Slayer Stories: Famous Friends and Fans Tell Tales of Bloodshed, Funny Hats and Heavy Metal | Revolver

Slayer Stories: Famous Friends and Fans Tell Tales of Bloodshed, Funny Hats and Heavy Metal

Marilyn Manson, Philip Anselmo, Rick Rubin, members of Anthrax, Lamb of God, Mastodon and more send off the thrash icons
slayer_featured_credit_jimmyhubbard.jpg, Jimmy Hubbard
photograph by Jimmy Hubbard

"Thank you."

It's with those two simple words that Tom Araya has been closing most of Slayer's show. They are now more meaningful than ever because, after nearly four decades as revered pioneers of heavy metal and one of the best live acts on the planet, the thrash icons are nearing the end of their farewell world tour.

The band's retirement plans were announced on January 22nd, 2018, and by the time they complete their long ride into the sunset, Slayer will have hit 30 countries and 40 U.S. states. They're set to take their collective final bow on Saturday, November 30th, in the band's birthplace of southern California.

When Slayer formed in 1981 in Huntington Park, bassist-vocalist Tom Araya was a 20-year-old respiratory therapist, guitarist Jeff Hanneman was a 17-year-old rehearsal studio employee, drummer Dave Lombardo was a 16-year-old pizza delivery boy, and 17-year-old Kerry King was already a full-time guitar player. Inspired by Judas Priest, King Diamond, Black Flag and more, but not interested in following in anyone's footsteps, they blazed their own path, combining metal and punk at warp speed and with undisputed attitude.

slayer_2_credit_jimmyhubbard.jpg, Jimmy Hubbard
photograph by Jimmy Hubbard

The rest, of course, is history. As members of the "Big 4" of thrash alongside Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax, Slayer have released 12 studio albums and multiple live recordings, won two Grammy awards among five nominations, been featured in their own exhibit in the Smithsonian Institute, appeared on loads of magazine covers, played late night television, created a comic-book series and made a movie. More important, they changed the face of music — and culture at large — forever. There were trials and tribulations along the way: the devastating death of Hanneman (Exodus' Gary Holt ably stepped into his place), an often rotating drummer position (mostly between Lombardo and Paul Bostaph, as well as, briefly, Jon Dette), several headline-making controversies, and challenging health issues including fused vertebrae that left Araya unable to headbang anymore. Through it all, Slayer never relented in their uncompromising vision. Until now.

What will they leave us beyond the fruits of that vision: songs, videos, shirts, posters and other memorabilia? For one thing, stories. Lots of stories. Every Slayer fan has one. Maybe it was the first time you heard one of the thrash OGs' songs or saw one of their shows, the time you got to meet a band member or got into trouble for wearing one of their controversial T-shirts. Whatever it is, we all have a story, and so we tracked down a few of Slayer's many famous fans to collect some of the best.

Among those stories are common themes. First, there's Slayer's incomparable live performance. For an audience member, a Slayer show was like "trying to watch a rock concert in a riot," as Rob Zombie remembers, or, in the words of mixed martial artist Josh Barnett, witnessing "the end of the world." For another band on the same bill, it was a whole other kind of challenge. "There was no playing a gig with Slayer," reports Philip Anselmo, of Pantera, Down, Superjoint Ritual, et al. "It didn't matter if you were opening for 'em or playing after 'em — heaven forbid you were playing after them. But even opening bands would be pretty much ignored and in between every song the crowd would just start [chanting] 'Slayer! Slayer! Slayer!' so there was no playing with Slayer. If Slayer came to town, that was the band. No, it didn't matter who the fuck else was on the goddamn bill. It was Slayer that the crowd was there to see. That was always this great intimidation factor."

Second, there's who the band members are as people. Onstage, they may seem like big, brawling badasses, but truth is, offstage, Araya and King, in particular, are as friendly as can be. "I'll put it in a real way as it's coming straight from the depths of me: It's they're just good people," says Anthrax bassist Frank Bello. "They're buds you can hang with and have a beer and have a laugh. You know what the greatest thing about this? I'm talking individual guys. Each one of them are good people in their own right. I want people to know that."

