Slayer, Lamb of God, Anthrax, Obituary: MEN Arena, Manchester

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Slayer (Credit: Artists Facebook page)

As the mammoth two-year long Slayer farewell tour rolls into Manchester, Getintothis’ Nedim Hassan goes down to the front to raise his devil horns one final time, for an emotional goodbye.

Part way through their pulsating set, special guests Lamb of God pause for what becomes a revealing tribute to Slayer.

Vocalist Randy Blythe suggests that we are all here to see the band that “created this genre”, suggesting that Slayer are effectively the progenitors of extreme metal.

Although the statement simplified what is a rather complex history, Blythe’s statement was a telling one. It served as a reminder of the influence of Slayer on their sound – a number of Lamb of God’s riffs are recycled Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King hooks.

Moreover, it prompted a broader appraisal of Slayer’s legacy in the light of more recent acts. This led to a sobering realisation. Lamb of God are one of the US’s premier contemporary metal acts, yet at their best – songs such as 512 and Laid to Rest are excellent tonight – they still cannot live with ninety-five percent of Slayer’s back catalogue.

The reason becomes blatantly apparent once Slayer takes to the stage. It can be summed up in two words – songwriting quality. For sure, back in the 80s the original line-up of Tom Araya, Jeff Hanneman, Kerry King, and Dave Lombardo drank deep from the existing well of heavy metal influences.

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Yet, they not only married their devotion to the twin guitar grandeur of Judas Priest with an (un)healthy interest in hardcore punk. They maintained the awareness that only a handful of great rock bands possess – to transcend your historical moment you need to craft timeless songs.

At their peak (and even to a lesser extent in their later years) Slayer had this ability. That is why the crowd in attendance can not only lose their minds and bang their heads like crazy to killers such as Hell Awaits, Mandatory Suicide, and Dead Skin Mask.

They can sing along to the vocals and the riffs. Riffs that are majestic and often frightening in their effective power. The hairs on the back of the neck never fail to stand to attention for the dual combination of South of Heaven and Raining Blood because those songs feature arguably the most foreboding guitar hooks in metal history.

Given that this is their final tour, it is ironic that tonight Slayer sound reinvigorated. In particular, vocalist Tom Araya is in fine form as he spits and sneers his way through high-speed punked-up numbers such as Dittohead and Payback, before imbuing slower songs such as When the Stillness Comes and Seasons in the Abyss with the usual menace.

The stage show is also highly impressive in that, more than ever before, it portrays Slayer’s core lyrical themes in the grandest of lights. Pyrotechnics mimic bombs falling as the horrors of war are explored in War Ensemble and Mandatory Suicide, while the fires of hell engulf the stage during Satanic masterpiece, Hell Awaits.

When the lights finally go down after an emotional performance of Angel of Death, which is fittingly delivered in front of a backdrop that pays tribute to their late guitarist/chief songwriter, Jeff Hanneman, we raise our devil horns one final time.

Through the dim light we can just make out the band members who stand for minutes in silence soaking up the applause. It is an intimate moment of recognition and gratitude that does not warrant words.

Finally, Tom Araya takes to the mic once again to simply thank the fans, “I’m gonna miss you guys” he says warmly before Slayer leave the stage for the final time.

 

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It is not an overstatement to say that, if this is really the end, we will never see their likes again.

Slayer final tour set list:

Repentless; Blood Red; Disciple; Mandatory Suicide; Hate Worldwide; War Ensemble; Jihad; When the Stillness Comes; Postmortem; Black Magic; Payback; Seasons in the Abyss; Dittohead; Dead Skin Mask; Hell Awaits; South of Heaven; Raining Blood; Chemical Warfare; Angel of Death.

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