Whenever a legendary band or artist calls it quits, it's commonplace for music journalists to mark the occasion with misty-eyed "end of an era" dissertations on what said act meant to them personally, as well as to their army of fans, and our culture as a whole.
But as Slayer carry on their farewell tour, one would do well to hold off on the tears, the platitudes and the analysis. Not because they aren't one of the most important, intense and influential bands the metal world has ever known — they are, obviously — but because Slayer simply don't give a fuck about your feelings, your memories or your opinions about their place in music history. "No looking back, no regrets, no apologies," Tom Araya sings on "Repentless," the title track from their most recent studio album. "What you get is what you see."
For 37 years now, Slayer have basically only cared about one thing: Slayer. They have spent nearly four decades shrugging off contradictions, controversies and societal conventions, in order to concentrate on kicking some serious ass in the most brutally Slaytanic way possible. And as they thrash their way off into the sunset, we honor their singular existence by looking back at 10 times when Slayer simply, truly did not give a fuck.
Though they'd already played numerous West Coast dates in support of their 1983 debut Show No Mercy, Slayer didn't do a cross-country tour of the U.S. until the fall of 1984, when they hit the road with no money, no manager and a U-Haul trailer attached to the back of Tom Araya's Chevy Camaro. "We slept in basements, we slept in storage rooms," Araya recalled earlier this year. "I have no idea how we survived those trips." One of the Camaro's headlights kept flickering, so it fell to Kerry King to provide roadside assistance — which took the form of getting out of the car and punching the light until it went on again. "It worked a lot," King said of his technique, "until that one time it was too cold and I shattered it."
With Venom, Slayer and Exodus all on the same bill, 1985's Combat Tour was a dream come true for aficionados of early thrash metal. It was also a major step forward for Slayer, who were big Venom fans — though Tom Araya sure picked an interesting way of demonstrating his fandom to Cronos, Venom's frontman.
"It was our first time on a tour bus," Dave Lombardo told Decibel in 2006. "Venom started the tour with these extravagant tour buses, but by the end of the tour, they were bankrupt and driving around in cars. So Jeff and I were drinking in the back of the bus with Cronos — I think we were playing Hell Awaits for him. Tom came in, hammered out of his mind, going, 'I gotta take a piss! Where's the bathroom in this thing?' And Cronos goes, 'Right here — right here in my mouth!' And Tom took him literally. He pulled down his pants, whipped it out and went to the bathroom on Cronos' hair. Cronos got up, grabbed Tom and punched him in the face. They spent the rest of the night blaming each other, and Tom did the rest of the tour with a black eye."
"I still can't believe Tom pissed on his head," laughed Kerry King, looking back at the incident. "I was still star-struck by Cronos at that point, and I was like, 'Holy shit!' That's definitely a Tom claim-to-fame, I gotta say. I'm not sure I would've handled it that way."
Perhaps nothing about Slayer was more controversial (and, for some of us, more off-putting) than their references to Nazism, both in their lyrics and their artwork. The band, however, has never backed down in the face of criticism over it — even when Geffen Records dropped the band over "Angel of Death," the thrash classic inspired by the work of notorious Auschwitz physician Josef Mengele — always maintaining that their morbid fascination with Nazi history and imagery was no different than their morbid fascination with serial killers or bloody military battles. (Those who charge Slayer with perpetuating the Nazi's "master race" philosophy usually fail to note that Tom Araya is Chilean, and former drummer Dave Lombardo is Cuban.) According to Jeff Hanneman, who wrote the lyrics to "Angel of Death," they were simply exploring a particularly dark chapter of human existence, rather than celebrating it.
"I feel you should be able to write about whatever you want," he told The Guardian in 1987. "'Angel of Death' is like a history lesson. I'd read a lot about the Third Reich and was absolutely fascinated by the extremity of it all, the way Hitler had been able to hypnotize a nation and do whatever he wanted, a situation where Mengele could evolve from being a doctor to being a butcher."
