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Saying goodbye to Slayer and hello to the Armory

Tom Araya of Slayer at the Armory.

Tom Araya of Slayer at the Armory. Tony Nelson

Somewhere in the byzantine labyrinth of downtown Minneapolis’s newest venue, the Armory, several flights of stairs up from the main floor, there’s a rooftop that doubles as a smoking lounge, where a small horde of enterprising metalheads have swarmed to smoke cigarettes between sets. (Weed is getting copiously and unapologetically smoked indoors.)

We’ve all arrived just in time for the sky to split wide open above this shelter-less expanse as the thunderstorm rolls in, leading to soaked cigs. In the middle of it all, one anonymous diehard Slayer fan extends his arms to the sky, and proclaims, “If it began Raining Blood, would you be surprised?”

For those who have a passing relationship with metal, this scene might be hard to comprehend. But for all the anti-religious iconography that sprawls across this genre, metalheads are true believers. They’re indoctrinated young and born again in their teenage years. Throughout the years, older metalheads have survived any number of assaults on their faith—the PRMC in the ’80s, grunge in the ’90s, James Hetfield’s plaid shorts in the ’00s—only to come out stronger, more devout, and more passionate. And if you have any doubts, witness the 5000 people packed onto the floor of the Armory because Slayer is in town. And they brought fucking PYRO.

This is supposedly Slayer’s final tour, but they certainly didn’t act like it. While original members Kerry King and Tom Araya are definitely getting on in years (both passed 50 a while back), they and bandmates Paul Bostaph (drums) and Gary Holt (who became their second guitarist after founder Jeff Hanneman’s 2013 death) plowed through a filler-less 19 song set that touched on the vast majority of their recorded catalogue. With a drum riser bookended by giant flame-throwing pyro rigs, amid backdrops full of pentagrams, crosses, and an NFL-esque logo that read “SLAYER NATION,” the band hardly stopped to talk, moving at a ruthless pace that challenged the few hundred in the middle of the floor who committed themselves to a stomping circle pit, mock those of us watching from the relative safety of the upper levels.

Slayer doesn’t have “hits” because “hits” aren’t metal and lest you forget, Slayer is metal as fuck, but they played their finest and most beloved songs—“South of Heaven,” “Raining Blood,” and “Seasons of the Abyss” among them. Still, it was in the final moments, when a new backdrop unfurled, proclaiming a tribute to Hanneman in a copy of the Heiniken logo: “The Original Angel of Death,” that Slayer brought everything home. No encores, no bullshit, picks and sticks thrown to the crowd, Araya standing in front of the mic, looking around the room and trying to think of something conclusive to say (and to be honest, the man’s occasionally said some grievously stupid things), not wanting to leave the stage for (maybe) their last Minneapolis show ever.

Don’t worry, Slayer. Since we were asked the questions throughout the night, I just want to respond. Yes, we're having a great time. Yes, we like metal. Yes, we're all right out there.

Setlist
Repentless
Blood Red
Disciple
Mandatory Suicide
Hate Worldwide
War Ensemble
Jihad
When the Stillness Comes
Postmortem
Black Magic
Payback
Seasons in the Abyss
Dittohead
Dead Skin Mask
Hell Awaits
South of Heaven
Raining Blood
Chemical Warfare
Angel of Death

The crowd: True believers come in all shapes and sizes, but if they’re bothering to wear a shirt at all, it’s going to be black.

The openers: Each of the openers could headline a show on their own—a legend in Testament and two comers in Behemoth and Lamb Of God—but if there was a second choice to Slayer, it would have to be Anthrax. They killed and clearly people were also there to see them. Smart band order: Putting Lamb of God’s groove metal style on between Anthrax and Slayer saved a few heart attacks, I’m guessing.

Notebook dump: If sold-out metal shows like Slayer and big-draw punk shows like Rise Against and Dropkick Murphys are any indication, the Armory is filling a 5,000-person need that the Twin Cities didn’t know it had. It’s well designed and sounds better than other places of comparable size that I’ll leave unnamed. That said, there’s some common sense stuff to work out operationally—they seemed not to expect the vast majority of Slayer fans to actually want to be on the floor rather than the upper decks. With the fire marshal already on site because of the pyro, rumors circulated that the show risked being shut down.

Overheard in the crowd: “SLAYYYYYYEEEEEEEEEEERRRRRRR”