It’s not every day that a band like Slayer comes through Asheville. The thrash metal icon has been through its share of turmoil over the past 34 years: lawsuits, substance abuse and several line-up changes, including the departure of founding member Dave Lombardo and the death of guitarist Jeff Hanneman in 2013.
Despite these trials, the revamped Slayer is as popular as ever, as proven by the long line of black-and-blue-jeans-clad fans who lined up along Biltmore Avenue to see the legendary rockers play a sold-out show, Tuesday night, at The Orange Peel.
As the lights dimmed on cue, around the stroke of 9 p.m., one could feel the palpable excitement in the air. Even the sound check guy got a raucous ovation from the crowd. As the first guitar lick to “Repentless” — the title track to the band’s new album — bounced off the walls and the band took to the stage in a sea of strobe lights, the floor seethed with a thousand soles stomping in unison.
What followed was the trademark staccato anarchy that has cemented the band’s reputation as rock anti-heroes. And while Kerry King and Tom Araya might be a little greyer in the beard than in the band’s late-’80s heyday, the energy and technical mastery they brought to classics like “Necrophiliac,” “South of Heaven” and “Seasons in the Abyss” was as raw as ever.
On-again, off-again drummer Paul Bostaph and newcomer Gary Holt held their own and didn’t miss a beat, despite the impossible task of having to fill in for legends Lombardo and Hanneman.
Slayer blistered through two hours of frenzy with few pauses in between, saturating the packed showroom floor with the band’s politically-incorrect brand of social commentary. Militaristic bass lines and dual guitar solos went along with the sweat and spilled booze soaking the crowd of ecstatic metal heads who hung on every note like it would be the last sound they heard.
At one point, Araya paused to give a brief philosophical musing on life and death — “There are many ways to die, many ways to achieve death,” he muttered into the mic. “But it’s all by choice” — before launching into a brutal rendition of “Die by the Sword.”
But if the swirling moshpit, crowdsurfers and active security detail gave the illusion of violence, it was cut short by the look of joy on the faces of young and old attendees, men and women, all singing along at the top of their lungs to “Disciple” and “Angel of Death.”
Slayer’s blend of aggression, social introspection and good-natured hell-raising was on full display from the moment the band walked on-stage until two hours later when Araya hit the famous growling chorus of “Raining Blood” to close the set.
And just like a tornado whipping through a trailer park, when the storm was over, a strange calm settled on the entire venue. “We appreciate you folks spending your time with us this evening,” said Araya with a slight bow as the lights went up. A look of spent serenity spreading over the bassplayer’s face, as Holt tossed guitar picks into the crowd. “Thanks again.”
As the crowd shuffled out through a flood of spent plastic cups and spilled beer into the refreshing night air, a sense of satisfaction could be heard in the happy rumblings. The fans had just watched their heroes deliver exactly what the doctor ordered: a potion for temporary insanity and a cleansing of the soul.
Like the trickster Loki, Slayer’s newest incarnation led those in attendance to the brink and back. As The Orange Peel cleared out, everyone seemed to give a collective sigh of relief, invigorated to be alive and able to let formalities go for a couple hours on a muggy Tuesday evening.