Concert Review: Slayer Unleash Hell In San Jose On Final World Tour
The American thrash metal legends brought their best on home turf in the West Coast with a career-spanning set
You can invoke American thrash metal veterans Slayer’s influence on pop culture and American music, or even the emotional intensity and brutality of their music, or even the fact that they’re on their final world tour, but it was a tall ask to convince my girlfriend Kelly to come with me to Slayer’s concert in San Jose, California, at the famous SAP Center on August 26th.
She assumed coming to a Slayer show meant certain death. To be honest, Tom Araya, Kerry King and co. won’t be too displeased with that widely regarded public opinion. But as far as my experience goes, metalheads are probably one of the most docile and peaceful folks on the planet. I’d take them over jaw-clenching, tweaking EDM yuppies any day.
But then again, I’m definitely biased. My history with Slayer goes back a long way. In the late Nineties in Bangalore, India (before you say Bengaluru, it was Bangalore to us back then), I went to my first ever rock/metal concert called ‘Encomium’ featuring the regulars – Threinody and Kryptos. Threinody played Slayer’s “South of Heaven” and Nolan (Kryptos)’s side project (Intestinal Butchery) used to do the meanest cover of “Raining Blood.” It represents to me the most intense short bursts of metal music ever recorded. While I can’t claim to be the most die-hard Slayer fan on the planet, I definitely am in awe of what they can do in the studio and on a stage.
This tour was billed as Slayer’s Final World Tour. While no one really believes a band nowadays when they claim that they are retiring – by all available data, this show was Slayer’s last American tour date forever. And as someone with a bad case of FOMO, this was something I just could not miss. I managed to get some tickets off Craigslist (no surprise that the show was sold out). Disaster almost struck when PayPal decided to take four days to clear my payment to Steve (the seller), but we actually struck up a friendship. It was interesting to hear his reason for deciding to give the show a miss: “There are too many political rants on stage these days, I go to shows to escape that shit.” The rapidly increasing political posts and arguments on my Facebook make me understand his point of view.
Due to prior commitments, we unfortunately had to skip all the other acts – the promoters had assembled a great line up featuring grind veterans Napalm Death, thrash metal vanguards Testament and Anthrax and metallers Lamb of God. By the time we got into the venue and acquired the customary Slayer merchandize, it was almost time for Slayer. It didn’t help that we both lost each other while trying to get some food and drink, but that helped give Kelly a taste of the metal brethren. “Everyone is so nice! They were trying to help me find you” she said, as she slowly got more comfortable. Also fortunate was the fact that we met Rob (a CEO in Silicon Valley) who helped put her at ease, while wearing a “Kill the Kardashians” t-shirt (made famous by Slayer’s Gary Holt, who helped fill the void after the tragic loss of Jeff Hanneman in 2013). Disclaimer: Neither Rob nor I are advocating the actual death of the Kardashians. In Rob’s most eloquent words the t-shirt is “a metaphor for the destruction and inauthenticity of our modern, social media driven world.”
Slayer came onstage just after 9 pm – I can’t put in words how spectacular the stage, light and pyro setup were. As their intro music played, the laser pentagrams, fire pyros, and lights turned SAP Center into probably the closest version of hell that you could experience, without actually departing this world. You could literally feel the heat from the onstage fire torches all the way to the back of the floor. I have no idea how hot it was on the actual stage! Slayer’s frontman and bassist, Tom Araya looked like he had stepped in a time machine and dialed back a couple of decades. Gone was his beard that would put Indian holy men to shame, and he also looked a whole lot leaner.
Showing that they aren’t reliant on their (legendary) back catalog, they kicked off with “Repentless,” the title track from their most recent album, released in 2015. “Live fast!” shouted Araya, and if there is one thing Slayer are known for, it is for being fast.
The setlist quickly took a more familiar and anticipated path with classics like “Disciple” and “Mandatory Suicide.” I’ll steer clear of the actual setlist (you can check it out here) but everything that you would expect – “War Ensemble,” their magnum opus “Seasons In The Abyss,” “Dead Skin Mask” and “South of Heaven” – were all rendered to perfection and put a smile on everyone’s face.
All in all it was a fairly short set (90 minutes) but given that the entire Reign in Blood album only clocks in at 34 minutes, that was no surprise. Slayer don’t mess about – there was no faking the end of the show (only to come back for the standard encore). Slayer came onstage, destroyed the crowd and bid their farewells. Tom Araya spent a long time soaking in the adulation and then walked off to his wife who was waiting side-stage. Was this the last time Slayer played in America?
Overall, it was everything I expected and more. Like Rob, I too felt vindicated as a metalhead and felt connected with what the genre means to me and other fans. I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen Slayer a couple of times in the U.K. (mainly as part of music festivals like Download and Sonisphere), but seeing the legends on their home turf, here in the West Coast – and at a concert where they had complete control over the creative experience – was absolutely special.