Third, there's the way the group has transcended music to become a full-fledged cultural phenomenon. "When you go see a band and there's a lull in the set, someone will go, 'Slayer!' It used to be, 'Freebird!' Now [it's] 'Slayer! Play some Slayer!'" explains AEW wrestler and Fozzy singer Chris Jericho. "And I think a lot of those people that are yelling it might not even know a Slayer song. It's just the fact that that's what you're supposed to shout out. It's like, people just wear [Slayer] shirts because they look cool, not because they even like them or not. Isn't that where the whole 'Kill the Kardashians' started from? I think it's very rare that you have a band like that."

Finally, there's the idea that Slayer simply speak for themselves, that their greatness and legacy require no underlining or backing up. Indeed, most of our interviews come to an end with the subject remarking, "It's Slayer. What else is there to say?"

And really, as Slayer bid us farewell, there is only one thing left to say: Thank you.

slayer_3_credit_justinborucki.jpg, Justin Borucki
photograph by Justin Borucki

Philip Anselmo, Pantera, Down, the Illegals, En Minor, et al.

I'm sure everybody knows this shit, but before Pantera was signed we had befriended Slayer — they befriended us. They were playing Dallas, Texas, on a Saturday night, we were playing that weekend, and they came out on a Friday with the day off and that's how we got to know each other. Kerry King used to call me up and come visit us and get up onstage and jam with us before we were anybody.

Slayer was the first show I ever saw where people were jumping out the balcony seats into the pit. That was pretty fucking extreme. And on a whole different end of things, when we were on tour with them in 2000, 2001, I also knew that they had plenty heart, too. Jeff Hanneman, he was onstage and he was playing and I don't know what he did … but his shoulder popped completely out of its socket. He had to run offstage and he had his road crew just push all up against it. We were just sitting there watching going, "What's going to happen? What are they going to do the rest of the show with just Kerry on guitar?" But sure enough, they popped that damn thing right back into place and he was right back out there. That takes a lot of heart right there. I don't know if you've ever knocked anything out of joint or socket but, man, that shit hurts. [Laughs]

Frank Bello, Anthrax

I remember when we did Clash of the Titans  back in early Nineties, we were having a good time on that — there was a lot of booze, a lot of good times just hanging out at the hotels and all that fun stuff. [Laughs] I remember one time we set up Tom as Slayer was on, because those guys never used to smile onstage. We wanted to get Tom to smile. I remember where a bunch of us with the crew — big production — and we had this really enormous fish come down. It was on a wire, hidden in the lights. It was very well done by the crew. They lowered it down very slowly, had a spotlight on it. I'm pretty sure it was during "Raining Blood," and down came this humongous fish right in front of Tom. He didn't know it was coming and it had come right in at the beginning of the song when he was singing, and he just broke up. It was hilarious, man. We got him to smile. And now, when you see Tom, his smile is, I mean, it's priceless. I'm always smiling with Tom Araya. He's the best.

slayer_4_credit_kevinhodappfrankwhitephotoagency.jpg, Kevin Hodapp Frank White Photo Agency
photograph by Kevin Hodapp Frank White Photo Agency

Adam Nergal Darski, Behemoth

I got my first Slayer cassette, which was Show No Mercy. And I just got hooked right away. I've been a fan ever since. That pretty much leads to my Slayer highlight ... the opening track for Show No Mercy, "Evil Has No Boundaries," to me, it's the best song that they ever made.

So, decades later we shared a stage. I would just jam the song with them somewhere in the U.S., like, twice during the soundcheck. I was talking to Kerry in Australia earlier this year: "Hey. We're opening for you in Poland. How about we do [the song] officially?" I remember it was funny, because Kerry said, "Holy shit. I need to relearn the song," because they never played it live. So, it did happen. It was awesome. I had a blast. One of my touring highlights, life highlights, artistic highlights and Slayer highlights.

