Inside Slayer's 'Seasons in the Abyss': From "Dead Skin Mask" to Clash of the Titans | Revolver

Inside Slayer's 'Seasons in the Abyss': From "Dead Skin Mask" to Clash of the Titans

Tom Araya, Kerry King, Jeff Hanneman and Dave Lombardo look back on thrash OGs' classic 1990 album
slayer PRESS 1990, Marty Temme
Slayer, 1990
photograph by Marty Temme

This article originally appeared in the December 2008 issue of Decibel magazine and in Revolver's 2009 collector's issue dedicated to Slayer.

Slayer's first two albums with producer Rick Rubin saw the band take their uncompromising thrash to new levels of high-speed hate (Reign in Blood) and doomy evil (South of Heaven). They closed their definitive trilogy with 1990's Seasons in the Abyss, which followed the slower, moodier direction of its predecessor to an even darker, more malevolent place with songs like the title cut and "Dead Skin Mask." It also led Slayer to one of their biggest tours, dubbed the Clash of the Titans, as well as to the end of their classic lineup, following drummer Dave Lombardo's departure in 1992.

TOM ARAYA To me, [1990's] Seasons was the last time we all sat down and worked on a record together as opposed to coming in with songs already done. It was the last album where I really felt like I was part of the songwriting process rather than being handed songs that were already complete.

JEFF HANNEMAN To me, Seasons is just an extension of South of Heaven. We were still in that frame of mind after South. "Dead Skin Mask" is definitely my favorite song on that record — the riff is just haunting.

TOM ARAYA A friend of ours named Matt Polish came in to do that voice in the background on "Dead Skin Mask." I told him to pretend he was a little kid who didn't wanna play anymore, who wanted to go home. And then we pitched his voice up to make it sound like a little kid. That was supposed to be the little kid in Ed Gein: "I wanna go now!" It came out really good.

KING Seasons was what I had wanted South of Heaven to be. And it's probably the last record Rubin had any real influence on — he eventually became the kind of producer who shows up for drums, vocals and mixing, and that's it. I remember Tom went in and sang "Temptation" without knowing where the lyrics were supposed to go. Then I came in and was like, "No, it's supposed so start here" — which essentially put it halfway behind where he sung it. So he did it the way I wanted, and then Rubin actually showed his face one day and we played it back for him with both vocals at the same time. Rick and Tom really liked it that way, and I thought it sounded good, too, so we kept it.

ARAYA Rick Rubin is the one who helped us come up with the eagle [logo] on Seasons. He asked Jeff to bring in [Jeff's] book on Nazi war medals, and he picked out the eagle as the logo for Seasons, and it stuck. We used it on our stage banners, too. Of course, everyone got the wrong impression — they didn't realize that the banners were actually huge upside-down crosses. They saw everything that they wanted to see, except for what it really was. Rubin helped come up with those ideas — and he's Jewish. People always complain, but we learned a long time ago to ignore that shit.

LOMBARDO Shooting the video [for "Seasons in the Abyss"] in Egypt was Rick Rubin's idea, too. I'll never forget that. We flew from Los Angeles to Japan, did some shows there, had a layover in Bangkok, and then went to Cairo. Arriving there was just an amazing experience. The pyramids were breathtaking. My wife went with me, and we rode horses through that area. It was magical — awe-inspiring, really. But around that time, I was becoming uninterested. It wasn't a money issue that time — it was just a lack of interest.

After recording Seasons in the Abyss, Slayer and Megadeth join forces for the Clash of the Titans tour. Testament and Suicidal Tendencies open the European leg in September of 1990; Anthrax and Alice in Chains open the domestic leg in May 1991.

ARAYA I remember talking to our manager, Rick Sales, about putting together a tour after we did Seasons in the Abyss. I thought it'd be really cool if we could get the top four metal bands of the time — Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth and us — for a huge tour. You'll get a different story from the different camps, but I think that tour was something that we initiated. Of course, Metallica wouldn't do it.

KING I'll never forget Dave Mustaine doing some interview about Clash of the Titans, and all he did was bitch about how we'd be backstage drinking and farting and being rude and obnoxious. I was like, "Wow, he just made us sound really cool. Doesn't he get it? He just made us sound like superstars."

HANNEMAN Alice In Chains would open up with "Would?" which was this really slow song that nobody knew at the time because it wasn't on their first album. I love that song — it's really mellow and druggy — but it's not the type of thing you play when you're opening for Slayer. They got fucked with big time on that tour, but they were good dudes. It's too bad about them, man — they were a great band.

KING I was a big Alice fan — I think Layne [Staley] had one of the most extraordinary voices of our time. I wasn't into them at first, because all I knew was "Man in the Box," but after I saw them a few times, I dug it.

ARAYA Alice in Chains ended up being the surprise on that bill — they were a really good band. Live, they were amazing, so it was no surprise they went to the top. I was really good friends with Jerry [Cantrell]. He called me later when they were recording their second album and invited me down to the studio. I was just planning to hang out, but he got me in the vocal booth and goes, "I want you to scream, 'I am iron gland!'" I didn't think they were gonna use it for anything, but they did [on the song, "Iron Gland" off the 1992's Dirt].

KING We recorded [disc one of the 1991 double-live album] Decade of Aggression on the Clash tour in Florida. We were adamant about no overdubs — and there's definitely some stuff on that record we could've cleaned up.

LOMBARDO I remember watching Anthrax play on that tour and thinking I'd have to work really hard to keep up with [drummer] Charlie Benante. I was exhausted by that time, though, you know? I was absolutely burned out. It was album after album, tour after tour — it was never-ending. I was done.

After the Clash of the Titans tour, Dave Lombardo leaves Slayer.

KING At that point, we'd gone pretty much as far as we were gonna go, both personally and professionally. Dave's playing just wasn't up to par. I don't know if he was just over it, or what, but I know one reason was because Rick told him to put his throne higher so people could see him from the crowd. And when he did that, his leg went away — his double-kicks became horrendous. With the kind of music we play, we can't have that. So we had to fix the problem. I can't remember how it happened exactly, but we parted ways — probably mutually. But who knows? Every one of us might have a different story about that.

ARAYA We would get together and meet at TGI Friday's before rehearsal and get drunk, and a lot of times we never made it to rehearsal — we'd just eat and watch sports. But Dave never really met us there — he'd just go to the rehearsal space and wait for us. Eventually he'd come over and go, "Hey dudes, let's go start working on stuff." We'd be like, "OK." He'd go back, and we just stayed there. [Laughs] I think he got really upset at that after we did it several times. He kind of flew off the handle, actually. He'd make a scene at the restaurant. One time he said some things that ... even if I could remember it, I don't think I'd want to repeat what he said. But we were like, "Dude, where's this coming from?" Kerry and Jeff looked at me like, "What's wrong with your boy?" And I was like, "My boy? All of a sudden he's 'my boy'?" I was the last holdout, though, let's put it that way. I couldn't believe some of the things he said — that just blew my mind. So we decided that we should just part ways with him and find somebody else.

Below, visit the studio of "blood painter" Vincent Castiglia, who has created stunning artwork for Slayer, Celtic Frost, Gregg Allman and more: