Slayer, live in Belgrade, Serbia (2013)
Determination, perseverance, devotion, attitude… these are all adjectives that can describe one of the best and most powerful thrash metal bands to ever lay down a guitar riff. In a year plagued by arguments, injury and death, it comes as no surprise that Slayer has managed to overcome these obstacles, that would have sidelined any other “lesser” band, and have ploughed on through their 2013 European tour. With Jason Newsted’s (ex-bassist for Metallica) band “Newsted” opening for them, they arrived in Belgrade, Serbia on June 25th with the intent to set the Belgrade Arena on fire and by the end of night it felt as if the 3500 fans had indeed been set ablaze.
“Newsted” finished off their energetic and adequately loud set with a Metallice classic, “Whiplash”, which was just the adrenalin rush the audience needed in anticipation of the headliners. In the 20 minutes after Newsted and his band went off the stage, anticipation and frenzy rose by the minute. As the roadies brought on the drum set and lined up the wall of guitar amps, random cheers from the crowd were heard. These cheers from a dedicated few turned into thunderous clapping and chanting of “Slay-er, Slay-er, Slay-er”, as behind the drum set a large black backdrop with the “Slayer” pentagram emblazoned on it was raised above the stage.
The lights went out and the arena exploded into loud roars of metal-joy! The army-like drumming thundered from the stage as the eerie guitars crept. The sound moulded together, creating a frenzied rhythm until Kerry King’s guitar created the break which queued the lights and Tom Araya to scream into the microphone as the legendary Slayer exploded onto the stage with “World Painted Blood”. Moshpits erupted amongst the crowds who headbanged, threw fists in the air and sang along.
Without missing a beat, the band jumped straight into “Hallowed Point” followed by “War Ensemble”. “Hate Worldwide” and “At Dawn They Sleep” came next and the crowd enjoyed every moment of this metal mayhem they were a part of. After the screeching guitars subsided at the end of “At Dawn…”, one spotlight shone on Araya as he stared out over the audience. “Good evening, how are you guys doing?” he boomed into his microphone. The energetic crowd cheered and clapped in response. “It’s good to be here. The next one is called Bloodliiiiiiiine”, his voice was drowned out by the shredding double guitars of Kerry King and Gary Holt as the crowd jumped up and down in sync with the song. Gary Holt was the man who had to fill the large metal boots of one of the founding members of this band, Jeff Hanneman, who had passed away earlier this year from liver failure. Hanneman had not played with Slayer since 2009 when a flesh-eating bacteria induced by a spider bite nearly killed him. He had been recovering quite well and there were rumours that he would rejoin the band and write new material in the next year so. This, unfortunately, would not be the case and it was questioned whether Slayer would even commence their European tour after the tragic loss of their brother, Jeff. But once they got Gary Holt to fill in, it was clear he was very capable of playing with the big boys.
The set continued with a slew of trash metal hits that kept the crowd jumping up and down and singing along, among them being “Mandatory Suicide”, “Die by the Sword” and “Postmortem”, a song which showcased the thunderous drumming of the “new” addition to the band, drummer Paul Bostaph. Paul was recruited to replace the incendiary Dave Lombardo who decided to leave the band after certain contractual disputes. Bostaph is no Slayer-virgin though. In 1992, when Lombardo left the band, Bostaph was recommended as a replacement and he banged the drums to everyone’s satisfaction so much so that he recorded 3 albums with the band and played with them on tour. In 2001 Bostaph decided to leave and Lombardo came back. When asked if he would ever play with Slayer again, Bostaph replied “sure”, and sure enough in 2013 when Araya and King called, Bostaph grabbed his drum sticks and answered.
