American thrash-metal band Slayer can easily be called one of the greatest metal bands of all time.
Their 1986 album Reign in Blood is considered to be the foundation of death metal (averaging a breakneck speed of 220 beats per minute), and they are credited as one of the "Big Four" metal acts, alongside Metallica, Megadeth, and Anthrax.
Everything about the band screams intensity. Drummer Dave Lombardo uses two bass drums instead of the double kick on a single bass drum, and has been dubbed the "godfather of double bass" by Drummerworld. Guitarists Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King's signature dual guitar solos are aggressive and fast and chaotic, but also melodically twisted. And most of all, the band delights in bucking convention: Slayer's controversial lyrics and album art, often concerning religion, warfare, serial killers, and Satanism, have sparked lawsuits and album bans, but the band laughs off ideas about "worshiping the devil."
Since their debut album in 1983, Slayer has released 11 studio albums and scored two Grammys, but it's all come with struggle, judgment, sweat, and blood. And, curiously enough, spider bites. Guitarist Jeff Hanneman hasn't been able to tour with the band since 2011, due to a flesh-eating disease, necrotizing fasciitis, that doctors attribute to a an encounter with an eight-legged aggravator. Surely, damn arachnids everywhere are dealing with the wrath of metal heads. Hell hath no fury like a detained guitar god's fans.
But they still rock the stage, and the Valley will have a chance to hear them when Slayer comes through town on Friday, July 6, for the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival, alongside Slipknot, Motorhead, and Anthrax.
Up on the Sun sat down with Slayer's lead vocalist/bassist, Tom Araya, to talk about who has the craziest fans, the Slayer album new fans should hear first (it's not Reign in Blood), and how he keeps his faith on the road.
Up on the Sun: What is Slayer currently working on? I saw somewhere that you guys are wrapping up writing on new music.
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Tom Araya: It's a two-sided thing, like a two-song single that we plan on releasing. That's what we've been working on, and we're hoping it gets released while we're touring on Mayhem. We just finished it up in Dallas.
So is Exodus guitarist Gary Holt is still filling in for Jeff Hanneman this summer? How is Jeff doing?
Gary Holt is filling in for Jeff, who has let us know that he didn't feel he was prepared to perform live, at least for an extended period of time, which is usually over an hour.
I was at the Big Four in Indio, and it was fantastic to see him up there, playing on stage. Yeah, that was a great show! I missed jamming with him last year. I wish he would get better. We need him, period. He's a big part of this band. I'm sure fans appreciate the fact that we're out there playing, but I'm sure they'd appreciate it more if it was all the members. I feel the same way they do.
So between you and the other major bands on the bill at Mayhem fest, who do you think has the craziest fans? I'm a little biased when it comes to that. Our fans are pretty wacko. I would think Slipknot, but they have a lot of young fans. I think the generation we came from are a little more crazy than the younger metal generation. I'd have to say in an order? Us, Slipknot, then Motorhead, then Anthrax.
If someone had never heard of Slayer and you had to give them an album to listen to for the first impression of the band, which album would you hand them? Reign In Blood, since it's widely considered to be the foundation and inspiration for death metal? I guess the one they all recommend, man. Reign in Blood would be the first one, but the more accessible album that I think sits well with everyone is Seasons in the Abyss. It's not as brutal as Reign In Blood -- like, in your face -- and it's over before you can really get a good listen. Before you know it, you're just getting into it, and it's over.
It is a really brutal album. I bet you encounter way more than your fair share of negativity on the road, whether it's being surrounded by atheism or critics claiming the band is Satanic. How do you balance our your faith and religion while on the road? We don't pay much attention to the negative energy or press out there. I know the band writes a lot of stuff that could be construed as negative, but it's for entertainment. If you can't relax and enjoy it, then don't listen to it. Whenever they come up with something, you know, Kerry and Jeff, when they come up with music it's usually just like, wow, this sounds great. Sometimes [with] their ideas, as far as Slayer content, there's some stuff that's like "What the hell?" But a lot of what they do is written very well, and it is very cool. You can think of how some people might take it, but it quickly goes away when you realize how it can weigh heavily on people in a good way.
So as long as it's entertaining, you guys and you like where the instrumentals are going, you feel that people shouldn't take it to heart? Yeah, that's just about it.
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Arizona's going to be super-hot for Mayhem. What is one of the ways you deal with heat on tour? You deal with it! [laughs]. You suck it up, you go out there, and you do it. You worry about the heat later.
Has there been an environment hotter that you've played in before, besides Arizona in summer? Yeah, we have done summer tours where we end up playing at two or three in the afternoon as the sun is right at that painful angle. The stage will be directly facing the sun. We're told that ahead of time usually. Then Kerry puts on a lot of sunscreen on his head. The sooner you're off the stage the better.
Slayer is scheduled to perform Friday, July 6, at Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival at Ashley HomeStore Pavilion.