There are concerts and there are events. And the Charlotte stop of thrash-metal legend Slayer’s Final Tour fell squarely in the latter column last Thursday at PNC Music Pavilion.
Fans drove from as far as Alabama and Buffalo, N.Y., to catch one of the 26 dates of the first leg of the tour (the band has since announced dates through December in the U.S. and Europe, but some out-of-state fans bought tickets before those later dates were announced).
The pilgrimage was felt early Thursday as black-clad music fans in band T-shirts began appearing at local restaurants, malls, and record stores, their mission apparent: arrive early, commune with their brethren, and celebrate the imminent passing of the first of the Big Four thrash giants to call it quits.
The five-band bill kicked off at the un-metal hour of 5 p.m. with Testament — another thrash veteran — opening the show, followed by Polish extreme death metal outfit Behemoth and fellow Big Four founder Anthrax, which all got short-but-sweet six- or seven-song sets. Lamb Of God, in the direct support slot, stayed on stage slightly longer as anticipation built.
Anxious fans chanted Slayer’s name and cheered at every hint of its arrival during the line check. Random cheers became an enveloping roar as four crosses appeared projected on a see-through scrim above the stage, spinning 180 degrees slowly until inverted. The scrim fell to reveal the band playing the opening notes of “Repentless,” the title track off its latest album.
The four band members seemed to have limitless energy for men ranging in age from 54 to 57. It wouldn’t be that surprising if guitarist and co-founder Kerry King had to have his head sewn back on nightly after relentless headbanging. He was drenched in sweat from the get-go thanks to the troughs of fire that flared behind him and the flames shooting overhead throughout the set.
Although the weather was relatively cool for an outdoor show in June, the on-stage pyrotechnics made it the hottest show of the year — literally. The audience under the amphitheater’s shelter could feel the heat and was pummeled by the sheer volume. Earplugs were wise.
The career-spanning set list covered nearly the group’s entire catalog, with 19 songs representing 11 of its 12 albums.
The first part of the set consisted heavily of later material like “Disciple” (from 2001’s “God Hates Us All”) and “Hate Worldwide” (from 2009’s “World Painted Blood”). Much of the set was drawn from Slayer’s biggest albums: 1985’s “Reign in Blood” and 1990’s “Seasons in the Abyss,” with the latter’s “War Ensemble” beginning the build.
Guitarist Gary Holt — who began filling in for Jeff Hanneman in 2011 and has continued with Slayer following Hanneman’s 2013 death — opted not to try to copy the founding guitarist’s signature solo in “Seasons of the Abyss,” which may have bummed a few of diehard thrash-guitar fans, but it seemed to be done out of respect.
Flames fittingly seemed to envelop the stage as “Dead Skin Mask” ended and the intro to “Hell Awaits” — the final song in the regular set — began.
The encore was packed with fan favorites “South of Heaven” and “Raining Blood” and concluded with a tribute to Hanneman as the regular backdrop fell, revealing a Heineken-style logo that had the guitarist’s name at its center and was encircled by the words “Angel of Death” (the title of the final song in the set) at the top and “Still Reigning” at the bottom.
It was a fitting gesture, a note to the band’s history, and one that fans appreciated during a night that was all about ample appreciation.