Trust me. I'm 42. I've seen the world. We became friends, which is fucking surreal already, but I've never stopped being a fanboy, OK? I've never stopped being a fan. Every single time I see them, I have always had pieces to sign and posters. [Laughs] I still fucking do that, and I will never stop.

Chuck Billy, Testament

I think it was Clash of the Titans and we were in Europe. We had a day off in London. Of course, the tour was sponsored by Jägermeister, so there was a lot of Jägermeister being drank on the tour. But this off day, really, Jack Daniel's played a part in it. And somehow — well, I know how, the Jack Daniel's played a part in it — but me and Tom were in the [hotel] elevator, and somehow I broke the glass in the elevator and split my wrist. It was a pretty good cut.

I just came down bleeding like hell and Hanneman was sitting at the bar and I just remember wiping my bloody hand just all through his blond hair. [Laughs] I mean, it was just all over the place. Tom, at this point, he had no shoes on. So, me and Tom jump in a car, wrap it up and go to the hospital and, of course, Tom's screaming top of his lungs, profanities in there.

So, we get into the room for the doctor to see me and he knows who we are. He's a little shaky trying to stitch me up and we're still drunk. I'm like, "Tom, he's shaking too much. Why don't you just stitch me up?" Tom used to study a lot of EMT training so [laughs] I thought it'd be a good idea if Tom stitched me up. The doctor wouldn't let him do it, so [the doctor] stitched me up and it felt like the worst two stitches ever.

slayer_5_credit_nielsvaniperen_gettyimages.jpg, Niels van Iperen/Getty Images
photograph by Niels van Iperen/Getty Images

Zakk Wylde, Ozzy Osbourne, Black Label Society

I remember having to explain myself when I'd be wearing a Slayer shirt. "You can't wear that shirt in here, in this restaurant." I go, "Why not?" They go, "Well, that's, like, a devil band or something." I go, "No. That's one of the most celebrated Irish-Catholic folk bands of all time." And they would go, "Oh, OK, we didn't know. Come on in. Here's a table right over here." So, you know, it has worked to its advantages at times.

And when you go to a Slayer show — the moshing, crowd-surfing and the whole nine yards … that's part of the whole experience. You're wearing catcher's equipment. It's like, "You going to play baseball?" "No, I'm going to a Slayer show!"

I've known Kerry and the fellas for years now. It's amazing, what they created. In that genre, they're the heavyweight champs. It's just more of a lifestyle-type thing, as well. It's more than just the music and a T-shirt.

Jessica Pimentel, Actress (Orange Is the New Black, The Repentless Killology)

I was about 12 years old growing up in Brooklyn — I didn't even know Slayer was a band [at the time] — and my next-door neighbors, as I remember them, were a really cool, young, rock & roll couple. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, who knows — they broke up. When Stephanie decided to move out, she left a box in front of my door marked "cool things for Jessica." In that box was some vinyl, a few goth magazines, some jewelry and other accessories and clothes. One of the articles of clothing was a shirt, which I thought was some fantasy comic-book character. I remember thinking it was so cool. My mother and I both thought it was Merlin the wizard so she allowed me to wear it as a nightgown. It was huge. It's a good thing she never read the back. The shirt was an original 1990 Slayer "Spill the Blood" tee. On the back of it were all the lyrics to "Spill the Blood," which I read constantly and I was captivated. I just thought it was an awesome poem and I memorized it. Also, being so young with a very clean mind, I saw it for what it was: poetry, fantasy. As I got older, the nightgown became a T-shirt that I would wear to fencing class. The T-shirt became a tank top that I wore last year to the Orange Is the New Black premiere. And it's still my favorite metal shirt. I still wear the shirt to this day even though it is completely see-through now with holes throughout the silk screen giving little peekaboo views and it's being held together with safety pins. I'm scared to wash it because I think it will disintegrate. The story of how I got this shirt, then to the story of working with Slayer now [Pimentel stars in the band's The Repentless Killology movie], is about the most full-circle, pinch-myself, is-this-real-life, I-wish-I had-a-time-machine moments I've ever had.

