2018 marks what has been billed as the last ever tour for Slayer and they are going out in style bringing a stacked lineup with them. Lamb of God, Anthrax, Testament, and Napalm Death round out the bill. Slayer and Anthrax are two of the big four thrash bands with Metallica and Megadeth and if you ask me it should be a big five that includes Testament. Napalm Death are grindcore legends that have been around since the early 80s and Lamb of God are the youngsters on the bill, having only existed for a slight 20 years or so.
Living two and a half hours from Atlanta I left four hours early and still was caught in traffic so badly I missed Napalm Death, very disappointing. Parking next to the venue was an absurd $40 so I parked a bit away and still had to pay $22 at the only place I could find that accepted cards. Napalm Death ended right about the time I went through the security line meaning I missed them but still had to wait the entire time for set change, not a great start. The only time I have seen Napalm Death was at the dearly departed Muse in Nashville which is now a Domino’s pizza, so at least I can drive by a Domino’s building, point at it, and truthfully say I saw Napalm Death play there. (Plus Ceremony, Fucked Up, Bane, Terror, Have Heart, Exodus, Nile, God Forbid, etc, etc, etc, I digress)
The second band, and first I saw, was Testament. Definitely weird to see them play in the afternoon sun. This was my fifth time seeing them and I’d have to say my fifth favorite time. All four other times, including another time opening for Slayer a few years back, where in smaller venues where I could actually see the band members. Here I was as close as I could get with my lawn ticket and they still seemed like something in the background. I suppose I should discuss the lawn situation now. This show was on the list of shows you could get free tickets to from the ticketmaster lawsuit and it got packed. Several areas were roped off with a sign that said: “this area is closed.” These were the lawn areas closest to the stage. I assume they were worried about people sliding down onto the concrete walkway if it had rained, as forecast. It didn’t rain and it was quite the scene as you might expect from a Slayer show, especially one many people got into for free, world class people watching. Some of the things I remember: a well worn shirt that said “Sex with me, Priceless” with a mastercard logo, a shirt that said McCain/Milf (did they keep it for 9 years or buy it on clearance?), a shirt with a picture of Lars Ulrich and Cliff Burton that said “It should have been Lars”, a guy in a full onesie, staggering drunk people that appeared to be in their 60s, and obviously countless screams of “SLLLLAAAAAAAAAYYYEEERRRRRRRRR”. My favorite may have been the shirt that simply said “Fuckin Slayer.” So anyway, Testament sped through as many songs as possible in the mere 40ish minuets they got and were done far too soon. At this point I started wondering if this was going to worth the four hours, the $22 parking, the madness surrounding me, and did I mention I was by myself for this one?
At this point I decide to give up my spot and aimlessly wonder the grounds. I took a look at the shirts, all $40, a look would have to do. As the soundcheck for Anthrax finished up I surprising ended up in a spot with a very similar view. This was my second time seeing Anthrax, the first being with Lamb of God on an excellent lineup with Deafheaven and Power Trip last year. Anthrax has always been the one I’ve listened to the least of the big metal bands. I don’t even own a single one of their albums. I’m not old enough to know how it was in the 80s but they just don’t sound like Slayer, or 80s Metallica and Megadeth to me. Plus they are from New York rather than California like the other three and Testament and Exodus are. But here in my case the short set time worked better. They ripped off song after song I did know, there was no time for album tracks I didn’t know or much new material other than their single “Evil Twin.” The crowd was into it and I enjoyed them much better than when I saw them play immediately after Deafheaven. All the good stuff was here: “Madhouse,” “Time,” “Antisocial,” none the stuff where Scott Ian attempts to rap, thankfully. One beer vendor seemed to be particularly into Anthrax, which was amusing. They left the stage and the vibe seemed to be, “really that’s all.” All these bands could have play an hour an half but I guess there wasn’t time for that.
Moving right along Lamb of God was next, quickly getting to the next to last band. I stayed in my spot but was able to enter the seated area while they played. This was actually my 8th time seeing Lamb of God. Their album “Ashes of the Wake” is one of my favorite metal albums and I was able to see them right before it came out on Ozzfest 2004, as well as, three other times touring on it, including the Sounds of the Underground festival that they headlined in 2005. Since then it’s been diminishing returns for me with Lamb of God. I liked their follow up albums less and less until I stopped getting them. I decided I’d seen them enough about three times seeing them ago but then they tour with Deafheaven, Power Trip, and Anthrax, and now this tour, the lineups too good to pass up. They came out to “Omerta” and “Ruin,” a great start, although “Ruin” sounded slower than I remember. Then they moved to later day material like “Walk With Me in Hell” and “512.” Randy Blythe dedicated the song “Now You’ve Got Something to Die For” to the troops which was a little odd as that song seems to explicitly be about the pointlessness of the Iraq war. I guess that time period is in the rearview enough to retcon the song meaning? Anyway we got that and “Laid to Rest” and they closed out the set with “Redneck.” That was the same as last year and I can’t get over it being the big finish because I consider it to be a new song that isn’t as good as their older stuff. (It’s 12 years old at this point) What were once the highlights of their sets “11th Hour,” “As the Palaces Burn,” and “Black Label” were nowhere to be found. I guess I’m a geezer who misses the old days.
Now safely isolated in a section of seats by myself I waited for Slayer. The setup took a lot longer than the other bands but the reason was clear once they came out. . . pyrotechnics. I usually go to smaller shows so I forget bands have things like flames shooting off while they play at big shows. This is really half of Slayer as guitarist Jeff Hanneman died a few years ago and drummer Dave Lombardo was removed from the band in an apparent money dispute. No small loses as Hanneman wrote many of Slayer’s best songs and Lombardo is one of the best metal drummers of all time. So Tom Araya and Kerry King were joined by Exodus’s Gary Holt and Paul Bostaph, as they have been for the last several years.
They emerged to newer track “Repleteness” but soon moved on to classics like “Blood Red” “Mandatory Suicide,” and “Disciple.” The band crushed through a set of the best thrash songs of all time. Occasionally they stopped for a second and the lights would go down with only a spotlight on Tom Araya. He stood there without saying much, soft spoken when he did. He seemed to be savoring it, taking in every second, every fan that yelled “SLAYER.” At one point he seemed almost choked up. But when they played he had all the fury you’d expect. “Seasons in the Abyss,” “South of Heaven,” “Dead Skin Mask,””Hell Awaits,” which had plenty of flames surrounding them on the stage, of course, the band has years of fan favorites to choose from. Being relatively alone in the middle of the seats I was free to move around without having to worry about someone clobbering me but at one point a guy came up and stood directly next me. I looked at him and I’m pretty sure he just said “America!” I smiled and kept watching Slayer, he left after the song, maybe he was drunk and got lost, maybe he just wanted to make sure I was cool hanging out by myself, I don’t know. As I mentioned you’ll see lots of weird stuff and people at these shows but that’s what makes them great, for the most part nobody cares, be yourself. When I heard the familiar tom hits I couldn’t believe it was already time for “Raining Blood.” After it the only thing to do was play “Angel of Death,” a banner for Jeff Hanneman appeared behind them and when they finished they all stood on stage taking it in for a few minuets, Tom Araya being the last to leave. And so it ends for the metal legends.