Ahh, it’s that time of year again. The last stand of the big bands. With Black Sabbath, Aerosmith and countless others over the last couple of years doing their ‘final’ tours and including Donington as a must-do stop, we seem to have these epic/ sad endings coming thick and fast. Honestly though, given I’m about half a generation behind the curve of these bands, I’m pretty glad I’ve had the opportunity to see them at all. Tonight it is the turn of the mighty thrash merchants Slayer to bid us farewell, in their last ever UK show, and the Zippo Encore stage area is awash with black tshirts as far as the eye can see. This is hands down the fullest this arena has ever been in the whole of Download history, and I can see half a dozen kids-on-shoulders who have yet no idea how insanely lucky they are to be at this show, given that these guys have been playing for almost 40 years.
The stage is set with all the trappings you’d expect of metal royalty, pentacles, skulls, chains, fire… and the crowd are already chanting ‘Slayer’ in unison. Walking onto the stage with all the clear purpose and confidence of a band who have made performing live their home, it’s a sobering moment to think that we are about to see this for the very last time, that this is our metal history we’re saying goodbye to. We can’t wallow for long though, ‘Repentless’ is wild and immediately gathers a hot and chaotic mosh pit, before the band break into early track ‘Evil Has No Boundaries’. It’s certain that tonight we’re getting a history lesson.
We’re spoilt with a list of raw, furious shredding from ‘Disciple’ to ‘Seasons in the Abyss’ as pyro cannons shoot flames across the inside of the stage and inverted crosses burn in the darkening night. Rocking a ‘Kill the Kardashians’ tshirt, guitarist Gary Holt is ripping Donington a new one alongside Tom Arya and Kerry King in his signature belt chains, and as the first ominous notes of ‘South of Heaven’ shimmer across the arena, I feel actual chills. Slayer played at the first festival I ever went to – here at Donington for Ozzfest 2002 and those notes, that moment will be forever etched into my memory – now, alongside this one. As the band scream into the iconic ‘Raining Blood’, thousands of people are windmilling their hair and headbanging like their necks aren’t over 30 and going to be immobile by work on Monday, it’s a sight to behold.
Shutting Donington down with ‘Dead Skin Mask’ and ‘Angel of Death’ is exactly the fire fueled, gut-punch of an ending I expected of Slayer, they are masters of their craft and Gods of the genre, that much is undeniable. With a final “Thank you for being here” and Tom Arya reluctantly leaving the stage, with what looks to be tears in his eyes, we in the crowd can only chant their name in appreciation and thanks. I think it’s testimony to their legacy that everyone is just still standing, still throwing horns into the air – instead of legging it straight to the main stage. This night is too important to so many, and I hope we gave Slayer the farewell they deserved.