Slayer at The Coral Sky Amphitheater in West Palm Beach, FL

Slayer makes a stop at West Palm Beach as part of their final tour, accompanied by Cannibal Corpse, Amon Amarth and Lamb of God.

Thrash metal as a genre will forever miss one of its cornerstone acts when Slayer plays the final note in their soon-in-the-future final show as part of their ongoing Farewell Tour. Announced back in January of 2018, the metal giants have kept adding legs to their initial run of tour dates, in a very much-appreciated effort to grant their die-hard fans across the globe with the opportunity to witness the undisputed heavyweight kings of the most brutal, astoundingly hostile, all-hell’s-a-breaking-loose music ever created delivering their unrivaled spectacle for one final time.

Last year, Slayer performed in Orlando, in what – at the time – seemed to be their last-ever South Florida appearance. A deluxe lineup of opening bands in the form of San Francisco’s thrash-metal stalwarts Testament, contentious Poland’s black-metal lords Behemoth, crossover thrash metal goliaths Anthrax and Richmond’s ludicrously aggressive colossus Lamb Of God, completed a quintet of pure heavy metal hitters of the highest degree. That day, which included a full downpour to make the experience more raw and unforgettable, was definitely one for the books. Nonetheless, one of the greatest thrash/metal/punk bands of this – or any age – still had another tour date in the cards for the Sunshine State, and that night is what this chronicle is all about.

The relentless death-metal veterans Cannibal Corpse inaugurated the afternoon, and if you have ever been to one of their shows, you know what to expect. Bathed in red lights, as usual, George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher and company did what they do best during their short five-song setlist: demolish the ever-increasing crowd with a charging death-metal juggernaut, a ruthless sonic assault of ferocious growls, plummeting heavy guitar riffs and pounding bass and drums. With Hate Eternal frontman Erik Rutan filling in in some sort of permanent role for the absent Pat O’Brien, the Corpse drilled through classics like “I Cum Blood” and “Stripped, Raped and Strangled” and closed the proceedings with their 1993’s staple “Hammer Smashed Face,” arguably death-metal most popular song, mainly due to a shortened version appearing in the 1994 comedy film Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. Devotees to extreme music for almost three decades, these guys always deliver a face-ripping live experience.

Swedish Viking metal stalwarts Amon Amarth came next, hitting the stage like this was to be their final ever performance, displaying a boisterous energy that was infectious, to say the least. Performing at the bow of a dragon-necked ship baptized The Bettan, Lebowskian frontman Johan Hegg and his bandmates jumped straight into “The Pursuit of Vikings,” ready to raid and turn the frenetic crowd to ruins with their deafening mixture of melodic death and pagan-induced ruthlessness. The great dynamics between the song’s verses and choruses, and the clever use of lead guitars and open chords in the almost brand-new tracks “Raven’s Flight” and “Crack The Sky” alternated with the grittier ferocity – still paired with harmonious and catchy memorable hooks – of older cuts. The amphitheater floor was shaking as the crowd banged their heads, crashed into each other, and chanted along with their raised fists and horns, at the sound of anthems like “Twilight of the Thunder God” and “Raise Your Horns.” Definitely satisfying their most bloodthirsty followers, the grand finale came in the form of the crushing “Guardians of Asgaard” (which saw Hegg wielding his own giant Mjolnir-like hammer) not before he thanked Slayer for bringing them along the ride.

Up to this point, the night had been a fantastic display of untainted metal, but Lamb of God took things to a completely different level. Becoming titans of metal after a mere 23 years of existence, this band is really a remarkable sight, a true testament of what American metal is all about. Walking on stage while the spoken word intro to “Omerta” played over the PA, Randy Blythe and his troops pressed the heaviness pedal to the very end and threw every single living soul in attendance into a full-blown hare-brained trance. Their technical brand of metal – plenty of chugging riffs and squeals – sent electric airwaves over the fans, provoking a steady wave of crowd surfers surfacing from a crazily frenzied pit of fans, who let the music soak them with its primal energy. Lead singer Randy Blythe moved around the stage like an unhinged beast, with his wild dreadlocks swinging with every headbang, pouncing like a lunatic, and exuding such levels of passion and intensity that was exhilarating to watch. The crowd drunk up the vigor emitted from the band as they ripped through fan favorites “Ruin,” “Walk with Me in Hell,” “512,” and “Engage the Fear Machine,” capitalizing on their own combination of powerful and brash drumming, rock-hard bass lines, crushing guitars and Blythe’s outrageous and evil-infused vocals. Finishing off their set with a crowd-pleaser, the neck breaker “Redneck,” they encouraged the entire amphitheater to turn into one giant circle pit, sending off the crowd with a primal execution that served as the ultimate full-throttle expression of aggressiveness and authority. 