slayer_6_credit_alisonsbraun_corbis_gettyimages.jpg, Alison S. Braun/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
photograph by Alison S. Braun/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Chris Jericho, Fozzy, AEW World Champion

I remember [Kerry King] came and saw [my band Fozzy] one time, some little shitty place kind of outside of the O.C. We went to his house after — me, his wife and Brian Slagel [Metal Blade Records founder]. We go to his house, he's like, "Before you go in, you got to put these hats on." I'm like, "What?" "You got to put these hats on." They're these stupid foam hats — you put one on, it's like a big tree, big snake on it. It's the dumbest thing. You buy them at Walmart for three bucks. "Ayesha [King's wife] decided to go buy funny hats, and you have to put them on before you come inside." So here I am at Kerry King's house eating Halloween special Oreos that are orange, wearing a stupid hat with a camel on it made of foam, looking at his old snake cages.

When you think of Slayer and see Slayer, they're the most evil band. And then they're not evil at all. You realize it's show business. It's the characters they're playing, because Kerry will still wear those leather pants with those giant fucking chains. They have to weigh 50 pounds each. He wears them and he's still stayed thrash metal, heavy metal, because that's what the guys of Slayer do ... And then afterwards you're eating Oreos and wearing funny hats. That's kind of the dichotomy between them as a band and as guys.

Jon Dette, Ex-Slayer (1996-1997, touring member 2013)

My parents were divorced and they both knew I wanted to play drums, so I asked my dad for a drum set, I asked my mom for a drum set. I figured I had a 50/50 shot. And I wound up getting a drum set from both of them. So, I immediately had a double-bass kit, which I didn't realize at the time. But on that same birthday my younger brother got me this record. He's like, "You gotta check this band out." I got [Anthrax's] Fistful of Metal record. One of the cool things about Slayer, Metallica and Anthrax is they all came out with debut records really within six months of each other. "Well, who else is playing like this?" Then I discovered Slayer.

As the years grew — and the way I learned drums is by listening to those records — I really started gravitating toward Dave Lombardo's drumming style. When the time came to audition with them in 1995, I felt very comfortable with the music [laughs] because I already knew all the songs they wanted me to learn.

You know what you're going to get with them. I'm happy I've been a part of that history. I never would have thought ... well, I told my mother when I was 17 years old and I swear it hit me like a bolt of lightning and [I said to her], "One day I'm going to be a professional drummer and one day I'm going to play drums for Slayer." Eight years later I'm in a room with those guys learning songs for a tour, so I guess the impossible can happen.

slayer_7_credit_kevinestrada.jpg, Kevin Estrada
photograph by Kevin Estrada

Wee Man, Jackass, pro skateboarder

So, first time hanging out with Slayer was [pre-Jackass magazine] Big Brother days. As the art department, all of us said, "If we're going to do an interview with Slayer, we're going to Disneyland." We rode the monorail together, It's a Small World, Space Mountain.

Slayer story No. 2 is pretty gnarly. So, September 10th, '01, Slayer has a record release party at the Hollywood Forever cemetery for the God Hates Us All album. We go there, me and [Jackass cast and crew member] Rick Kosick. Dave Lombardo is standing and I go up and put my head under his legs and I pick up Dave Lombardo, like, "Yeaaaah!" Album's playing, everybody's having a great time. We wake up, 9/11, 2001, and the record is supposed to be released. And we were with them the whole night before.

Rick Rubin, Producer (Slayer, Danzig, System of A Down, et al.)