"I know why people misinterpret ['Angel of Death']," Hanneman reflected to KNAC radio in 2004. "It's because they get this knee-jerk reaction to it ... there's nothing I put in the lyrics that says necessarily [Mengele] was a bad man, because to me — well, isn't that obvious?!?!?! I shouldn't have to tell you that."
From "The Antichrist" on Show No Mercy to the bloodied Jesus on the cover of Repentless, Satanic and anti-Christian imagery has always played a major part of Slayer's music and visual presentation. The band's Satan-invoking ways have earned them the fear and loathing of conservative Christians everywhere — just the mere suggestion that their name could be an acronym for "Satan Laughs As You Eternally Rot" was enough to send concerned parents everywhere running for cover. But Tom Araya, who was raised in the Catholic faith and has expressed his belief in an "all-loving God" in numerous interviews, has never been particularly bothered by Slayer's lyrics, or his band's evil reputation.
"Kerry's written some really far-out shit," he explained to the Edmonton Sun in 2006. "If it's a good song, I'm not one that's going to go, 'This sucks because it's contrary to my beliefs.' To me it's more like, 'This is really good stuff. You're going to piss people off with this.' People have these heavy issues and ask, 'Isn't this a problem for you?' and no. I'm well-rounded, I have a really strong belief system, and these are just words and they'll never interfere with what I believe and how I feel. People are not in good shape [if] they have to question their own belief system because of a book or a story somebody wrote, or a Slayer song."
Few Slayer fans would probably name 1994's Divine Intervention as their favorite record — even Kerry King and Tom Araya have mentioned their dissatisfaction with the album's sound — but it remains memorable for its packaging, which includes the now-iconic photos of a pair of bloody forearms with "Slayer" carved into them. And just to prove that the photos weren't photoshopped, the band filmed the carving being done, and included the footage in their 1995 home video Live Intrusion.
The forearms in question belonged to Michael Meyer, a Southern California-based musician and diehard Slayer fan. "'Raining Blood' is one of my favorite songs of all time," Meyer told CLRVYNT in 2016. "And when they released that video that starts with them carving my arms up, and it goes slow-mo with flames licking up and down on my arm, and then they play 'Raining Blood,' I was like, 'Oh yeah, that is awesome.'"
While most bands might have been reluctant to involve a fan in such a stunt — especially since it could inspire other fans to do the same — Slayer had no qualms about encouraging body scarification in their name. "The whole idea about the dude with Slayer in his arms was brought about because reality is scarier than anything you can make up," Kerry King told CMJ in 1995.
1996 was something of a transitional year for metal. Albums by acts like Tool (Aenima), Marilyn Manson (Antichrist Superstar) and Korn (Life Is Peachy) pushed the genre in various new directions, while releases by Metallica (Load), Soundgarden (Down on the Upside) and Pantera (The Great Southern Trendkill) found these already-established giants casting about for new sonic worlds to conquer — sometimes successfully, sometimes not. Meanwhile, Slayer went in an entirely different (and completely unfashionable) direction, giving the middle finger to the trendy pop-punk scene by recording Undisputed Attitude, a collection of songs originally waxed by Eighties hardcore-punk bands like Verbal Abuse, Minor Threat, T.S.O.L. and D.R.I.
"When we did Undisputed Attitude in 1996, we did that in rebellion to Green Day and the Offspring," Kerry King told Metal Hammer in 2016. "It's not their fault, but everyone called them punk bands and me and Jeff were, 'This isn't punk, guys.' We just took offense to it and Undisputed Attitude was that coming out."
One of the selections on Undisputed Attitude was a minute-long blast through "Guilty of Being White," a song by legendary D.C. straight-edge hardcore band Minor Threat. Penned by frontman Ian Mackaye in response to being bullied by the predominantly black population of his high school, the song has often been misinterpreted as a pro-racist anthem, something that Mackaye has constantly denied. Slayer further added to the controversy when Tom Araya changed the song's final cry of "Guilty of being white" to "Guilty of being right."