With everyone exhausted after such “vulgar display of power,” the decisive moment arrived. The end of a sweaty, resilient and earache-inducing era spanning well over three decades was in front of thousands of incredulous eyes: Slayer are retiring, and this was their last hurrah for South Florida. Impossible not to feel downhearted. Soldiering on after suffering not only the exit of original drummer Dave Lombardo but also the death of guitarist Jeff Hanneman, the four horsemen of cacophonous roars were ready to subdue us once again. A ginormous black curtain – as dark as the demon’s hearts in the Hell Awaits cover – covered the massive stage, while anticipation built to fever pitch levels. Suddenly the curtain fell, just to reveal a second more translucent curtain, over which four inverted crosses started to dance, soon replaced by four menacing inverted pentagrams with the band’s logo, while the intro music of “Delusions of Savior” played over the venue’s PA system. As the last note faded the curtain fell, the lights came on and amidst a huge roar of approval and a massive burst of flames from the back of the stage, the band appeared and tore through the face-shredding “Repentless.” Slayer had arrived.

In front of ecstatic and vehement legions of pentagram-worshipping admirers, Slayer put on a show as if it was their last performance on Earth. Pulling out all the stops, and emanating their well-known high-octane, and unparalleled fiery performance, the band ran through beloved tunes such as “World Painted Blood,” “Disciple,” “Postmortem,” “Hate Worldwide” and even the more obscure “Gemini.” The stage lighting alternated between deep crimson glows while the backdrops displayed grim imagery inundated in blue undertones. Total pandemonium.

The first breather came when Tom Araya briefly spoke to the crowd, asking them to scream “WAAAAAAARRRRR!!!” at the top of their lungs before diving into the utterly pulverizing “War Ensemble.” 57 years-young, Araya’s growls remains as visceral and blood-curdling as they have ever been, meanwhile all-muscle, tattoos and long braided chin bearded Kerry King and Exodus guitarist and bandleader Gary Holt ripped off eviscerating solos and pounded out classic riffs with razor-like precision. Impressive pyro and ever-changing lights turned up the heat; perfectly complementing the brutal pace, led by the inhuman and brutal drum fills of Paul Bostaph and flooded by torrents of perplexing notes. 

The 20-song, 90-minutes setlist ended with a walloping and lethal combination of “South of Heaven,” with its moody initial riff that explodes into a piercing single-note and monstrous drumming, the stone-cold genre-defining metal classic “Raining Blood” (which seamlessly segued into “Black Magic”), and the gloomy and at times sinister “Dead Skin Mask.” Obviously, no Slayer show can end without the apocalyptic closer of “Angel of Death,” an unspoken tribute to the late Jeff Hanneman’s finest moment, still reigning supreme as the unmatched prove of Slayer’s uncanny and macabre lyrical finesse.

After all the deranged energy washed out and the lights came back, the band lingered around, tossing picks and sticks into the battered, shocked and still voracious bodies in the mosh pit. Araya stood there longer than the others did, walking to one end of the stage and then to the opposite side, smiling serenely and making eye contact with a sea of frenzied fans. “Thank you very much,” he said. “I’m gonna miss you guys.”

Thank you, Slayer. Thank you for allowing us – fathers, sons, brothers, mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends – to be submerged one more time in the waves of your unholy alliance. We banged our heads while thrashing in a mosh pit together, and today we pay our respects to you. It’s been a helluva ride and we will be forever grateful. One final see-you-in-hell bow, long may the Angel of Death fly free.

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