Aggressive Perfectors 

Twenty-year thrash-metal mainstays Slayer stay the course of “evil.”

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It was election night, and the tight race—a popularity contest between two mayoral menu items—left me to wonder: Is there any better candidate? Maybe this year was as good as any to revive the genius of the U of U Chronicle’s RedMag “Slayer for Mayor” campaign? Should I write in the goatmother of all “Satan-worshipping” bands as the lesser of three evils?

Alas, vocalist-bassist Tom Araya and mates Kerry King (guitar), Jeff Hanneman (other guitar) and the prodigal Dave Lombardo (drums) have no political aspirations. Araya isn’t even aware of the first “Draft Slayer” campaign. He concedes, however, “it has a ring to it.”

As for being the lesser of three evils, some might think that’s an impossibility. When it comes to quick, punishing, now-you-die thrash metal, Slayer are the quintessence of evil. This is the band introduced to the world by a promotional photo on which they were shown feasting on the bloody organs of the recently deceased; the guys whose T-shirts depict skulls clad in a Nazi SS soldier’s helmet, augmented with a baphomet pentagram; the guys who sing of serial killers.

“Evil has been vely, vely goot to us,” Araya hams, chuckling. “Evil has been a very, very good friend.” They’re not really Satanists like the Euro-black metal bands that kill each other for interband or inter-scene supremacy. They, like Iron Maiden and Cannibal Corpse, just like horror films and hold an interest in the intrinsic Evil of Man. It’s pure gimmickry.

“When we started the band, it was something that people were afraid of. We were carving an ugly, scary image for ourselves and people freak out on shit like that,” Araya says. The shock value wore off eventually, but Slayer continued its hellacious angle, focusing on the evils of the world.

And while the approach has garnered fans, it wouldn’t have earned Slayer as many had they not been on top of their musical game. People dig Slayer for the sound as much as the vision. And that sound? It’s light-speed, apocalyptic, chugga-chugga, widdly-woo heavy metal, that sends legions of likeminded headbangers into spasms of rage-riff ecstasy. Unchanged by virtue of integrity, it has ensured Slayer’s survival across a 22-year career in an industry constructed entirely of harsh elements.

As tribute to Slayer’s longevity, the Universal corporate monolith has moved its catalog arm to assemble a box set (Soundtrack to the Apocalypse; a five-disc special edition with a DVD of live performances from the past 20 years) and concert film DVD, War at the Warfield. The band is celebrating with performance of their 1986 masterpiece, Reign in Blood, in its entirety on their current tour. Araya waxes humble in consideration of their accomplishments.

“It’s a luck-of-the-draw kinda thing,” he says. “We’ve been very fortunate, as far as bands go.” In recognition of that good fortune, he furthers, Slayer has tried to be the best Slayer it can for its legion of devotees. The worst a band can do, Araya says, is put its creativity on a pedestal and leave fans in the lurch. Evolve, at least, at a pace fans can grasp.

“One main philosophy [of Slayer] has been not to divert our path before letting the fans catch on to what we’re doing first. I’ve experienced that with bands. I’ve lost interest and moved on, and never found the right groove with that band again. We don’t wanna disappoint.”

So the all-encompassing vision thing for Slayer has been ...?

“Basically, if we like it, we know everybody else will. Everything is created from a fan’s perspective. The box set, the DVD—all through the eyes of a fan. That’s how we get a lot of stuff done. We have to know and understand whether a fan will like it. We’re happy as long as we stay within Slayer guidelines.”

For a band without political aspirations, they sure have an appealing “for the people” platform. Maybe Slayer should rethink their career options, consider throwing their spiked armbands into the political mosh pit. But what about these “Slayer guidelines”?

“There aren’t any,” Araya answers gamely, if contradictorily. “We break all the rules.”

SLAYER, Saltair, I-80 West Exit 104, Monday, Nov. 17, 8pm, 800-888-899

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