The 30-year metal reign of Tom Araya and Slayer

Showing no mercy
By DANIEL BROCKMAN  |  August 3, 2012

Metal reign
MISSION ACCOMPLISHED Slayer have persevered long enough to see their outsider shock-and-awe villainy transformed into a mainstream acceptable expression of power in rock.

Truth be told, the best times for music are when we as a society are not ready to hear what our culture is telling us about ourselves. Which might be why, at least in America, the 1980s were such fertile ground for outsider genres that pushed buttons and envelopes. The hysteria surrounding the undue influence of heavy metal on our children may seem quaint now, secure in our going-on-three-decades distance from those volatile times, but make no mistake: in the mid-'80s, mainstream society felt the effects of a full-force heavy-metal cultural onslaught. Suicide, serial killers, Satan worship, demonic possession, hatred, violence, and depravity: succeeding as a heavy-metal band through the '80s and early '90s meant being able to withstand a gauntlet of accusations as the cause of all of society's ills. Most metal bands emerged out the other end either broken up or broken in spirit, forced to say uncle to straight America's moral majority. And then there are Huntington Park, California, thrash titans Slayer who, 30 years on, have found that the greatest revenge is persevering long enough to see their outsider shock-and-awe villainy transformed into a mainstream acceptable expression of power in rock.

"We have always just done things that we think are cool — everybody else tags us as 'controversial!' " The hearty laugh I heard after that sentence came from Tomás Enrique Araya Díaz, a/k/a Tom Araya, Slayer's Chilean-born bassist and vocalist. I spoke to him as he rested in an Oklahoma hotel room amidst a grueling Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival summer tour with Slipknot and Motörhead that winds through Mansfield's Comcast Center on Friday. He spoke of his band's career-long ability to incite hysteria with the tone of a bemused shrug. "Everything we do, everything we write, everything we create, we do because it has a cool factor," Araya says. "We just want to be heavier and more intense than anything. One of us will come up with something, and it might make us go, 'Fuck!' — but inside we'll be thinking, 'That is so cool, people are going to shit!' "

People did, proverbially, shit when Araya and Co. released their 1986 thrash milestone Reign in Blood; partly because album opener "Angel of Death" — a grim trip into the mind of Nazi monster Josef Mengele — dove to theretofore unknown gory and depraved lyrical depths, but mostly because the album's 29-minute full-throttle violation was unlike anything previously heard: full of piercing shrieks, walls-are-bleeding psychedelic guitar shred, and a full-bore percussive shelling that was both precisely controlled and totally off-the-rails.

Five years earlier, Araya had been a respiratory therapist who loved the Beatles and the Stones when he was asked by guitarists Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman to join their heavy-metal band; when they roped in madman Dave Lombardo, a/k/a the greatest drummer in the history of metal, they set their sights on becoming the best metal band the world had ever known. By the release of Reign, they had clawed their way to the top through sheer determination and a competitive spirit that drove them to become ever faster, heavier, and more intense.

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