After nearly four decades as revered pioneers of heavy metal and one of the best live acts on the planet, Slayer are nearing the end of their farewell world tour. What will they leave us beyond the fruits of their uncompromising vision: songs, videos, shirts, posters and other memorabilia? For one thing, stories. Lots of stories. So for Revolver's new issue, which features Slayer on one of its multiple collectible covers (you can purchase a copy via our store), we tracked down a few of their many famous friends and fans to compile some of the best.
Here, Bellator MMA fighter, former UFC competitor, professional wrestler, Amon Amarth music-video star (see below) and mega metalhead Josh "The Warmaster" Barnett tells tales of the thrash titans — from how the band has been "a constant companion" throughout his life, to why it's "surreal" being friends with Kerry King.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST INTRODUCTION TO SLAYER?
JOSH BARNETT I think I really first got to know about Slayer from Hell Awaits and I remember being pretty stoked at what I was listening to, but also feeling like I was listening to something pretty damn evil. When I first listened to Show No Mercy, "Satan" was every other word and I was like, "Oh my god, I don't know if I can listen to this." It scared me. I was thinking that perhaps, listening to music, this evil could be dangerous.
As I started to progress on my metal journey from being a wee kid, Slayer became synonymous with listening to aggressive, extreme music and metal in my life. In fact, I had Seasons in the Abyss on one side of a tape and I would listen to it before every football game and every wrestling meet, especially "War Ensemble." It just put me in that frame of mind. Slayer was a constant companion growing up in high school. It was a way to relieve pressure. It was also a way to increase pressure within yourself for the moment that you could let it go. As an athlete and someone who's been in combat sports for as long as I have, it just feels like second nature.
WHEN WAS THE FIRST TIME YOU SAW THEM LIVE?
The first time I ever got to see Slayer live was on Mayhem [Festival]. The sun starts going down for Slayer, everyone's getting rowdier and rowdier. There's people literally sitting up on the chain link fences and going berserk — people are finding anywhere that they can to get a vantage point. Slayer, of course, is just tearing it up. They go into "South of Heaven," and as it starts to build up, "Before you see the light you must die!" and the crosses start turning upside down and flames are shooting up, I look around. Bonfires had erupted and people were just moshing around them and trying to shove each other into piles of burning garbage. It just looked like the end of the world, and I thought there was no better place to be at that moment.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE MEETING THE BAND?
Through mutual friends in the [music] industry, when I finally got to actually get to know the band and become friends with Kerry [King] and his wife Ayesha. That was such a weird, surreal thing because 13-year-old me couldn't get over that I'm hanging out with Kerry King listening to stories about being on the road, and having him whip out the photo album of all the stuff from their really, really, really early days that would eventually go in that book, Murder in the Front Row, and him just telling the stories about where they were playing, and when they were playing there, and spending the night, and hanging out.
Obviously, everybody is a human being before they're a rock star, or they're a fighter, or a race car driver, or what have you. But there's nothing that can ever diminish Slayer in my eyes. Its legacy is cemented firmly for everything they've created, and so I'm always eternally proud of that. Also, even in a more personal sense, to know that Kerry has been such a big part of that as someone that I know. It was also really nice to just get to meet someone and know that they were just down-to-earth, solid, really thoughtful people. Sometimes the most evil stuff comes out of the nicest people.
YOU'RE BRINGING UP AN AWESOME POINT ABOUT SLAYER — THAT WHO THEY APPEAR TO BE ONSTAGE IS NOT WHO THEY ARE OFFSTAGE. CAN YOU DISCUSS MORE ABOUT THEIR PERSONALITIES?
Onstage, Kerry is clearly in his zone, right? That's a place that is a sacred spot for anyone that's out there. Everyone is going to approach their way of being onstage differently. Of course, there is also context, but I think that it's a thing that somebody experiences on a level that it's really hard to describe. To see Kerry right before he goes onstage, and to see the difference between Kerry and Gary Holt. Gary, by the way, is an incredible guy. I met him through Exodus' [former singer] Rob Dukes. Awesome, rad dude. Hell of a guitar player.
