The end came for Slayer just as they planned it: with a 20-song blast of noise and fire, euphoria and sadness, bringing to a close the most unshakable, outrageous force from the first generation of thrash. On Saturday, November 30th, nearly four decades of action ended at the Forum in Inglewood, California, as a full house of 17,000 fans witnessed Slayer's final live performance with tears and rage.
Before it was over, guitarist and founding member Kerry King delivered the world's loudest mic drop: removing the heavy chain he's worn for years as a literal sign of his metal fervor, lifting it to his side and letting it fall with a terrible, heartbreaking crash as he turned and left the stage. The shock of that symbolism was almost too much to bear for some of the fans pressed up against the barricade.
Others chanted a heartfelt, "Thank you, Slayer! Thank you, Slayer!" Singer-bassist Tom Araya took it all in from center stage, lingering there and saying his goodbyes long after the last pyro-singed song "Angel of Death" — just as he did for many of the nights on the concluding leg of their farewell tour, named The Final Campaign.
"I want to thank you for sharing your time with us. Time is precious. So I thank you for sharing that time with us," Araya told the crowd. "I'm gonna miss you guys. But the most important thing I want to thank you for is being a part of my life."
The choice of venue for the tour's final two nights was especially fitting for a band of misfits launched out of suburban Los Angeles. For generations, the Forum has been a large-scale Mecca for rock & roll, a place where King as a teenager once studied the flash fingers of Eddie Van Halen and Randy Rhoads with a pair of binoculars, before he and the late Jeff Hanneman took that speed up a notch in Slayer. The same venue is featured in the just-released film The Repentless Killogy, combining concert footage shot there with a trio of extremely violent music videos.
For the band's farewell performance at the Forum, Slayer began with the doom riffs of "South of Heaven," sounding as dark and heavy as ever in the hands of the band's final lineup – Araya, King, guitarist Gary Holt and drummer Paul Bostaph. The beats and guitars accelerated and slowed in a mad tempo of their own, and Araya roared in a voice undiminished from his earliest days, growling a warning: "An unforeseen future nestled somewhere in time/Unsuspecting victims no warnings, no signs."
The lighting, the sound, the flames around them, and the general smoothness of the operation, suggested a band in top form, not a group of tired men staggering across the finish line. They could have gone another decade or more.
The night before at the Forum, a crush of Slayer faithful up front was especially intense, clawing and pushing, crowd-surfing overhead and screaming the battle-cry one more time: "Slayer! Fuckin' Slayerrr...!" Pressed right against the barricade was a young dude dressed like Jesus Christ, holding up a yellow sign reading: "Jesus Listens to Slayer." A few songs into the set, he was among the first to be rescued from the moshing horde and lifted out by concert security.
That show was partly fueled by a one-night-only set-list heavily weighted with echoes from their early days with Metal Blade Records, with four songs from the band's 1983 debut, Show No Mercy: "Die by the Sword," "Evil Has No Boundaries," "Black Magic" and the album's title song. It was a startling, snarling blast of early thrash, but the final night on November 30th was state-of-the-art Slayer as they want to be remembered.
Just before the set began, an unseen member of the Slayer road crew could be heard barking into the mic: "Hey! One-two! Last time, one-two..." It was one more reminder that this was going to be Slayer's end, even if fans seemed willing to ignore that disheartening fact long enough to appreciate seeing the band at its modern peak, filling a big room with all the fire and thunder perfected over decades around the world.
Araya wore a black T-shirt with a picture of himself and his brother, Johnny Araya, who has been the singer-bassist's guitar tech since 1983. His hair was long and dark, a gray goatee down his chin, and as the songs rolled out, the singer would step back from the mic to throttle his bass as King and Holt blast through another 15-second whiplash squeal.
During "War Ensemble," blasts of pyro erupted like canon fire. On "Stain of Mind" and several other songs, King would sing along to himself between thrashing riffs and solos, dressed in a Slayer tour T-shirt, burly and headbanging like a bull breaking free. Opening "Payback," King and Holt faced Bostaph at the drum kit to thrash out the grinding opening riff.
Things slowed to an ominous Sabbath pace for "Seasons in the Abyss" amid a billowing wall of smoke and colored light – Holt and Araya locked into the low notes, King plucking a doom melody – before kicking back into a galloping metal riff as Araya wailed and fans sang along: "Close your eyes/And forget your name ... And let your thoughts drain/As you go insane, insane!"
There was also an all-star lineup of mostly non-Slayer-like opening acts. Other than an all-Pantera set by Philip H. Anselmo and the Illegals, the support bands were very different from the main event, and each recognized the gig as something meaningful. Primus began both night's sets with "Clown Dream," and bandleader Les Claypool leaned into the mic with a new lyric: "Slayer's comin', Slayer's comin' to get ya!"
When it all was over, and the band brought out the full road crew for hugs and pictures, the air was thick with emotion. Fans up front, and projected on the big screens, were red-eyed and openly weeping. A young man wearing black leather in the front row tearfully yelled to the stage in Japanese, others begged for set lists, drumstick, guitar picks as band members complied and waved.
Inevitably, some in the crowd cried for just one more song to send them home, a final blast of rage, speed and insane melody, but it was too late for that. Slayer was done.
Slayer's Final Setlist:
"South Of Heaven"
"World Painted Blood"
"Stain Of Mind"
"When The Stillness Comes"
"Born Of Fire"
"Seasons In The Abyss"
"Dead Skin Mask"
"Show No Mercy"
"Angel of Death"