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We all knew the day would come when thrash metal titans Slayer would call it quits and ride off into a devastated and flame filled sunset. When the dates were announced for what the band was calling their farewell tour, two of the locations immediately caught my eye. Chicago was on the list and one of my longtime friends (Chris) who lived up there had never witnessed Slayer live. He quickly agreed to the adventure and Orlando was the closest show to where I live, so I immediately reached out to all my local metalhead friends to see who all was up for a road trip. This local group included another longtime friend (Tim) who had turned me on to Slayer way back in the 80s and we had seen numerous Slayer shows together (including the show in Lakeland back in 1991 where Slayer recorded disk one of Decade of Aggression – forever immortalizing us in both Slayer and heavy metal lore) so it was only fitting that he and I attend this farewell tour together.
With a supporting lineup that was sure to please just about any and all metalheads, Slayer invited Lamb of God, Anthrax, Behemoth and Testament along on this leg of the tour for evenings of fire and some kick ass heavy metal for all who came to each show to enjoy an evening of heavy metal comrade as fans and the band salute each other on this farewell celebration of all that is Slayer.
In the days leading up to the Chicago show I was granted a photo pass for all of the bands. That, coupled with my own building excitement, the day could not get here soon enough. Around lunchtime the day of the show, I flew from Tampa to Chicago and took Uber to the venue and there awaited my friend Chris from high school 30+ years ago. Had he not have moved up north right after high school, his Slayer show count would certainly not be at zero whereas mine stood at eleven, about to be twelve.
There was a slight delay obtaining my photo pass at the box office and unfortunately I missed photographing the opening band Testament, but I could hear them kicking ass just a couple of hundred feet away. Testament is a band who I also was familiar with from back in the 80s and they happened to be the opening band for my very first Slayer show back in 1991 (with Tim, his first Slayer show also). Fitting then that they were the ones to open what is also my final tour with Slayer. Testament thrashed through their seven song set and which was filled with both old and new material and certainly had the crowd riled up right from the start, which I could hear in the distance.
With photo pass in hand we went inside the venue where Behemoth was minutes away from taking the stage. This was the second time I had seen them perform live and my first time to capture the essence of the evilness this band projects as they perform. I made my way down to the photographer’s meeting spot to be taken down for literal front row access in front of the general admission barrier. It is quite the adrenaline rush to be only a few feet away from the performers with camera in hand capturing the moment(s). This band gives off an eerie and evil vibe which combined with their ghoulish looks and powerful sound results in crushing metal. It is almost like you can see tortured and dammed souls rising up from the depths of Hell as they perform. After my three songs to photo were up, I went back to my seat to enjoy the rest of their six song set. Their music pulls me into the pulverizing blast of heaviness – hypnotic to the point where I feel like I am at some sort of occult sacrifice for the gods of heavy metal. Absolutely brilliant start to the evening.
Anthrax was third on the bill and as with Slayer, this was also my twelfth time seeing them over the years and several times together with Slayer. This would also be my second time photographing the band. Being a longtime fan and follower of the band, I had seen online ahead of the show news that Anthrax’s drummer, Charlie Benante, was forced to miss a few of the shows due to a medical related issue and that Gene Hoglan from Testament would be pulling double duty. I once again make my way to the appropriated meeting place, and again the adrenaline kicks in as the band takes the stage. Lo and behold, the first one out was Charlie. I guess there was no way he was going to sit out a show in his hometown and the now near capacity crowd roared their approval for the hometown drummer. This band never disappoints live and their boundless energy when they perform have always made them a favorite of mine to see live. Each member is extremely engaging with every section of the crowd and all of us photographers. Every song in their set was a personal and fan favorite and as vocal as the crowd was by the end of the Anthrax set I knew the show was just getting started.
Lamb of God played fourth and wow this band is freaking amazing live. This was my sixth time seeing them and since I discovered them back in 2009 they quickly became one of my favorite bands to see live. Once again my heart was pounding as I was led down to the photo pit counting down the last few minutes before the boys took the stage. This was my first time photographing the band, and from seeing prior performances I knew capturing lead singer Randy Blythe would be a challenge. His non-stop back and forth across the stage energy combined with the hardcore kick ass metal the band is playing, he rarely ever stands still while releasing his self-described ability of “…screaming rhythmically like some sort of terribly wounded, very angry mountain ape…night after night without losing my voice.” I have said this about their (outdoor) shows I have seen before and will say it again about this one, if there was a roof on this place they would have blown it off they kicked that much ass. Once again every song played was a personal favorite of theirs and also the crowd.
Soon it was time for the moment all 26,000 of us who came together for this sold out show to witness Slayer going out in a blaze of fire and thrash. This time as I was led to the photo area, adrenaline and heartbeat were nearing maximum after seeing the giant Slayer logo on the curtain hiding the stage. I tried to mentally capture and savor the moment that in all of the hundreds of concerts that I had seen this was the holy grail moment that I had always been waiting for. In just moments I would be photographing F*CKING SLAYER!