Gary is pumped up, but it's a different sense. Whereas Kerry is internal — like an atom bomb waiting to explode. So incredibly intense. Offstage, Kerry is a very no-frills guy. He's very, I would say, just what you see is what you get — says what he means, means what he says, is very giving, likes to spend time with the people that he likes and really cares about that time, as much as I can tell. I don't mean just with me, but just seeing him with other people, seeing him with his wife and seeing how they're so well-matched in terms of their energies and how they fit together.
It's also really inspiring to see how much Kerry still really loves playing guitar, playing metal, going onstage with Judas Priest and playing something with them and being so stoked about that even though he's such a huge rock star himself. Something that for someone, at least in my position, I feel that it shows you that there's no weakness in humility. There's also no weakness in showing that you appreciate and you actually really love something, and also that passion can be continued and renewed. That's great to see.
YOU MENTIONED IN HIGH SCHOOL LISTENING TO SLAYER BEFORE A GAME OR A MEET. WITH YOUR EXTENDED HISTORY IN MIXED MARTIAL ARTS AND PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING, WITH ALL THE TRAINING AND WORKING OUT, IS SLAYER STILL PART OF THE MIX?
I'm metal through and through. I can understand some songs can amp you up way too much. Some songs I think put you right in the right zone. I walk out in the ring to Bolt Thrower. I choose the song that I think moves me the way that I think want it to the most. Slayer is constantly something that gets played in my life, either just because it's in almost every playlist I make, but I deliberately listen to Slayer when I lift. There's been times I've made specific playlists for training in the ring when I know I have sparring days. I know I had "Fight Till Death" come on when I'm sparring and just feeling that next level and just being in a bit of a state of combat and that helping. In fact, even just being at the concerts, the music still gets a hold of me, if I let it. I just want to go out there and start wrecking shit. [Laughs]
IF YOU WERE EVER TO WALK OUT TO A SLAYER SONG, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Hmm… It's hard to say, but I really think that it falls on "Raining Blood." One of my fighters, Shayna Baszler, who's in WWE NXT right now, we set it up one time, she was fighting in this tournament. For her first matchup she was fighting this girl from Japan who had probably 20 some fights. We set it up so that she was going to come out to "Raining Blood" and we even went to the store and found a First Act electric guitar, because she was famous for walking in the ring with an ESP guitar — but there's no way we're going to smash up a nice ESP guitar. So we bought this First Act guitar. We were checking it out — those things by the way, made incredibly sturdy. You could easily commit homicide with those things and still probably play a concert on it afterwards.
So the music kicks in, and as soon as the double bass rolls over, she's out there down the walkway, smashes the guitar to pieces, charges through the ring, and then would go turn her opponent into a piece of pulled-apart meat, for the most part. So, it was pretty damn epic, and that buildup to that song is unreal.
If it ain't that, it's probably "Hell Awaits." It's hard not to choose that, personally, because Hell Awaits is the first album that I ever listened to from Slayer. That "Hell Awaits" opening is pretty epic and it always bring the hairs on end. When I'm at the concert and they play that song, that song just makes me want to go nuts. Well, that and "War Ensemble." That one — oof.
WELL, A FIGHT IS LIKE A WAR AND SO MANY OF SLAYER'S SONGS ARE ABOUT WAR.
This is very true.
WITH THIS BEING SLAYER'S FINAL CAMPAIGN, IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE YOU WANT TO FINALLY ADD?
You know, I didn't get to know Jeff [Hanneman] really all that well, but he was kind to me. He was affable, and all the only times I know of him were in good spirits, and it was really, really tragic for him to leave this world, but his legacy lives on. Through the music and even through Slayer being on the road as they are today with Gary. I think, if it was up to Jeff and he had to pick someone, I think he'd be all right with Gary filling in. I know people like to get all upset about Jeff not being there, but there's nothing that can be done about it. At the end of the day, I look more as what Slayer does every time they hit the stage as honoring Jeff and the songs that he helped write, and everything he created with Slayer, instead of anything otherwise. I just think it's a benefit to him and his name.