An email from Jesse crosses my desk. Slayer is coming to the NorVa.
“Do you care about this?”
I sit and stare at it for a few minutes, mulling over the request. If I’m honest, I have to admit that it’s been at least twenty years since I’ve seen Slayer live. That I haven’t paid more than the most perfunctory attention to their music in a long time.
Even back in the day, I was never what I’d call a huge fan. Of the big four Metal bands I gravitated early on towards Anthrax (who will be sharing the bill for this show) and Metallica, before eventually abandoning the genre in favor of Punk and New Wave. I dismissed Megadeath and Dave Mustaine almost immediately as fairly unlikable.
While I garnered a certain appreciation for Slayer’s raw precision and breakneck approach in shaping the form? More often than not their music signaled that it was time to get the fuck out of the mosh pit before I got seriously hurt. Slayer fans were no joke back then, and I doubt that fact has much changed, now.
I’m not entirely positive that Metal has a valid place in a kinder world oriented around inclusiveness, but I’m feeling thoughtful about the questions the band’s continued existence raises in my messy head.
. . .
Heavy Metal is really just angry blues played very loud and very fast.
The first Metal song could be traced all the way back to the fifties. Pat Hare’s “I’m Gonna Murder My Baby” could arguably be covered today with an array of pedals and a growl by any number of long-haired malcontents. Not something you’d immediately recognize as thrash, but there are moments. And it has the right attitude for a Metal song. Hare went on to fulfill the promise of his song’s title literally — also shooting a policeman, before he eventually died of lung cancer in prison. Throw some leather pants and a skull emblazoned jacket on the man and he could be downright contemporary.
Where Metal actually became heavy in your mind probably depends on personal taste. Is it the Beatles? With the first sound you hear on “I Feel Fine.” With “Helter Skelter?” The Kinks? The Stones? The Who? Zeppelin? Link Wray? What would any of those cats think if you plucked ‘em out of the 1960s to be plunked down in front of a Slayer concert?
You’d very likely end up with a permanently catatonic twenty-something Paul McCartney, rocking to and fro ever so slightly as he sucks on a thumb.
Punkers say OI. Metalheads spend their lives mastering arpeggios.
What makes Metal, Metal and punk, punk? Punk employs a far more simplistic approach to song construction whereas Metal is all about virtuosity. Punk is about the message. Metal is about the music.
Of course that’s a facile way of putting it, and these lines have blurred over the years — but both forms are tightly wrapped around a core of white hot rage. Punks respond to that anger with a certain nonchalant Nihilism. Metal, instead, revels in it. And for a significant portion of their history no band celebrated that pure hostility more effectively than Slayer. It can be argued that Metal is inherently an expression of a sort of alienated elitism — after all, how many musicians can truly master a signature Kerry King lead guitar line? How many drummers have the ability to play their original catalog the way it’s intended?
The answer is: Not many. Not many at all.
Slayer has had a pretty rough decade.
Monday brings a very different band than the one that started way back in ’81. The dueling ethos of hardcore and thrash between original guitarists Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King is missing now. Hanneman tragically passed away in 2013, and King is now the primary songwriter. Founding drummer Dave Lombardo was dismissed from the team, reportedly over financial disagreements.
The fact is, this is a band with a fairly tempestuous history — reborn after navigating some rough waters. This tour sees them stepping from the churning surf, new record in hand, entitled: “Repentless.” Is this a statement of sorts? Likely so. A play on words highlighting the groups refusal to let time, death, money, or whatever else might get in their way stop them from doing what they love to do.
No. They’re not Nazi’s or White Supremacists.
There’s been no end of discussion as to the band’s political nature. I noted a thread that popped up in a Google search arguing as to whether or not Slayer is a white power band. One commenters response included a passionate diatribe on how Slayer has never played with a rapper and never will.
In response, I take a certain amount of glee in linking this video where they talk about working with Ice-T that was recorded back in the 90s.
Chatting with Bostaph on the phone before writing this, I brought it up. The response was a weary dismissal of the subject. “Look.. I’m not into any of that shit. And I haven’t seen any of that from anyone else in the band in any of the years I’ve been with them.”
Is it a fair question? Well.. sure. These songs are dark. Really dark. It’s not called Bunny Metal. Ya know?
But when examined in the context of the group’s history, it makes a certain sense that they gravitate to bleak moments of human history. Jeff Hanneman grew up around German trophies of war that his father, a veteran of the European front during WWII, had brought home with him, and as such liked to write about the topic. Slayer’s work is a dark reflection of the world we live in. A world that includes all manner of nasty stuff. But a reflection is neither endorsement nor advocacy. And if some of Slayer’s audience is rooted in some bad old ideas? That’s not really on them.
I mean.. They could start writing about Teletubbys and peace and love, I suppose. But they wouldn’t be Slayer anymore.
Slayer’s innovation spawned a ridiculous number of imitators who further pushed the genre into new areas.
As one of the “Big Four” this group has been insanely influential in the development of Metal as a genre. They’re hands down credited with the development of Thrash. Death Metal? Black Metal? Scream Metal? If you write down the word, Metal, preceded with an intense adjective and a dark shade of whatever color? Slayer is probably responsible for it.
They’re one of the heaviest bands of all time. So yeah..
I kinda care about Slayer.
Tune in next week for an interview with drummer Paul Bostaph, some photos, and a review of the show.
Slayer, Repentless | AD rates it: It sounds like Slayer. Duh.
You might like it if: This is a polarizing group, you either love this music or flee before its approach. If you love them, there’s enough left in these guys’ tank here to keep you going. If you don’t care for Heavy Metal, why are you even reading this? Go buy a Yanni album instead, you fucking plebe.
Relevent Details: Longtime friend of deceased founding member Jeff Hanneman, Gary Holt — notable for his days with Exodus — has stepped up to full time status. Paul Bostaph has returned on drums. Tom Araya continues as frontman. Kerry King has largely taken over as the chief architect of their sound.
High Points: The title track is a particularly pure example of their musical vision. Bostaph’s work on “Take Control” is impressive, as is King’s soloing. “Chasing Death” is about as close to sentimental as they’ve ever come, appearing to focus on the loss of Hanneman and regret over their inability to save their friend from himself.