English scribe and photographer Morat has been writing about Slayer since he attended their first U.K. show in 1985, and he's seen them at least 100 times since. His name is well known to readers of British rock and metal mags Kerrang! and Metal Hammer, and we're delighted to have him reminisce about the thrash titans as they prepare for their final tour.
When Slayer announced, earlier this year, that they were calling it a day and that they would play just one more world tour, there was, as you might expect, much wailing and gnashing of teeth. This is, after all, the end of an era. Another classic band gone, albeit one who have had the common sense to bow out on a high note, rather than embarrass everyone by dragging on for the sake of nostalgia (and money).
Surprisingly, there were also complaints on social media from people bemoaning the fact that they never got to see Slayer live. To which someone quite rightly replied that Slayer have played something like 3,000 shows and just about every rock festival on earth, so if you hadn't seen them, you just weren't trying. They're not going to play in your fucking bedroom!
There may, however, be another reason.
A couple of nights ago I was out bar-hopping with a friend, and the conversation inevitably turned to music. My friend confessed that he'd never seen Slayer because, “Aren't they a bit dodgy?” To which the answer is yes, of course Slayer are a bit dodgy. That's kind of the point.
In the early '90s, there was a recording going around of some weird religious meeting, apparently well attended, in which the speaker warned of the dangers of satanic rock & roll. If you played The Beatles and Meatloaf backward — no, really — you'd hear hidden messages of praise to the Dark One Downstairs. To which the obvious response, once you'd stopped laughing, would be, why bother when you can just play Slayer records forward? It's not as if they're hiding anything.
My first time seeing the band was on their Hell Awaits tour, June 24. 1985, at the legendary Marquee club in London. Their first ever U.K. show, £3.25 to get in, and wall-to-wall punk rockers, who showed their appreciation by showering the band in spit. Even to hardcore punks, it offered an unparalleled level of intensity, especially coming from a metal band at a time when the genre was increasingly becoming known for big hair and lipstick. Hair metal this was not!
Since that night, I've seen Slayer perhaps 100 times or more, from club shows and arenas to muddy fields, and not once have they been anything less than brutal. Never for the faint of heart. So much so that during the '90s, any bands unfortunate enough to open for them were met with row upon row of raised middle digits and a hail of abuse from Slayer's rabid fans. And if it was a festival, bands playing after Slayer would receive the same treatment. Having moved to L.A., I would have to drive to Long Beach or Berdoo to see them live, because they were banned from performing in Los Angeles for about 20 years after a riot at the Palladium in 1988, something guitarist Kerry King thought was “pretty cool.”
But this is not the “dodgy” to which my friend referred. This is, after all, the band whose 1986 album, Reign In Blood, opened with “Angel of Death,” a song that refers to the horrific experiments conducted by Nazi physician Josef Mengele on prisoners at the Auschwitz concentration camp. A song, moreover, that saw the band accused of being Nazi sympathizers. But while I think we can all agree that Nazis are dodgy, hopefully we can also agree that writing about something and sympathizing with the subject are not necessarily one and the same. Hannibal Lecter's creator, Thomas Harris, for example, is not known to have eaten anyone.
The first of many times I interviewed Slayer frontman/bassist Tom Araya was in L.A. in 1992, shortly after the riots. Despite a fitting backdrop of carnage, I found him to be most personable and pleasant, and certainly not a Nazi. Or, for that matter, a satanist. More an interested observer.
If Slayer are “dodgy,” then, it's because the world is dodgy. A banner at many recent demonstrations suggests that America does not need a wall, it needs a mirror. And Slayer are that mirror, a simple reflection of human insanity. Theirs is the soundtrack to what spews from your TV, and there is no little irony in the fact that their 2001 album, God Hates Us All, was released on Sept. 11.
But maybe we're over-analyzing here, overthinking something that doesn't really require a lot of thought. The real reason for seeing Slayer so many times, and hopefully one more time, is not for some philosophical debate but because they offer an experience like no other band, a relentless (and Repentless) sonic assault that marks them as one of the greatest bands on earth. In short, Slayer kick ass! I'll see you in the pit.