The first [crazy show] that comes to mind is a Slayer show at L'Amours in Brooklyn, New York — a former disco turned metal's ground zero. I was standing behind the sound board on the floor behind the audience against a back wall to the raised balcony. The band started the opening tune and the audience went so ballistic — heaving in every direction. The 1970's large, heavy mixing desk got pushed up and backwards. The soundman and I were pinned against the back wall with knobs of the desk pressed into the sides of our faces. We were trapped and suffocating. Luckily, we survived to encounter many, many more atypical events at Slayer gigs.

slayer_8_credit_kevinestrada.jpg, Kevin Estrada
photograph by Kevin Estrada

Johan Hegg, Amon Amarth

We were at a festival in Denmark in 1996. We were there partying, drinking, and Slayer was going play. We were walking to the stage and it's me, Olavi [Mikkonen], the guitar player from Amon Amarth, and some other friends. But we don't really know what time it is. We kind of know, but this was, like, before everybody had cell phones. So, we knew it's about to start, right? And as we approach, we just hear the intro to "South of Heaven" go on. Olavi showed me his arm and he had goosebumps, hairs standing up. And I showed him my arm — it was the same. [Laughs] We just ran into the pit, there was nothing stopping us then. Just — "Raaaah!"

Marilyn Manson

When I was a kid, I bought the Slayer Live Undead picture disc at a place called the Quonset Hut in Ohio. I was at Christian school at the time, and it scared me so bad that I had my mom try and return it. She said it was scratched, but they wouldn't take it back. That was my first introduction to Slayer. And then I saw [Clash of the Titans]. I saw that the year I started my band. It was a big deal to me. The difference in the audience when [Slayer] came on, it was scary! I'm not a big fan of a lot of heavy stuff — for me, it's Slayer and Slayer only. I worked with [engineer] Dave Sardy because of the record [Slayer] did with him [1996's Undisputed Attitude]. That was 100 percent the reason why I picked him. I was like, "This record sounds fucking hard!"

slayer_9_credit_kevinestrada.jpg, Kevin Estrada
photograph by Kevin Estrada

Randy Blythe, Lamb of God

The first time we played with Slayer was in London. I had never been to the U.K. before, and I was, like, totally flipped out. We're onstage, the Astoria's sold out, and of course we're all huge Slayer fans. I look over, and Kerry's standing there. He brought us a bottle of Jägermeister, sat it down and looked at me. I'm thinking, I'm in England for the first time, I'm playing with Slayer, I'm getting paid to do this and Kerry King is bringing me Jägermeister! What the fuck is going on here, man?

I had sex with a chick while watching Slayer! It was at the 9:30 Club in D.C., in the "Richmond Balcony" — we run D.C. when we come up, and we have our own balcony. So, we're up there and looking down. It was a cold night, so we were both wearing long overcoats, and shenanigans went down while watching Slayer! [Laughs]

Rob Zombie

I saw them play at the Felt Forum in New York, and Danzig was opening up. It was very early on in Danzig becoming Danzig, and Slayer was at their height. If they played, it was chaos. There was a time when it didn't matter if Slayer played, it was just going to be chaos, and it was chaos.

They kept stopping the show. There was security and cops everywhere, and unfortunately Felt Forum had seats with cushions. Everybody tore out the cushions, and there are, like, thousands of cushions flying around like frisbees. Basically, it was like trying to watch a rock concert in a riot.

When the show let out, there were police on horseback everywhere. It was chaos. It really felt like trying to watch a concert in the apocalypse. It was the craziest fucking thing I've ever seen.

Troy Sanders, Mastodon

The coolest thing I can remember about playing with Slayer was when we did some dates on the Unholy Alliance [tour in Europe]. There was one night where I rode with Kerry and Jeff to some bar in London. It was really fancy and really nice, but there weren't a lot of people there and it was the first time we ever really got the chance to hang out and talk. We're doing a couple of shots and having a really good time, and the door opens up and this really beautiful woman walks in and it's one of my favorite people of all time, Björk, and she comes over to talk to us! I'm a huge Björk fan, and I thought she would see me and fall in love with me and want to marry me. It was a dream I had, but it didn't happen. [Laughs] But I wound up talking to her for a bit, and it turns out she is a gigantic Slayer fan!

Josh Barnett, Bellator MMA Fighter

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.

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.

slayer_10_credit_travisshinn.jpg, Travis Shinn
photograph by Travis Shinn