Photo By Louie of SelfMade Visionz
Slayer’s recent appearance at northeast Florida’s St. Augustine Amphitheater was by far the heaviest show to come through town all summer. I struggle to think of a heavier tour of this year and, reflecting on it, it may honestly be the heaviest metal show I have ever seen live.
Behemoth and Lamb of God came along with the California-based thrash metal mainstay. Despite the intensity and filth of the opening sets, Slayer delivered the explosive show we all expected. Their sonic insanity and signature aggression is unsurpassed and pulled immense energy from their eagerly awaiting fans.
The fans were already pumped after Lamb of God’s set. As the gap between sets ended, the amphitheater’s lights went down and a white curtain covered the stage. Black crosses were projected on the curtain and an opening riff began to build from behind it. It seemed that the sky darkened just as their set began – just as the black crosses turned blood red and inverted. Demonic symbols and pentacles bounced across the curtain as the music emerging from behind it grew in intensity.
There was an immense enthusiasm from fans at this show. Many, in their over excitement, became belligerent and would end up missing Slayer’s set, but the real die-hards would never dream of it. Before that curtain dropped the electricity in the crowd was palpable, but after it fell, the energy was absolutely incendiary.
There was intense chanting from the audience through Slayer’s entire set. Their presence is dirty, satanic and aggressive. The production quality on the tour is epic, but their behavior is not as offensive or insane as one might expect. They are clearly focused on musicianship above everything else.
Bassist/lead singer Tom Araya has a visceral growl and clarity on his vocals. His long grey hair hangs in his face like the locks of a hellish wizard, and he never sacrifices his performance to interact with the audience. He has an ability to move the audience like a shepherd’s flock or a cult leader’s masses. Their heads crash up and down in synchronicity with the guitars, while their mouths shout blasphemous lyrics and their eyes stare wide in awe.
Slayer brought a literal wall of flames to the amphitheater that nearly reached the stage’s covered ceiling. When fire was not shooting up in sheets, criss-crossing fireballs flew rapidly across the stage. It was the only display of major pyrotechnics I have ever seen at the venue. The production on this tour has been meticulously planned to create the most confrontational show possible. Black light brush strokes depicted impaled and cried gods across a massive pentagram-emblazoned backdrop. These elements make Slayer’s stage show one that fans will come back tor time and time again.
The pit was for the ruthless. Men in helmets, face masks and padding that bordered on raid gear crashed into each other. Large bodies, covered in blood (both real and fake) crowd surfed toward their idols. There were awestruck kids in pigtails and earplugs and even a 10-year-old dog who “loves metal but [was] at his very first Slayer show.”
Each member of Slayer has an obvious level of finesse that translates extremely well live. Guitar riffs from Gary Holt are meticulous and artful. He cracked a smile while peering out into the sea of black T-shirts and loose hair. Hundreds of fans in Slayer shirts from past tours stared on as he tweaked his whammy bar and his fingers danced up and down the neck of his guitar.
Beams and flashes of light that matched the pyrotechnics moved through the air above the audience’s heads. Bass-heavy drums from Paul Bostaph were delivered with a fast-paced aggression. There was a noticeably impressive energy to a live performance from Bostaph. His expansive kit was set up on a high platform where he could command the attention of the audience beneath him. Heavy chains swung from the hips of founding guitarist Kerry King as he moved across the stage shredding hellish thrash-metal riffs.
Each pause between songs was filled with swelling, deafening cheers. Slayer uses the stage like the experienced performers that they are, though their show has obviously been toned down a little over the past 35 or so years. Slayer delivers a finessed artistry and dark aggression that makes them one of the few truly old school metal acts still touring today.