"That is so offensive to me," Mackaye told author Steven Blush in his book, American Hardcore, and former Minor Threat guitarist Brian Baker also expressed his displeasure about Slayer's lyrical modification. But Slayer didn't exactly rush to apologize. "We're always over-the-top," said Kerry in an audio interview with Toazted.com. "Tom was in there singing it, and he just did it that way, and I was like, 'That's pretty cool!' It's pretty much tongue in cheek."
God Hates Us All, Slayer's possibly presciently-titled 2001 album, was released the same day that four coordinated attacks by members of the terrorist group al-Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people and injured more than twice that amount, leaving a permanent scar on the American psyche in the process. Christ Illusion, Slayer's long-delayed follow-up, came out on August 8th, 2006, just a month before the five-year anniversary of 9/11, and just in case anyone thought they might have softened their lyrical perspective in the wake of the attacks, the album contained "Jihad," a song about the terrorist strikes that included words written by Mohammed Atta, one of the ringleaders of the suicide mission.
Though the song was met with howls of outrage from around the world (EMI India actually recalled all copies of Christ Illusion as a result), "Jihad" was really just another case of Slayer being Slayer. "We just expect shit for it," Jeff Hanneman, who co-wrote the lyrics with Tom Araya, told KNAC in 2006. "But all it is, really is, I basically did the same thing like 'Angel of Death,' it's just a documentary. But being Slayer, we don't put it on the victim side, we put it on the bad guy side. The words are kind of coming from a terrorist point of view, not a victim."
The biggest metal news in the summer of 2010 was the "Big 4" Sonisphere concerts — seven festival dates across Europe featuring Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax. A smashing success on every level, the tour arguably hit its high point on June 22nd in Sofia, Bulgaria, when most of the musicians took the stage together for a lengthy rip through Diamond Head's "Am I Evil?" But with the exception of Dave Lombardo, Slayer was M.I.A. for the historic jam. Kerry King allegedly was too busy editing video from the evening's Slayer performance, while Jeff Hanneman and Tom Araya simply weren't into it.
"[Dave] Mustaine came to me that day and James [Hetfield] came to me that day saying, 'Hey, it would be really cool if you played,'" King told Revolver shortly after the concert. "I knew Jeff wouldn't do it, and I knew Tom [wouldn't do it]. And I also knew after we played that neither one of them would edit our video that was going to cinemas in a couple hours, so I told James and Mustaine both, 'Listen, man. I've gotta edit our video before I can even think about playing with you guys.'"
"Dave Lombardo jams with other people," Araya told the LA Weekly in 2011. "I'm not a fan of that. I don't want to go onstage and fuck somebody else's set up. And then the song 'Am I Evil' ... if they were to say, 'Hey, we want to do 'The Four Horsemen,' I would have been on it. Shit, I'll do that one! That's the song I was hoping to hear. When they said they want to do 'Am I Evil,' err ... To me it just didn't represent the Four. It didn't represent what we do as bands. We play heavier than that."
This past August 26th, Slayer left the stage in San Jose, California, following yet another savage rendition of "Angel of Death," bringing what may have been their last-ever American concert to a fitting end. Despite showing no evidence of slowing down — Gary Holt has proved himself a worthy replacement for the late Jeff Hanneman — or slipping in popularity, Slayer revealed at the beginning of this year that they would be calling it quits following their Final World Tour.
But what, exactly, does that mean? The band continues to announce new concert dates, promising tour legs extending to South America, Australia and Japan in 2019, and an appearance at France's Hellfest, as well. And why, exactly, are they calling it quits? Nobody's really saying. The band haven't given an explanation, and they aren't doing any press for the tour, leaving journalists to recycle some old Tom Araya quotes about how he wants to spend more time with his family.
So, maybe we've actually seen the last of Slayer on U.S. shores; maybe we haven't. Maybe they've simply burned out on touring (though they're certainly not playing like it); maybe they just can't stand each other anymore. Or maybe, like a wild jungle predator nearing the end of its life, Slayer just instinctively know that it's time for them to go. Maybe ours is not to question why, and maybe Slayer just doesn't give enough of a fuck to tell us.
Below, see Lamb of God's Randy Blythe sing the praises of Slayer and share "a secret" about the thrash OGs: