By Jim Schutze
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Tom Araya, bassist and vocalist for legendary metal band Slayer, is unapologetic about the controversy that has always surrounded the group—whether it's charges of devil worship or having sympathies for Nazis or terrorists.
"I don't look at any controversy as negative," Araya says from Slayer's tour bus as it heads to Dallas as part of the Rockstar Energy Mayhem Festival. "In all honesty, if people are talking about you, they are going to keep you up front and in the public eye. Either way, it's publicity."
Publicity is one thing that has been a constant since Araya, Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman started Slayer way back in 1981. Well, that, and a commitment to extreme metal of the thrash variety. Beginning with Show No Mercy in 1983 and quite possibly peaking with 1986's Reign in Blood, Araya and crew have kept delivering the chaotic, metallic goods for nearly three decades now. And showing little signs of slowing down (or being less contentious), Slayer is set to soon release World Painted Blood, yet another aural assault that's guaranteed to thrill fans and piss off just about everyone else.
"Look, we don't write songs for controversy," explains Araya. "[But] if people want to take it the wrong way, all I can say is whatever."
Simply taking things the wrong way is a bit of an understatement, though. Ever since the band formed, its cover art and lyrical bent has resulted in the band being accused of Satanism and also of holding Nazi sympathies (because of the band's logo resembling the eagle atop a swastika). More recently, the 2006 effort Christ Illusion contained the track "Jihad," which features a narrative from the perspective of a religious terrorist. Critics were quick to call the song un-American, but Araya, of course, sees it differently.
"It's a song that speaks or tells a side," he says. "All it's about is that people are crazy and do crazy things."
Some might say the same about Slayer's ascension to the top of the metal mountain. Indeed, much of the band's musical output has been overshadowed by the resulting hullabaloo—so much so that an album like 1996's Undisputed Attitude, the band's powerful tribute to its punk roots, went largely ignored by fans and critics alike (though the band's cover of Minor Threat's "Guilty of Being White" did bring about silly charges of racism).
But, whatever the uproar, Slayer, like an evil Energizer bunny, just keeps going and going. And, nearly three decades in, Araya sees no sense in stopping now.
"It's still something interesting to do," he says. "I could have never conceived of this thing going this long, but it has to be for a reason."