As soon as the lights went out, camera was switched on. The curtain drops to the floor just as a huge ball of fire erupts from both sides of the stage and we are finally allowed into the photo area. The crowd erupts in an enormous roar and even as the wall of pure thrash metal pulverizes your ears the way only Slayer can deliver, you can still hear the crowd over the band as they absolutely rip into their opening song “Repentless.” It is really hard to headbang and photograph at the same time but somehow in between the shots that I got as I was jockeying for position on my next picture taken I could not help but give my neck a thrashing.
“Blood Red” was second on the set list, again the stage erupted in fire and the crowd got just as loud as before. Those few precious moments in the photo pit seemed to evaporate just as fast as the tempo that Slayer was jamming, and before I knew it the third and last song I was able to photograph began. As before, I was trying to savor the moment while capturing the best shots that I am able to while headbanging to the mightiest of all thrash metal bands there are on this planet. It truly was the most memorable concert experience that I have ever had. My camera clicked away as the band completely ripped their way through “Disciple” which is easily one of my favorite songs of theirs of their more recent releases. Alas, my holy grail moments of glory came to an end and we were ushered out of the photo area a little early before the song ended where it slows way down then thrashes back with a vengeance – a few more precious seconds of photographic opportunity. No despair I was truly speechless from what I had just experienced.
I returned to my seat for the remainder of their 90-minute, 19-song setlist that spanned every release in their storied discography. Their setlist could easily be turned into a “Greatest Hits of Slayer” CD. Each song was delivered with the crushing intensity that defines Slayer’s musical precision. There is nothing like or that can prepare you for the ferocity and fury that is about to unleash in your ears and in the mosh pit as lead vocalist and bassist Tom Araya introduces and encourages the crowd to match his “WAR ENSEMBLE” scream and Slayer tears into one of their crushingly heaviest songs. Immediately a massive pit opens up and the show’s intensity is taken to another level.
It was an amazing experience as song after song just seemed to melt by and the show ended with “Angel of Death” way before I was ready for it to. I am such a fan of this band that the show could have easily been twice as long with all of the killer tunes they have put out over the years to pick from. After the show there certainly seemed to be agreement with the faces and sounds among the crowd that Slayer had kicked our asses and gone out in a blaze of thrash metal glory. I know Chris was glad that I made the trip up and he finally witnessed the spectacle that is Slayer live. His exact words were “Attending the Slayer farewell extravaganza was a combination of ear bursting sound and a collage of heavy metal imagery I’ll never forget. Slayer put extra intensity into they’re set knowing it would be the last time they played Chicago.” I spent the night at Chris’ place and he dropped me at the airport early in the morning for the trip home – literally I was away for twenty six hours and what a f*cking incredible time it was!
SHOW #2 – Slayer, Lamb of God, Anthrax, Behemoth & Testament at Orlando Amphitheatre in Orlando, FL on June 15, 2018
The show in Orlando was two weeks to the day after the Chicago show, and thankfully for recovery purposes, on a Friday. The road trip idea with my local metal posse never materialized and I met my longtime bro Tim (who also knew Chris from high school 30 years ago) at the venue as well as meeting up with two different friends named Rob, one of whom drove down from Augusta, GA. I met several of their friends throughout the evening since we are all metalheads at heart coming together as one big metal family along with a sold out crowd of 10,000 strong to celebrate what would truly be the final Slayer show I would ever get to see.
The lineup, band order and setlists were the same and again each band just tore into their sets and riled up the growing crowd with each passing hour until Slayer set the night ablaze with fire and fury. Seeing and hearing Testament pulverize the crowd again took me back to my early concert going days and how Tim and I sat outside the Slayer/Testament venue back in 1991 chugging beer before heading in for our first Slayerific experience. And once again, all I could see in my head as Behemoth crushed on stage was the evil aura this band exudes, feeling as though demons were among us. Vocalist Joey Belladonna of Anthrax had a mic issue for the first half of their first song but the crowd was there to pick up lead vocals until Joey’s infamous pipes got back into action with a working mic. During the Lamb of God set, which as always totally kicked ass, vocalist Randy Blythe made a comment in between songs about how “…f*cking weird it was for it to be raining yet sunny skies overhead…”. Welcome to an outdoor concert in Florida during summer.
Being further back up on the lawn area for this show gave me a different perspective of the fire show happening on stage once Slayer took center stage. Flames jumped back and forth behind and around the band forming into momentary burning upside down crosses that dissipated then reformed from another blast. In Chicago I was considerably closer and tonight from this vantage point I was able to see the true enormity of the flames that lit up the stage, crowd and the Orlando sky. Again, Slayer crushed each and every song with their heaviness and the musical tightness and precision that in my opinion defines the band, especially live. It sounds just like you are listening to one of their CDs, their performance is that exact and spot on.
