If you’d asked me to guess where I’d experience one of the year’s most poignant onstage moments, I would never have thought that it would come in the aftermath of the brutal one-two punch of “Dead Skin Mask” and “Angel of Death.” But as thrash metal titans Slayer wrapped up what was presumably their final Philly-area show on Friday, frontman Tom Araya spent more than 10 minutes standing on the edge of the stage, basking in the cheers and chants with a broad grin and a wistful look in his eyes.
“Thank you very much,” he said by way of a simple farewell. “We’ll miss you guys.”
Slayer’s final tour has been steamrolling the globe for more than a year now, with no end in sight. While the band’s 80-minute set at the BB&T Pavilion on Friday may well be local audiences’ last chance to see the metal icons, it likely won’t growl its last until sometime in 2020, just shy of its 40th anniversary. Still, Araya appears to be keenly aware of the unique relationship he shares with Slayer’s rabid fan base, and is seizing the opportunity to soak in the aggressive adoration while it lasts.
That passion -- which has a tendency to break out in ricocheting cries of “Slayer!” whenever a group of fans convene, whether in line to enter the arena or in the restroom between sets -- is well-earned, as Slayer sounded as vicious and menacing as ever. The 20-song set spanned most of the group’s career, opening with the title track from the most recent album, Repentless, and reaching back to a pair of songs from their 1983 debut, Show No Mercy.
A series of backdrops placed the group against hellish backdrops echoing album covers and song lyrics from throughout its history, taking on a twilit glow as the most epic blacklight posters a teenage headbanger could have dreamed up. Walls and pillars of flames provided appropriately demonic set pieces, shooting up or forming an inverted cross in time with the music for a touch of Beelzebub-sby Berkeley spectacle.
The opening sets were packed with bands that have come in Slayer’s wake. Death metal pioneers Cannibal Corpse, itself a 30-year veteran, opened things with a short, jagged set culminating in its best-known song, “Hammer Smashed Face” (as performed in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, believe it or not).
Swedish band Amon Amarth followed, invited the crowd to a “Viking party” complete with the prow of a Viking ship center stage and lead singer Johan Hegg wielding a giant hammer in the air for “Twilight of the Thunder God.” Hegg toasted the influential headliners, hoisting the carved ox-horn he wears on a belt holster for a drink before the anthemic “Raise Your Horns.”