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Interview: Slayer

15th May 2012

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SLAYER! A band so epic you should really only ever write their name in capital letters! Alongside Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax they form the unholy alliance of metal bands known as the ‘Big Four’ – the titans of thrash.

Their 1986 major label debut Reign In Blood is unsurpassed as a document of thrash power, and is about to be brought to life in its entirety at this year’s I’ll Be Your Mirror Festival.

TNS sat in conversation with lead vocalist and bassist, Tom Araya.

SlayerReign In Blood is considered a classic, benchmark for the genre and to many is still Slayer’s best work. A full performance of the album is a special event for metal fans. Why does Araya think it is still so popular?

“It’s kind of cool, it’s surprising that it’s still in the top ten for a lot of people and it’s a great album. We’ve played it in its entirety before and we’ve had a promoter request that we do the album. When the promoters asked us to do this festival, they specifically asked us if we would be willing to do Reign in Blood in its entirety and of course we don’t mind doing it but it’s because it’s been requested, this could be the third or fourth time by the promoters, that’s what we find amazing.”

The album, produced by the legendary Rick Rubin, is universally loved by fans and critics alike despite receiving no radio airplay at the time. Kerrang called it the ‘heaviest album of all time.” The question is raised, which of Slayer’s releases does their front-man rate?

“Wow, I like everything we’ve done because it’s Slayer. There’s no confusing it with anything else, which to me, not too many bands can say. Black Sabbath is one you could say that for too and AC/DC is another, they’re just very recognisable and I think our albums are too. I’m quite proud of that. There’s a few that are my favourite; obviously Reign in Blood, World Painted Blood, Seasons, South of Heaven and some of Christ Illusion and some of Diabolus. All the albums have great songs, especially the ones I wrote (laughs).”

The album hasn’t just had an impact on music but on popular culture as a whole with the song ‘Raining Blood’ even appearing in an episode of South Park.

“(Laughs) I love that episode. There’s actually quite a few, I guess the Simpsons have always been a favourite of mine, Family Guy, you’ve seen that right? It’s awesome. More modern I guess would be American Dad, they’re all great and pretty crazy. My son watches Cartoon Network and there’s a bunch of crazy stuff on there, which, to me, is pretty cool too. I also really like the internet and little cartoons and pictures I see on there. I don’t know if many are familiar with Charlie the Unicorn but I love that, again it’s really crazy (laughs).”

As veterans of the live circuit the band are perennial festival performers, having done many events including the now legendary ‘Big Four’ days at Sonisphere festivals across Europe to form one of the four pillars of arguably the greatest metal line-up of all time.

“I’ve enjoyed all the bands that we’ve toured with or else we wouldn’t be touring with them. If we like what a band does, and the music they play then we’ll be like “Yeah! We really want to tour with you.” A lot of the bands we’ve toured with are like we are, some like privacy, others like the limelight, but in either case we get to know them on a personal level and I like that. In a festival setting however, we’re not touring with any particular band, we show up to play and so do they and if by chance we happen to run in with them then great but festivals tend to be really busy so there’s not much of a chance to get to know them but for me that’s OK because like I say, I like my privacy.”

Since the early 80s the band have shared stages with a fine-array of talent. If they could bring one musician back from the dead to tour with who would it be?

“Oh wow, there wouldn’t be one. Kurt Cobain would be one, he was a really good songwriter and it’s sad that the band was just getting started and I would like to tour with him or, as you say just to have back because I think he had a lot more to offer and he made a big impact on the music industry. John Lennon made a big impact too but my personal favourites would be Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Holly, Richie Valance and Jim Morrison because it would have been great to see what more they could have done and they had just started.”

2012 has a jammed packed festival schedule for Slayer; is it out of the ordinary for them to cram so many concerts into a short space of time?

“No actually, we kind of do this all the time. As far as festivals go, it’s something we’ve always done. In the past four or five years now, we’ve been doing a lot of festivals where they’ll have an entire festival line up with a few Slayer shows in between. It is kind of new for us to do a lot of festivals, but we are having fun. For me, a festival is a place where all you focus on is the music and you just make sure you sound really good and everyone’s having a really great time. You want to sound amazing cause that’s the whole point, it’s more about the music than the image and I like that. We’re going on a five-week European tour where we’re squeezing in twenty shows, but still that’s pretty normal for us. You can ask anyone in a band, whether you play festivals or not, you could be doing loads of shows in a row with only a day break to travel.”

But all that touring must take it out of the guys? They are not exactly spritely young-things these days.

“Of course it does! (Laughs) It’s all planes, trains and automobiles and it’s very taxing on the body. When I was younger it wasn’t an issue, but now that I’m a little older, it’s takes some time to get your wits about you.”

Being from the old-school what does Araya think of music in 2012?

“Unless someone says to me, “hey, listen to this,” I’m not familiar with a lot of music out there right now. I don’t go out and buy a lot of new music because I tend to not to be happy with the music that I chose, so I usually rely on friends or fellow musicians recommending me a band to listen to. I remember going to an award ceremony in England and they had some bands playing and there were a few bands that stood out for me. One was Bullet for my Valentine and there was another, I can’t remember the name but they definitely had a Led Zeppelin influence and they were really good.”

After 30 years in the industry is there anything else that Araya could see himself doing if Slayer hadn’t worked out?

“I just don’t know. All I do know is that I would still be playing music no matter what. What kind of music I would be playing and where, I wouldn’t know. It may have been original music or cover songs, at gigs or open mic nights, maybe in a small local band that just wanted to play. There’s no doubt in my mind that music would be a big part in my life no matter what. Job wise, at the time that the band was coming together I was working in a hospital, I was a respiratory therapist and I really enjoyed helping people and making a difference in their lives. I guess we’re kind of doing that with the music, making differences in peoples’ lives that way, but if the band hadn’t worked out, I’d probably be working in the medical field.”

But Slayer did work out, and they are one of the best live bands performing today – there simply is no such thing as a bad Slayer gig, which means that their set at I’ll Be Your Mirror is something not to be missed.

Slayer play this year's I'll Be Your Mirror -

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