pulled back into another tour, so they can play the hits and watch the pile of black tees shrink one $40 shirt at a time.

But Lamb of God aren't interested in just playing the songs everyone wants to hear. Their set during the Slayer tour leaned heavy on songs from their latest record, "Sturm Und Drang." And unlike Anthrax and Slayer, Lamb of God's newer tunes are every bit as good as their classics.

“But when you watch Ozzy Osbourne stumbling around in his kitchen picking up dog poop on The Osbournes, well that scary part is gone, isn’t it? Rock, we’ve almost outgrown it as a culture. There are other things that are dangerous.” --Maynard James Keenan (Tool/A Perfect Circle/Puscifer), as told to Spencer Kornhaber in the April 19, 2018 edition of The Atlantic.

Roughly 30 minutes after Lamb of God departed, heavy metal's biggest poser took the stage. Sirius-XM personality Jose Mangin stood alone, but his ego filled every square inch of the riser. While his love for the genre seemed sincere, he's the type of guy who has to turn every anecdote into a parable about him, and as a result, he gets booed lustily wherever he appears. But this time Mangin had something more important to say than reminding us he once met late Pantera guitarist "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott: "The show can't go on unless you guys help us out. We need everyone to clear out of the aisles and find some seats. (The Valley View Casino Center staff) are making more sections available right now. I've been talking about this show forever, so please don't let it be canceled."

Most didn't think he was serious. A quick consensus formed that this was just a ploy by Slayer to drum up even more anticipation for their set. But, it seemed to me that the pre-show music was repeating, and that the precision timing between sets had been upset. I wasn't entirely sure what Mangin meant by people in the aisles, because from my vantage point, the aisles in the seated sections were clear—except for the standing room only crowd lining the large aisle separating the lower bowl from the curtained-off upper bowl—but the delay did feel like the work of the fire marshal.

About the same time that I thought I heard an AC/DC song play for the third time (to be fair, who can tell?), the arena lights finally dimmed and floodlights illuminated the Slayer logo on the curtain hanging in front of the stage. The presumably last Slayer performance before a San Diego audience was finally kicking off.

Co-founding guitarist Kerry King joined forces with sometimes-Slayer guitarist Gary Holt to jam out the opening riffs to the self-titled track of Slayer's extremely forgettable and supposedly final album "Repentless." But then the thrashers put that one away and we settled in for what we figured would be two hours of an energetic, angry and perhaps even at times wistful goodbye to one of metal's greatest bands.

But in the middle of "Hate Worldwide," singer Tom Araya stopped playing to talk to who I thought was a roadie and the song skidded to a close, After, Araya was left alone at the mic, to remind the audience that the fire marshal had not stopped watching the aisles.
This interruption was both ridiculous and preventable.

While the arena manager would later tell reporter George Varga of the San Diego Union-Tribune that "entitled fans" were to blame, the real culprit was how the arena managed the crowd. Or, to put it more plainly, how they refused to manage the crowd. Every ticket was advertised as general admission, meaning you could sit or stand wherever you like. I can't be sure, but I believe pit tickets came with an extra price. However, neither ushers nor event security could be bothered with checking for credentials to the arena floor, so people did exactly what you would expect: head to the floor. I did spot a sign that read to the effect of in and out privileges to the floor would be suspended once capacity was reached, but that mark appeared to have been met before Lamb of God took the stage, and yet ushers continued to ignore more people crowding in. 

The second issue was that no one bothered to set up barriers on the floor so that aisles could be erected and enforced. Temporary metal fencing would have kept the area clear, and the concert would've gone off without that arena manager having to worry one bit about the mindset of ticket buyers he obviously didn't like.  So, if those precious minutes that ticked by without Slayer being able to play resulted in a minimized set list, then the blame for a shortened performance falls mostly on Valley View Casino Center management. Varga clocked Slayer's night at 90 minutes. If later performances prove to last longer, then San Diegans have the right to proclaim that the lack of proper crowd control cheated them of value.

Fortunately for law enforcement and the blundering venue bigwigs, Araya accepted graciously the request to keep the thundering hoards under control. Standing alone on the stage, Araya merely shrugged and reminded the audience that laws exist to keep people safe. He hinted at the horrors witnessed by Ariana Grande and the Eagles of Death Metal as terrorists killed dozens during their concerts in England and France respectively. The suggestion worked, the aisles were once again free, and Araya asked the faithful to help him launch into "War Ensemble," completing the irony that Slayer could ever be commandeered to keep the peace between odes to destruction.

Afterward, Slayer kicked off on an extended set of tunes tailored to King's limited playing abilities. That provided a chance to study the contrasts between King and Holt. While King often stared holes into his fret board, afraid that looking away would cause his fingers to forget where to land, Holt rarely took his eyes off the crowd. That's not surprising, given that the songs off "Repentless" where largely written without Holt's involvement. The death of co-founding Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman allowed King to no longer have to share writing credits, and much like Metallica's reaction to the death of bassist Cliff Burton, King wrested control by denying Holt the chance to put his massive shredding abilities on display with "Repentless." The prophesied end to Slayer made Holt's addition to the band one of the biggest wastes of all time. I had hoped Holt would be allowed to add to Slayer's legacy with their next release, but, thankfully, I will still be able to hear his mastery at the riff when he returns to his main band, Exodus. All that I could do on this night, then, was wonder how Holt felt about playing arrangements written by others. The best I could come up with was that it must feel like using someone else's dick to fuck his wife. Perhaps that's why he looked so passionless on stage. He was getting the applause, but he knew Hanneman was doing the work.

The confliction I felt when thinking of Holt's time in the band did not extend to the other "new" member, drummer Paul Bostaph. I've nothing personal against Bostaph, because he's a skilled drummer and didn't cause the schism between longtime drummer Dave Lombardo and King, but he also didn't have to accept the chance to return to the throne. It was Lombardo's alleged mistreatment by King that turned me against Slayer. And, quite honestly, if it wasn't for a legendary lineup of extreme metal monsters, I would not have wasted a penny on Slayer's supposed swansong. We've seen "final" tours come and go many times, only to see those acts return to the stage whenever the bank accounts ran too low or massive egos needed massaging. Eagles. Judas Priest. Ozzy. Et cetera and et cetera. There's no way a man with King's oversized sense of entitlement will remain idle and collect royalties contentedly while his hourglass remains half-full of sand. 

But after the final chord died out in the cavernous hall, the lone man standing on stage was the only one who will likely meant that this is his final shot at the limelight: Araya. His voice turned soft as he half-whispered to his fans, "We made some memories, right?" Araya seemed stunned as he looked to his left to find himself being the only member to address us. Even from my distant vantage point, I could sense his confusion as to why King had left without a word of acknowledgment to the thousands who hung on his every shred and spent decades digesting his ridiculous tributes to Nazis and serial killers. All Araya could do was play the part of professional showman one more time, and with one last word of thanks, he departed into the dark.