By 1994, Slayer had already been in the upper echelons of metal for over a decade. 1990's Seasons in the Abyss capped off a groundbreaking first-five-album run to their career, and while tiding over eager fans with the following year's Decade of Aggression live double-LP, the thrash pioneers took a much-needed breather to focus on how the band could persist and evolve. When tensions between drummer Dave Lombardo and the rest of the group reached a breaking point, Slayer took on Paul Bostaph (formerly of Forbidden) and began the long process of piecing together 1994's Divine Intervention.
While opinions on the album remain divided, and the band members themselves have spoken openly about their disappointment with the mix, Divine Intervention holds a special place in the hearts of many fans, particularly those who came to the group in the Nineties. The record also has an interesting story to tell in the broader scope of Slayer history. It came at a moment when the band was navigating a new world, one where metal wasn't on top — the music scene was still a couple years away from the emergence of nu-metal, but grunge had taken over the airwaves, and Slayer's lightning-speed thrash bangers had to swim against the tide of depressive heroin rock (the influence of which can be heard on Divine Intervention's "Serenity in Murder").
Maybe more than its sonic incongruity to the times, however, what stands out about Divine Intervention is its visual and thematic extremity. Containing lyrics about serial killers and inner booklet art full of Satanic messaging (the album sleeve displays the acronym for Slayer: "Satan Laughs As You Eternally Rot") and pics of carved-up fans (read on), the gore-spotted, controversy-courting album still reached No. 8 on the Billboard 200 and has since been certified gold. Below check out eight things you might not have known about the thrashers' quietly important and often overlooked (re)statement of purpose.
1. Divine Intervention was the first album for which band members wrote songs individually, instead of collaboratively
"That's the album where everything changed in terms of songwriting," Slayer frontman Tom Araya told Decibel in 2006. "It became more of an individual thing — songs were coming in all worked out. I didn't write any of the music on that album, I just wrote words, and if [guitarists Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman] didn't' like what I wrote, they'd just rewrite them. I liked 'Serenity in Murder,' though — and '213' and 'Sex. Murder. Art.'"
The band's "new guy," Bostaph, also remembered feeling as if he was on a creative island. "I was almost left to my own devices, which was kinda strange," he recalled. "After a take, I'd ask Kerry and Jeff, 'What do yo guys think?' And they'd just shrug their shoulders," he added. "I learned I was on my own, you know."
2. The song "213" refers to the number of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer's apartment
Araya's lyrics to "213," sung from the skin-crawling first-person perspective of prolific serial killer Dahmer, outline sickening fantasies and procedural steps in dismembering and cannibalizing human flesh, but something extra chilling comes from assigning the exact digits marking the site of the twisted crimes to the song's title. The singer/bassist's words might churn the stomach, but his interest in mass murderers ran deeper than shock value. When asked once about his morbid fascination, he answered, "I'm trying to see where these guys are coming from so maybe I'll understand. It's always kind of intrigued me ... Why?" Speaking more tongue in cheek, Araya has described "213" as Slayer's first "love song."
3. Jeff Hanneman's drinking got in the way of him learning the song "Sex. Murder. Art.," so the group performed it as a trio on the Divine Intervention tour
As Kerry King explained an interview with Guitar World, "When we were on the Divine Intervention tour, when Paul was with us, we wanted to play 'Sex. Murder. Art.' live. But on that album I pretty much played everything in the studio, so I don't think Jeff had ever played that song. And he was just too messed up all the time to learn it, so Paul, Tom and I just did it as a three-piece because Jeff would not come onstage and play it. After that, we said, 'Listen, dude, like it or not, you're a part of this band, and if we decide to play a song, you gotta play that fucking song.'"
4. "Dittohead" was inspired by conservative political commentator Rush Limbaugh
Though the Slayer guys might be a little less apt to spill their exact political affiliations these days (see: the Instagram Trump Debacle), they used to be very vocal about their opinions in interviews. King, for instance, expounded on his appreciation of Rush Limbaugh, who served as the inspiration behind "Dittohead." In a 1995 interview with World Magazine, the guitarist explained, "I had the song completely written, but I had no idea what I was going to call it. Then I thought, 'Well, it sounds like a radicalized version of what Rush Limbaugh does on TV everyday, so I'll just use that name.'" He continued, "Rush said it best: 'Penalizing the achievers.' Why should I get penalized for learning how to make money? I didn't have all the opportunities. I didn't have scholarships. But you don't hear me bitching about fucking having to sit in the gutter. I got off my ass and did something with my life. That's what being an American is about, not sitting on your ass and letting the rich people pay for you."
5. The punk extras in the "Dittohead" video won their spots in a radio contest
In an interview with Dutch outlet Toazted, King revealed how the "Dittohead" clip's "club" scene was actually filmed in a Los Angeles basement, and the extras weren't hired actors — they were kids who'd called into a local radio station and won the chance to hang out with their thrash idols, star in one of two videos directed by Jon Reiss for Divine Intervention and be immortalized in metal history.
6. Divine Intervention was visual artist Wes Benscoter's first Slayer cover and his big breakthrough moment
Up until 1994, Wes Benscoter had only one published album cover under his belt: the 1993 Sinister album Diabolical Summoning. He rose the ranks of metal cover artists quickly following the unveiling of Divine Intervention's striking swords-and-skeleton "Slayergram" painting featuring a subtly beautiful nightscape visible through the top of a fanged skull. Benscoter went on to do the next two Slayer covers, Undisputed Attitude and Live Intrusion, and has since worked with notable bands such as Black Sabbath, Dio and Kreator, among many others.
7. The fan who got the Slayer logo carved in his arm for Divine Intervention's liner notes thought he would get laid as a result
In a 2016 interview with Clrvynt, the fan pictured in Divine Intervention's booklet, amazingly named Michael Myer, revealed how he got the infamous gig. "I was in a band called Wash. And instead of spending our time practicing, we spent our time making costumes and figuring out how to destroy the venues we were playing at," he explained. "And the one thing we really liked to do when we went to shows was yell, 'Slayer!' really loud, and then we'd try to cause mayhem. Greg Abrams, who got me the gig, knew me because one of the first gigs my band played was in a house across the street from where he lived. He had seen what we did, so when they had the meeting about the Slayer arms, he told them, 'Don't worry, I know the guy who'll do that.'"
In the end, Myer not only got the band's logo sliced into his arm, but also had the newly etched limb set on fire. (Video of the disturbing ritual was later included on Slayer's Live Intrusion video.) Photographer Stephen Sticker, who shot the pics and did the cutting, revealed to Revolver that Myers endured it all for a mere $250, but that the fan had other potential rewards in mind, as well. "By the time I was doing the second arm, [Myer] was totally quaking with adrenaline, like when you get a tattoo," Stickler told us in 2006. "He was like, 'I'm gonna get laid with this, man!' And we all looked at each other, like, 'By whom?'"
8. Divine Intervention was Slayer's first album to reach the top 10 in America
Peaking at No. 8 on the Billboard album sales chart in October 1994, Divine Intervention was Slayer's first LP to break the top 10 and stood in stark contrast to other top sellers that week, which included Eric Clapton's From the Cradle, The Lion King Soundtrack and, at No. 1, Boyz II Men's II. Notably, none of the other albums featured photos of fans with the groups' logos carved into their arms.