Thrash giants Slayer rule on Mohegan Sun 'Farewell' stop

It's the season of graduations, when Youth cast their bright, owl-eyed focus on the wide horizons of the future and older folks — parents and grandparents? — look on with wistful pride and nostalgia, trying to ignore the frosty whispers of relentless Time: "The world's not yours anymore, the world's not yours anymore ..."

... Which is why I was hoping Slayer, the greatest thrash band ever, would take the stage in the sold-out Mohegan Sun Arena Friday night on this, their officially titled "Farewell Tour," to the dignified strains of Pomp and Circumstance. They could be wearing mortar boards, I thought, to go along with the de rigueur black leather pants and black T-shirts they've donned for more than 37 years and thousands of shows. After all, the band is, in its own way, matriculating, as well, willfully abandoning iconic stardom and a planet's worth of acolytes for the chance to sit back, reflect and, ah, relax.

Instead, true to their hardline vision, Slayer came out to the recorded strains of "Delusions of Saviour," the menacing instrumental that kicks off their 12th and final album, 2015's "Repentless." As a black curtain rose, the band blasted into that record's title track — supported by all the over-the-top stage production you'd expect from four guys who, had they studied architecture instead of extreme metal, might have drawn up the blueprints for hell.

What followed was a 19-song set that took a bit under two hours and included tunes from every phase of their career. There were relative obscurities — "Blood Red," "Dittohead" — to go along with enduring faves "Mandatory Suicide," "Jihad," "Payback," "Seasons in the Abyss," "Dead Skin Mask," "South of Heaven," "Chemical Warfare" and, of course, the show-closing "Angel of Death." Throughout, founding members Tom Araya (vocals, bass) and Kerry King (guitar), along with Gary Holt (guitar, replacing the late Jeff Hanneman) and Paul Bostoph (longtime drummer after Dave Lombardo's exit) performed with synchronous, dental-surgery precision. They were, simply expressed, wonderful.

A few in-no-particular-order observations:

• Apparently, a Slayer concert in 2018 is a fine father/son bonding opportunity.

• Based on a lot of deeply faded, belly-hugging Slayer tour shirts purchased at the original concerts, many fans have grown out of the Angry Young Dude phase and now look like Ed Helms.

• In terms of menace, Slayer's backdrop — or the first of three over the evening — makes Bruegel's "Triumph of Death" look like a triptych from a "Scooby-Doo" episode.

• With ongoing, reverse-fountains of ascending fire stretching across the rear of the stage and auxiliary flame-bombs shooting in omni-directional fashion, it looked like Kim Jong Un bought the Hawaiian volcano and was taking it for a test drive.

• King still headbangs in defiance of the entire history of neck surgery, and nothing's changed in his familiar performance stance: hulking, predator's forward lean with knees slightly bent — like a man about to power-lift a toilet. There can be a goofy element to a Slayer show and persona but not from him.

• Case in point: Holt looks like the longhaired kid next door who won a "play in a metal band" lottery. On the other hand, he frequently uses his own signature ESP Eclipse guitar, which sports the image of a ram-horned god of antiquity painted by artist Vince Castiglia IN HOLT'S OWN BLOOD. (Look it up.)

• Y'know, you watch Slayer for an hour or so and you think, "Hmm, it's just not physically possible for them to play any faster. They've gotta be hitting about 24 notes per second at any given time." And THEN they roar into "Raining Blood" or "Seasons in the Abyss" and "Angel of Death." Forget neck surgery. Anyone know any good wrist doctors?

• The thing about Slayer's music is that "aging" doesn't really enter into it. Their themes — war, hatred, deviltry, sexual atrocity, genocide, death, hell — reflect a worldview they collectively fashioned as young men based in part on real-world scrutiny. And time and history have done nothing to mellow that. As a band and as artists, Slayer has made the best of this — and provided a lifetime of songs for folks who feel the same way but can't adequately express it.

Enjoy retirement, you dark weirdos. Coach the kiddos' softball teams. Play shuffleboard on cruise ships. Plant gardens. And, every once in a while, howl like wolves.

Your kind will not pass this way again.

r.koster@theday.com

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