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An enormous, black mass of rabid fans congregated outside Spokane Arena in Washington.  The chill in the air couldn’t cool the blood that flowed through the veins of the legion of metalheads eagerly counting down the minutes till the doors opened to the massive arena.  After nearly 4 decades of live aggression, Thrash metal giants, Slayer were ready to step down from their thrown.  As one of the so-called “Big 4” in thrash metal, Slayer’s influence on extreme music is without question.  Their timeless metal anthems are legendary, and from the stories I heard from throughout the arena, their dedicated fan-base traveled from all over North America to witness the onslaught of their Final Campaign.

As a start to the night, Phil Anselmo, the acclaimed and controversial former frontman for the legendary Groove Metal band, Pantera, pointed a finger to the sky and dedicated the night to his departed bandmates.  One of Anselmo’s countless side-projects christened, Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals, performed A Vulgar Display of PANTERA, a tribute to the glory days of his band, long-since past.  With a raised fist, he and his group of renegade outlaws revisited classics from their ground-breaking album, Far Beyond Driven, Vulgar Display of Power as well as a few other hits from the band’s timeless catalog.  Hearing Anselmo sing with such reverence and brute force transported me back to a special time in my formative metalhead years when I would play Vulgar Display of Power on repeat while clutching the lyrics close to my heart.  With his arms in the air, Anselmo ended their time on the stage with the anti-establishment anthem, “The Great Southern Trendkill” and with a deafening cry, thousands of devoted fans became one, screaming in unison, “The Trend is Dead!”

A massive glowing cross appeared in the darkness of the stage and Al Jourgensen, the dreaded, brainchild of industrial metal gods, Ministry, stood with his arms spread wide over his head.  And like a hammer pounding relentlessly on steel beam, the opening riff of “The Missing” one of the many venerable hits from the 1988 album, The Land of Rape and Honey,  reverberated through the skulls of every living thing in Spokane Arena.  The industrial metal progenitors didn’t stray away too far from their older defining albums.  With a ding-a-ding-dang and a dang-a-long-ling-ling, Jourgensen cranked the engine on “Jesus Built My Hotrod” from KE*A*H** (Psalm 69) and continued down the highway of their past to the delight of their long devoted fans with their most anticipated favorites, “Just One Fix” and “N.W.O.”

On the surface, Primus seems like an odd choice to have on Slayer’s Final Campaign but in actuality, their classic albums, Pork Soda and Sailing the Sea of Cheese have almost always unapologetically shared the same space on the album shelf with Reign in Blood and Seasons of the Abyss.  With Les Claypool’s virtuosity, thumping bass riffs and outlandish humor, they were met with bobbing heads and skanking metalheads all throughout the Arena.  Deranged, bicycle-riding, monkey-people hybrids rode through suburbia on a massive backdrop to the hypnotic thump of, “Here Come The Bastards” and all normalcy went right out the window.   Claypool reached for his stand-up bass and dawned his infamous pig mask becoming the eccentric Mr. Krinkle.  Defying the laws of tradition of any metal concert that has come before, Primus was the perfect contrast to the brutality to come.

The brooding curtains that draped in front of the stage fell to the floor and the countdown to the final farewell began.  Surrounded by the flames of the violent firestorm behind them, Slayer stood indomitable before thousands of their most loyal fans in the massive arena.  The ferocious intensity of their opening track, “Repentless”, a song off their latest album of the same name, seemed to shrink the stage.  With four decades and twelve studio albums, their setlist was carefully assembled to showcase the entirety of their long and defiant career.  Despite the toll of decades of touring, bassist and frontman, Tom Araya’s voice carried over the audience with the same fire it did in Slayer’s defining years.  Kerry King, the band’s unmistakable lead guitarist, violently banged his head along with guitarist, Gary Holt, through a dizzying maelstrom of notes while leading the band through their timeless anthems from Seasons of the Abyss, Reign in Blood and even their 1983 debut, Show No Mercy.

Slayer’s Final Campaign was a milestone that their legion of followers will carry with them for the rest of their lives; be it on their sleeves, their hearts and for some, even carved on their forearms.  Having Slayer’s sharp-edged logo worn on your chest is a sign of allegiance, a silent nod to a long and celebrated legacy of aggression and brutality.  And with that priceless bit of history worn like precious battle armor, you can point to the date on the back of that shirt and proudly state, yes, I was there and I still have that ringing in my ears.

Raul Soria Jr.

Photojournalist - Portland

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