When I was 14, just a hair shy of 15, I somehow convinced my parents to let me take a day off of school in early June to go to Ozzfest, a large heavy metal festival put on by Ozzy Osbourne, with a few seniors from my high school.
While I remember much of that day, one thing I’ll never forget was seeing Slayer for the first time. They were on the main stage of then-Nissan Pavilion, now called Jiffy Lube Live, the large pavilion in Bristow, Virginia, built (rumor has it) on top of a landfill.
Although it was 1999 and Slayer had been around for about 17 or 18 years, they blew me away. I’ll never forget the wall of Marshall amplifiers lining the stage, guitarist Jeff Hanneman’s blonde hair in front of his face as his hands shredded his guitar. Kerry King, on the other guitar, looked like a man possessed by a demon, and the bass player and lead singer, Tom Araya, with his long black curly hair, headbanged between belting out the most evil of lyrics.
That was 19 years ago.
Since then, I had purchased much of Slayer’s discography, almost a dozen Slayer t-shirts, and seen the band perform in several states. Slayer’s music was a huge influence on me as I grew into my teenage years, when I went to college, and the past five years when I played in the local DC-area thrash cover band Death Echo. We played myriad Slayer songs, including Black Magic, Blood Red, War Ensemble, Season in the Abyss, South of Heaven, Mandatory Suicide, and Dead Skin Mask.
When Slayer came to the Fillmore in Silver Spring, Maryland in the spring of 2016, I went with my band members, as well as my wife Abby. We had only been seeing each other for six months at that point, but I knew she was special. When I kissed her and told her I was going down to the mosh pit, all she did was smile. When I arrived there, a few minutes before Slayer’s set began, I looked up at her on the balcony and waved. She smiled and waved back.
Abby’s view of the stage.
Then the melodic yet heavy song Delusions of a Savior came on the PA system and the crowd started to cheer. Suddenly, the song ended and Slayer broke into Repentless, a fast attack song that sounded similar to the songs on the Hell Awaits album. After Postmortem and Born of Fire, I heard the first six notes of my favorite Slayer song: Disciple. I started my own mosh pit, only a few people away from the front, and several other people and I started to slamdance with each other, our shoulders bouncing off each other like a pinball machine. It was clear that I went to another place when I heard the song, and I lost myself in it. The song exploded again and I began screaming the lyrics at the top of my lungs. Before I knew it, it was over and the crowd had calmed down, albeit for a short time. I stayed in the pit for a few more songs before I went back up to see Abby. (Read more on why I mosh.)
She was still there, much to my surprise. I walked up behind her and hugged her with my now sweaty t-shirt. She cringed slightly.
“You’re still here,” I told her.
“Of course,” she responded with a smile.
It was in that moment, I knew. This was a girl who had seen me at my rawest and didn’t leave. She saw me go to another psychological state and still stayed with me. This was the girl I loved.
“Is it weird for a guy to tell a girl he loves her at a Slayer show?” I asked.
Abby smiled and clearly didn’t know what to say. It was good enough for me. At this point, she knew everything about me and was still with me. This was the girl I was going to marry, and I came to that conclusion at a Slayer concert.
Abby and me, wearing our newly acquired Slayer tour t-shirts.
Abby and I saw Slayer again the following summer in Baltimore and when we heard that Slayer would launch its final tour in the summer of 2018, there was no question we would be there.
On Sunday night, June 10th, we went to Jiffy Lube Live and watched Anthrax and Lamb of God play opening sets before Slayer took the stage around 9:15 p.m. Once again, I was in the pit, waving back at Abby who was in the first section of seats. I could tell she was smiling. A few songs into the set, Slayer played Disciple and I, once again, had an existential experience. It was the last time I’d ever hear the band play the song live and I wanted to take every moment I could.
When I returned to sit next to Abby, I gave her a big hug, and once again, she cringed after realizing my t-shirt was drenched with sweat. My voice was gone. My body hurt. But it was all worth it. One last time with the band that influenced me so much with the girl I loved that much more.
Slayer wasn’t perfect, but they didn’t have to be. Watching them play live in the same place I watched them first play live was good enough. At the end of the show, Tom Araya said few words: “Thank you for spending so much time with us. Thank you.” Then he walked off the stage.
Slayer, thanks for a great 20+ years of positively impacting my life. I’ll never forget it. Keep reigning.
Looking back on the crowd from the mosh pit.
A view of the stage right before Slayer would come on. As you can see, I’m only a few people from the front.
Abby and me watching Slayer’s final show.
Tom Araya, seen on stage on the left of the picture, taking in the moment with fans. The backdrop refers to Jeff Hanneman, original Slayer guitarist who died in 2013 of liver failure.