As the show moved along and I was fighting that inside feeling of this being my last ever Slayer show, I asked my friends their thoughts on what this was and meant to them. As expected, Tim burst out with “F*CKING SLAYER” and Rob said he felt like he could feel Tom’s vocals pierce right through to his soul. We talked about how killer the bands sounded this evening and how we each hoped that this was not truly the final tour, that somewhere down the road we would all be meeting up and doing this together all over again. I did not feel sadness once the show was over but I had no idea that my Slayer show history was not quite over just yet.
SHOW #3 – Slayer, Lamb of God, Anthrax, Testament & Napalm Death at Cellairis Amphitheatre in Atlanta, GA on August 10, 2018
I do not recall what tempted me to look at available tickets for the upcoming Atlanta date knowing that Atlanta is not that far away. To my surprise and elation this late in the game since the show was announced and tickets went on sale a while back there were still abundant seats available and a few decent choices. Once again communication went out to my metalhead friends who I thought could possibly swing the venture and next thing I know my brother in law John was on the phone with me saying “Let’s do it!” Tickets for the show were acquired, and initially a road trip was planned but flights were not that expensive and well worth the time involved of fourteen hours of driving there and back overnight versus three hours of flying time. That was a no brainer. Alas, my Slayer concert history was not yet over and a fourteenth show was in my future, and would be John’s first ever venture into this heavy of a live show. His concern was not being able to understand the lyrics. I told him it is thrash metal, you are not supposed to understand it the first few hundred times you listen. I found out a few days before the show that Rob from Augusta would be joining us for one last adventure of his own.
For this show I was granted another photo pass and again the adrenaline started to flow even before we landed in Atlanta the day of the show. We got into the venue just as Napalm Death was about halfway through their third song and that gave me only a few moments to capture some pictures. This was the band I was least familiar with on the bill even though they had been around longer than I had been a metalhead. From the crowd’s reaction to their set the evening was off to a great start.
When Testament hit the stage and those first few notes hit my ears as lens went up to my eye, I had to remind myself not to headbang while photographing… it is just such a natural reaction to blistering metal that loud and crisp in your ears that it is hard for me to contain myself. After the show when I got the chance to look at my photos, I was very pleased how well they came out from the three songs I was down in front for Testament. Their lighting combined with the amount of sunlight remaining in this day was as near perfect as can be, and each member engaged with me for some great shots. Since we had good seats, once I had to leave the photo pit and returned to my seat I was able to sit back (figurative, not literal) and enjoy me some killer old fashioned and new school Testament.
Due to the crowd getting pretty rowdy and crowd surfers coming over the rail for the Anthrax set we were limited to only two songs to photograph. Their set was amazing as this band just keeps getting better live the more times I see them, giving their all on stage and interacting with the crowd all throughout the venue. Counting both of the prior shows this was my fourteenth time seeing Anthrax and this was a band that John said he could actually understand what vocalist Joey Belladonna was saying as he sung.
Once again it was an amazing experience being up so close when self-described ‘Pure American Metal’ Lamb of God hit the stage. This band continues to climb near the top of favorite bands to see live, their music is so aggressive and powerful and lead singer Randy Blythe’s stage presence just mesmerizes me once I was back at my seat and hands free of camera, and horns in the air.
When the curtain dropped for Slayer I was the first one in the photo area as we were held out so the crew could remove the curtain. Once again, three songs up front seemed to go by in the blink of an eye and my night of ‘working’ was complete. Slayer put on one hell of a heavy, fiery, neck breaking extravaganza for the nearly sold out crowd who roared their approval throughout.
I absorbed, enjoyed and appreciated every moment of Slayer’s 90-minute set. From the three songs I was lucky enough to photo to the last note of “Angel of Death” I did not want it to end as this was the show I never expected to be at, the one that somehow I was able to work out near last minute and not only make the trip happen but achieve the holy grail of my concert photography endeavors once again with media credentials. With the finality of the tour at hand, vocalist Tom Araya seemed to get a little choked up as he spoke with the crowd late in the show. After the show I sat there for a moment taking it all in… my experiences seeing Slayer live fourteen times over the span of twenty seven years was complete. Unless I hit the Powerball jackpot in the near future, then my friends and I would hit every show on the European leg of the tour. \m/
Slayer’s setlist for Tinley Park, Orlando and Atlanta:
- Blood Red
- Mandatory Suicide
- Hate Worldwide
- War Ensemble
- When the Stillness Comes
- Black Magic
- Seasons in the Abyss
- Dead Skin Mask
- Hell Awaits
- South of Heaven
- Raining Blood
- Chemical Warfare
- Angel of Death
Slayer’s Final Tour Live Review and Photos by Randy Cook
Photos: Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre, Tinley Park, IL | May 25, 2018
Photos: Cellairis Amphitheatre, Atlanta, GA | from August 10, 2018
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