Slayer Played Their Final Chicago Show at Riot Fest with Anthrax, Testament, GWAR & More
Please excuse the cheesy pun, but Slayer's headlining set at Riot Fest on Saturday (9/14) was fucking lit. And by that I mean Slayer melted our faces, destroyed our ear drums, and left us screaming our lungs out, but I also mean they had a killer stage show that used pyro in just about every single song. I've seen Slayer before, but I don't think I've ever seen them or any other band use that much fire on stage through the entirety of a show. Combined with the relentless force of the band's performance, it made for a night that I don't think anyone will be forgetting anytime soon.
The set was billed as Slayer's final Chicago/Milwaukee show, and it comes about a month and a half ahead of "The Final Campaign," Slayer's North American farewell tour with Primus, Ministry, and Philip H. Anselmo & the Illegals (playing Pantera). I can understand why Slayer -- whose only remaining original members are Tom Araya and Kerry King (rest in peace Jeff Hanneman) -- would want to call it quits at this point, but I don't see how they can leave us for good when their current live show is still this powerful. If they stick to their word and the upcoming tour really is the very last time to see them in North America, I can't recommend catching this tour enough. They're going out on a much higher note than you'd expect from a band who feels the need to throw in the towel.
Considering Riot Fest was billed as the band's last area appearance, I assume a lot of people bought Saturday passes just to see them, and Riot did a great job catering the main stage lineup to anyone who wanted to camp out there all day for Slayer. The stage's all-metal lineup opened with viral Mongolian folk metal band The Hu, who were genuinely great, and then GWAR did their thing, and then more legendary thrash came from Testament and Anthrax. The stage had killer music all day, and it felt like the lineup had the perfect, gradual rise, with each set ever so slightly topping the last. And while Testament and Anthrax are obviously likeminded peers of Slayer, those bands were smiling, upbeat, and fun, which of course amped up the crowd, but Slayer were pure fucking evil. Seeing them back to back with Anthrax and Testament really reminds you how dark every Slayer song is, and those dark songs mixed with the band's dead-serious demeanor and constant pryo really made you feel like you were transported straight to hell. I know it's a cliché to use all the Satan metaphors, but Slayer truly possessed our souls.
Slayer have had their current lineup since 2013, but if you're still unsure about seeing this iteration of the band, I'd say you have nothing to worry about. Araya and King are joined by '90s-era Slayer drummer Paul Bostaph and Exodus guitarist Gary Holt, and though Dave Lombardo and the late Jeff Hanneman are irreplaceable, Bostaph and Holt do a fine job of filling their shoes. As Slayer ran through a setlist that included classics like "Raining Blood," "Angel of Death," "Postmortem," "South of Heaven," "Mandatory Suicide," "War Ensemble," "Seasons in the Abyss," "Chemical Warfare," "Hell Awaits," "Black Magic," "Evil Has No Boundaries," and more, they sounded just as in-your-face and precise as you'd want them to sound. The level of musicianship on stage was out of this world, and all the shredding guitar solos and bone-rattling drumming were matched by unrelenting energy both on and off stage. Even when they played newer, less beloved songs, the set was a total adrenaline rush. There was never a dull moment.
Slayer packed 20 songs into their hour-and-a-half set time -- not bad for a festival set -- but I think most people in attendance would agree the only downside was that the set ended too soon. When they finished "Angel of Death" and made it clear that there'd be no encore, most of the crowd still wouldn't budge, and just stayed put cheering and throwing up devil horns and yelling "FUCKIN' SLAYERRRR." It's hard to believe they won't ever be back, but if it really is true, I don't think you could have asked for a better way for Slayer to say goodbye.
Slayer - Riot Fest 2019 Setlist (via)
Evil Has No Boundaries
World Painted Blood
Born of Fire
Seasons in the Abyss
South of Heaven
Dead Skin Mask
Angel of Death
photos by James Richards IV