The band’s 1990 album, “Seasons in the Abyss” spawned metal cult classic tracks such as “War Ensemble”, “Skeletons of Society” and of course the monster hit “Seasons in the Abyss”. When the drums and guitar kicked off the slow but deadly intro to “Seasons…” as the stage lights turned dimly onto the crowd, 3500 pairs of hands raised the devil-horns symbol into the air and as the band kicked into high gear, the whole arena erupted into absolute mayhem! “Hell Awaits” came next and then another of the very few “interactive moments” Araya had with the crowd, where he said “It’s time to sing about romance….this next one is about love… and it’s called Dead…” and the crowd finished off his sentence with “…Skin Mask!” As Kerry King’s guitar screeched at the end of the song, echoing around the whole arena, Bostaph banged on his drums the recognisable and oh-so-popular beginning of another Slayer classic, “Raining Blood”. A couple of repetitions of the thunderous banging on the drums with the stage lights hovering over the audience like searchlights looking for victims lost at sea made way for thrashing and shredding by both Holt and King and Araya’s booming bass. A fan lit up a red flare, mosh pits erupted all over the place and even fans on the stands were jumping up and down and banging on chairs as pandemonium swept through the arena! Kerry Kings guitar wailed on the final solo as the drums thundered and brought the song to an end and a frenzied crowd to cheer and roar in appreciation.
The band left the stage and the lights went black. It had been a performance that only a band with the reputation and stature of Slayer could deliver. A performance so intense that stories about Araya’s spine problems a few months earlier seemed like mere fairy tales. But it was not over.
The black backdrop with the Slayer pentagram emblazoned on it came down to reveal what at first glance seemed like the Heineken beer logo. True fans knew what this was. It was Slayer’s way of paying tribute to their fallen brother, the man who, along with Kerry King, back in 1981 in California started the band, the man who had written most of the band’s music and lyrics, the driving force behind the Slayer train for the past three decades. This was the band’s way of saying “Jeff Hanneman, we will never forget you.” The new backdrop had the song title “Angel of Death” at the top, the words “Still reigning” at the bottom and right in the middle, there it was, “Hanneman, 1964-2013”. Those who could see, would have noticed right from the start of the show, Jeff’s guitar, painted with the same design, propped up against the amplifiers, on the far left of the stage. A silent tribute for him, by his band mates. This silence did not last long, but no words about Hanneman were said, the music spoke for itself. “South of Heaven” was the song that they played next and with lyrics such as “Before you see the light you must die” it was evident that this was their way of paying their respects to their bandmate and friend. Slayer have always been criticised for their songs and violent lyrics, most of which were written by Hanneman and yet they always rebelled against the media backlash and always came out on top. So it was fitting that their final song for the evening was one of Hanneman’s finest lyrical masterpieces (a dark song based on Nazi physician Josef Mengele) and a song that not only paid respect to the legendary guitarist and song-writer but also shouted out a loud and venomous “fuck you” to all the critics and people who believed that Slayer and their music were nothing but satanic noise. The drums crashed in, the guitars ripped up the night air and Araya’s blood-curdling scream sent waves of euphoria through the crowd as the band that is Slayer played “Angel of Death” as the red stage lights shone on the large “Hanneman” logo in the background.
An hour and a half of mayhem, menace and metal later, Gary Holt, Paul Bostaph and Kerry King waved to the ecstatic crowd, Tom Araya looked out over the audience, smiled and said “Thanks a lot.” The lights went to black, Slayer left the stage and 3500 metal fans left the arena after witnessing a metal show to end all metal shows. No frills, no fuss, just epilepsy-inducing stage lights, screaming guitars, thunderous drums, booming bass, spine-chilling vocals and a standing testament to a thrash metal band that has made no compromises over it’s lengthy career, has never sold it’s soul to the devil and has managed to overcome arguments, injuries and death to become one of the best and most respected metal bands of our time and will continue to reign (in blood) for decades and generations to come.
For a detailed look at some great photos, take a look at the full gallery of Marko Ristić’s photos at:
Below you can see some of my video from the concert as well.
Slayer – “Dead Skin Mask” – live in Belgrade, 25.06.13
Slayer – “Raining Blood” – live in Belgrade, 25.06.13
Slayer – “Seasons in the Abyss” – live in Belgrade, 25.06.13
Slayer – “South of Heaven” – live in Belgrade, 25.06.13