I still remember the first time I came across Slayer's 1986 album Reign in Blood. The late Big Al, member of the rap group Nemesis and one of the pre-eminent hip-hop DJs at KNON at the time, found a copy in a box of promo records he had received from Def Jam Records. Wasn't quite sure what to make of it. Believing it was a rap record, he cued it up on one of the turntables to throw in the mix. Slipping on the headphones, he went through track by track, looking for a loop sequence that was less than 250 beats per minute. Twenty seconds later, he lifted the needle, threw the vinyl back in the sleeve.
"Yo, man. That shit sounds satanic."
So he handed it to me.
By then, I was already way over any kind of heavy metal. The Beastie Boys' first record had just come out, Eric B & Rakim, Boogie Down Productions and LL Cool J were all hitting. Hard rock in general was all about hair spray and lipstick. Headbanging had given way to gangbangin', and the best rock and rollers had to offer us was Perry Farrell in pink leotards and Sonic Youth's EVOL. Guitar-driven arrangements were more abstract; sustained minor chords were the order of the day. I gave Slayer a chance for the same reason that Big Al did--because they were on Def Jam Records.
Reign in Blood, as it turned out, was the most intense shit I had ever heard in my life. Like every Slayer record since (why change now?), it barrels out of your speakers like an amplified chain saw, the staccato hypnotic repetition of double-bass kick drums mixed straight mono, two manic screeching double-helix guitars panned hard right and left. Bassist-vocalist Tom Araya set the bar for growly, Cookie Monster lead vocals much higher (or lower) than all of these hockey-mask bands that twerpy kids dig nowadays. Aside from the obvious White Zombie/Pantera/Danzig steroid crowd, the Slatanic Wehrmacht have managed to influence everybody from Ministry to the Beasties; guitarist Kerry King even played the solo on "Fight for Your Right to Party."
The Slayer live show has always been a magnificent experience to behold. Promoters don't even bother setting up chairs on the floor. The audience looks like a giant simmering ant pile, sweat-soaked bodies piled on top of each other, severed limbs tossed to the wayside. A throbbing, sweating mob of tortured humanity. Kinda like Park Cities Baptist Church on Sunday morning, if only they'd let you wear your shredded denim jacket and upside-down-cross earrings. Serious, yet highly entertaining on a number of levels.
Fifteen years later, Slayer still kills. Their new album, released on September 11, is called--believe it or not--God Hates Us All. (Now just let that sink in for a second. A band called Slayer, releasing an album on September 11, called God Hates Us All. Wow. And CNN never noticed.) With song titles like "New Faith," "God Send Death," "Warzone" and "Here Comes the Pain," is it possible that the four guys in Slayer knew something everybody else didn't? I've always loved prophetic coincidence in pop music, but this shit might just be a little too close for comfort.
Look, Slayer is a band we can all relate to. We're all gonna die. We're all going to question our religious choices. We're all gonna wear dirty jeans and T-shirts and ultimately carve bloody devil's heads into our forearms with a dull switchblade. It's who we are. Just go with it.