The news broke earlier this year that Slayer were hanging up their blood-spattered pentagrams after one final world tour. As a result, tonight feels a lot more celebratory and atmospheric than a gig in Wembley’s chilliest shed has any right to be. It certainly helps that the LA thrash legends have insisted on maximum value for money for their fans, with “big four” peers Anthrax and modern metal heavyweights Lamb of God on the bill, too. Even better (although more sensitive mainstream rock fans may disagree), Floridian death-metal titans Obituary kick things off at 6.20pm, remarkably to a two-thirds-full arena. They conclude with an old favourite called Slowly We Rot. We are very much in Slayer’s world here.
Both Anthrax and Lamb of God threaten to bring the ceiling down; the latter are easily big enough to headline this show, and the absurdly huge circle pit that erupts during the closing Redneck suggests that Slayer’s most logical successors are already waiting in line.
But tonight is all about the band that created one of metal’s most unarguably flawless albums, Reign in Blood (1986). From the discordant malevolence of their trademark riffs to the reliably unapologetic grimness of the lyrics, Slayer’s sound is seminal and ageless. If the band’s steady march towards retirement (this tour, it is rumoured, could go on for years) has had any effect, it has been to confirm how utterly irreplaceable they will be. The visceral rush of opening song Repentless sets the tone, with 10ft swaths of fire erupting from all corners and guitarists Kerry King and Gary Holt (who replaced original guitarist Jeff Hanneman after his death in 2013) firing off scabrous, atonal solos with rapacious intensity.
Thereafter, Wembley is assailed by an unrelenting barrage of classics, culminating in a heroic encore that starts with the still terrifying Raining Blood and ends with the unerringly unnerving Angel of Death, a strident visual tribute to Hanneman featuring a huge amount of extra fire – just in case anyone was in any doubt that Slayer will remain the devil’s house band long after the tour bus wheels stop rolling.