An Interview with Slayer’s Tom Araya

Interview with vocalist/bassist Tom Araya  |  By Brandon Ringo

In the world of extreme metal, aside from the main forefathers of heavy metal like Sabbath, Motorhead, Maiden and Priest, few can argue that there’s a more popular band than Slayer. They, like the aforementioned forefathers, are much more than just an extreme band; they are a symbol of all things heavy metal. Slayer, as a brand, has become so powerful, that the signature, serial killer-slashed logo itself is almost as intimidating as their signature sound and simply screaming the name “Slayer” in a guttural fashion, or displaying a shirt or tattoo with their logo, will instantly gain acceptance in most metalhead circles. I know that sounds dumb, but just try screaming “SLAYER” as loud as possible or drawing their classic logo on a notebook and see how awesome it feels.

It should go without saying that over the years Slayer has built up one of the most rabid, obsessed and violent fan bases in music—one that has become infamous over the years for consistently running opening bands off the stage just by chanting “SLAYER!” over and over. Typically, that kind of rabid fanaticism is more commonly found in the world of professional sports; however, Slayer’s brand and massive fanbase aren’t the only parallels that they share with a professional sports franchise. Much like sports fans who call in to talk shows demanding their coach be fired the day after his previously undefeated team loses a game, Slayer fans are also known for their incessant overreacting.

Overreaction to decisions made by their favorite bands is something that’s become a pastime for heavy metal fans for years—especially in the age of social media. For Slayer, however, overreaction from fans is something that has only recently become an issue, over the last year or so, since a mutual decision between the three founding members of the band led to them parting ways with drummer Dave Lombardo prior to a tour of Australia. A decision that kickstarted a firestorm of unnecessary drama between the band, Lombardo and their fans. Fans were not only unhappy about the decision to continue without Lombardo, but according to vocalist/bassist Tom Araya, they weren’t afraid to loudly speak their minds about it as well. Fans are pretty brutal, they wanna get involved, they wanna call the shots and when you don’t do what they say, or you do something they don’t like, they begin to hate,” Araya explained. He did, however, make it clear that the band’s thick skin to criticism has made the process much easier by stating, “With Slayer, it’s like, it didn’t really matter to us what some of these fans thought about the band, because that’s just how Slayer is. We move forward and we do what we do and we don’t take shit from anybody, not even our fans.”

For the majority of 2013, since parting ways with Lombardo, the band’s touring lineup has consisted of Araya and Kerry King as the only original members. Alongside Araya and King were previous Slayer drummer Paul Bostaph and Exodus lead guitarist Gary Holt, who was filling in for the band’s legendary guitarist Jeff Hanneman who was recovering from necrotizing fasciitis at the time. While touring without Lombardo and Hanneman, the band received their fair share of criticism from fans, but when news broke of the sudden and unexpected passing of Hanneman in May, those same fans forgot all about their criticisms of the band, and began to focus solely on Hanneman and his legacy and the amazing music he created as a member of Slayer. This was evidenced when the band held a public reception for Hanneman that fittingly featured a mosh pit when “Angel Of Death” played over the PA.

Despite the passing of Hanneman, the band has not stopped their decision to continue proceeding forth with the creation of a new album. Obviously, fans are going to be intensely worried about the band’s sound and direction without Hanneman on board, but fear not! Hanneman might be gone, but thanks to his penchant for recording demos of song ideas, his impact will certainly be felt on the band’s next record. “You know, Jeff was a tape man. He got into the digital age, but he did everything on tape,” Araya said. He continued, “I haven’t had the privilege of being allowed to go into his archives, I’d have to get permission from his wife to do that, [but] I think that would be a lot of fun to try to look for the gems that he has stashed away in his tapes.” Though the logistics of taking audio from demo tapes and using it on an actual major studio album sounds nearly impossible, anything can happen when you enter the recording studio. Araya stated, You know, there’s a lot of magic in the studio. With the digital age, there’s a lot of magic period in video and audio, so we’ll see what we have and we’ll see what’s possible. They always say you go into the studio and create magic, but you really can create magic in the studio, so we’ll see what we can do. “

Though it’s been four years since the release of the band’s last album World Painted Blood, the new album has been in the works for quite a while. “We’ve been working on it for the past two years or so. About two years ago or so, Kerry, Dave and Jeff went into the studio and started demoing ideas. Kerry had several songs that he had put together and Jeff was demoing ideas, so they started two years ago, because they always tend to throw tours in whenever they can and try and get the band out and playing. We ended up doing quite a few tours and it kinda cut into the studio time that we were allotted,” explained Araya. Despite the many, many distractions and detractors that have kept the band from finishing up their new record, a good chunk of the album should be completed by the end of this year. Araya added, “Once we get done with this fall tour, I’m sure we’ll go in and finish up what Kerry started with his songs. We’ve already done two songs that are complete Kerry songs. There’s one song of Jeff’s that was done for the last album that never made it to the album, which is one that we need to finish up and there’s one that I want to work on and try to finish up lyrically.”

One of the difficulties of being a big name band in the age of social media is how much criticism is applied to your every move, especially when releasing a new album. For a band like Slayer, that pressure is astronomically increased when factoring in the absence of Lombardo, and the limited inclusion of Hanneman. For Tom Araya, however, the only pressure being applied to the new material by the band itself is that it just has to be special. According to Araya, This album just has to like blow everything that we’ve ever done out of the water. If not, it has to come really, really close. We can’t just put something out and say ‘here’s our record’. It can’t just be a bunch of songs where people go ‘oh yeah, cool,’ it has to be ‘Fuck! This is awesome!!’”

www.slayer.net

Seminal Slayer Vinyl Albums To Be Released, info here.

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