As Slayer play their final show tonight in LA, now seems a good time for a bit of reflection on one of the biggest bands in the metal scene, one whose niche musical genre might not have endeared them to the ears of the many and yet whose name is known worldwide by fans and non-fans alike. This is a personal insight of one of my favourite bands, a chance for me to remember as much Slayer-related crap that I can and get it down here.
I first became aware of Slayer back in what Americans would call “High School”, secondary here in the UK, when one of the kids with longer hair came up to me and stared in my face. “When you live by the sword,” he exhaled, “You must die by the sword!” Then he just turned around and walked off. OK, so I had no idea this was Slayer-related at the time but looking back it’s the first I’d heard of anything connected to them.
At that time I was more into the rock side of things – Bon Jovi, Poison and the like (I still am!) – and just starting to dip my toes into the likes of Maiden and Priest. As time went on, I got a copy (sorry) of South of Heaven… and I have to confess that I wasn’t a fan. It was too slow, or looking back probably too heavy. By then I was listening to the likes of Megadeth and Exodus, and SoH was a very different release compared to Slayer’s previous output.
However, all this was rectified by a trip to the library and a rental (30p each!) of Seasons and Reign in Blood. Bloody hell! Now this was music! I of course copied both of them (sorry again) and still actually remember typing up the lyrics sheet from Seasons on my Amstrad computer. I’d even written a program which took in track lengths and gave the best running order to fit as many songs as possible on each side of a C90 or C60 cassette. Once a nerd… Of course this meant that my copies of the albums weren’t always in the supplied order, but it did get rid of problems I’d had such as only knowing the first two thirds of “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” because the album was about 50 minutes long. Anyway, I digress.
I waited with bated breath for the release of Decade of Aggression, and I think this was the first Slayer album I actually paid money for. I tried to get the limited edition “blood pack” (or was this for a single from the album?) but Windows in Newcastle’s Central Arcade drew a blank trying to get it for me. I bought it on tape and some years later upgraded to a signed CD copy I got at a record sale. It still ranks as one of the best live albums I’ve ever heard, and I think a lot of that is due to the impact it had on me. I air guitared and air drummed the living hell out of it, and I still hear Tom’s “That’s what we’re here to do… help each other out” advice for moshpits in my head every time I go to a gig and someone goes down.
And then they announced a tour. I’d missed the previous one – Clash of the Titans with Megadeth – as I wasn’t really into them as much at that point, plus they only played London and Edinburgh. I was in Newcastle so it was a hell of a journey to both. I know three or four lads from school who went to Edinburgh, but missed Suicidal Tendencies as one of them had left his ticket at home and didn’t realise till they were an hour up the road!
My first Slayer show was at Newcastle City Hall on November 9th, 1991. My school’s prize-giving ceremony was the day before at the same venue, and I lucked out. There were two massive, bus shelter size posters inside the venue, stapled to the wall. Fluorescent orange on a black background, they really stood out. And I got one. I pointed out to one of the staff that the gig was tomorrow so it didn’t really need advertising any more so he agreed to let me take it. My mate – Andy – asked after the other, but wasn’t allowed as they needed to keep one there, apparently. I know he planned on getting to the gig really early the next day to try and snag it but wasn’t lucky!
I have my ticket somewhere, but offhand we were about 8-9 rows back (the City Hall is a seated venue) and slightly off to the right. Support band Mindfunk were… erm… unmemorable, shall we say. I can still picture their wobbly logo but the music escapes me completely. Slayer, though… You can check out their setlist online and it’s just incredible. Straight from the grooves of the Decade album with classic after classic from their (at the time) five albums, including material from South of Heaven that I’d started to enjoy – at least those that were on the live release. Another Andy I was with collapsed at the start of “Angel of Death” as he was trying to match Tom’s screams and ran out of breath! No moshpits, due to the seated venue, but a ridiculous amount of headbanging. I may have had shit hair back them (I have no hair now), but I had neck muscles like a pro wrestler.
Despite the “no cameras” rule, I managed to snap a photo at the gig of which I’m really proud. I even got it blown up to A4 on a college photocopier and put it on my wall. One day I’ll find it again and update this article with it. Sorry, folks – digital images were a long way away in 1991! At that point I think that gig ranked as the best I’d ever been to. The fact that I can still remember so many details says a lot, and that was me completely sold on the band.
My next live encounter was in Leeds in 1994. By this point I was at university in Bradford and firmly entrenched in the university radio station (much as they tried, they couldn’t get rid of me). I still have the T-shirt I was sent by the record label in the run up to the release of Divine Intervention. Barring the huge all-over print shirt I bought a couple of years earlier (now consigned to the great t-shirt grave in the sky) this was the only other Slayer shirt I owned at the time, though I did add a long sleeve one at some point – the eagle/shield motif on the front. It’s also been ditched as it had more holes than a Swiss cheese factory, but the DI one lives on!
The album was a little disappointing, but the live show… November 13th 1994 at Leeds Town and Country (which is not the Leeds O2 Academy according to the website which holds the setlist). The surprising thing this evening was that a lot of my friends weren’t there to see Slayer, but a small bunch of upstarts called Machine Head who were touring on their first release. I recall one of my friends – quite a large, muscular guy – coming out of the pit after their second song with his nose flat on his face and blood streaming down his bare torso. His girlfriend checked him over, gave him a hug and he went straight back in. Mad bastard. Slayer were great, but I have to confess that it was the support on this occasion who I have the most memories of. I caught them again Manchester when they came back and toured almost all the same venues as headliners a few months later.
Next was 1996 – July 7th at Brixton Academy in London. Slayer had been doing the European festival circuit and decided to stop off for a sole UK date. Myself and a flatmate got the bus (I think… I actually can’t recall that bit) down from Bradford and arranged to stay with his brother. We were walking through Trafalgar Square on the afternoon of the gig when I bumped into another friend, a girl I’d grown up with and who I’d not seen for several years. We got talking and it turned out she knew my housemate’s brother – they’d been in the same class at university. Small world!
Anyway, the gig was incredible. The first of two trips I made to the Academy (the other for a Clive Burr tribute gig from Iron Maiden when I had seriously bad man ‘flu a couple of years later), and with support from Fear Factory who I also bloody loved, and still do. However, afterwards we realised that public transport in London wasn’t that great – or we didn’t quite get it. And we ended up with a seriously long hike back to our digs. It’s all about planning, folks. And we didn’t do that bit. Worth it, though.
I was also due to see Slayer (alongside Pantera and others) at Birmingham NEC in September 2001, not long after coming back from working in Nigeria. Unfortunately – very unfortunately – this tour date coincided with events I’m sure you’re all aware of on the 11th of that month. The bands were caught up in the resulting no-fly period and the gig had to be postponed. I think it went ahead a couple of weeks or months later with a very different line-up. I can’t recall of either of those two bands were on the rescheduled date, but I didn’t get to go.
Slayer are one of the two bands I’ve seen outside of the UK or the European festival circuit. While I was backpacking around 2006-2009, I saw Fear Factory in Brisbane and Slayer in Perth. Slayer, according to my travel blog, was on April 12th 2007 and it was in a big warehouse with crap acoustics on the outskirts of Australia’s westernmost big town. I don’t need to read the old blog post to remember that the sound wasn’t great and the crowd were… stationary. Much as I’d experienced at Fear Factory, Aussie crowds like to stand and watch rather than get involved. Not something I’d expected.
Since then I’ve seen Slayer a handful more times. Glasgow’s O2 Academy being the tour haunt of choice, but also at Download, Sonisphere, Graspop. Most recently on home soil I saw their final gig in Glasgow where they brought a great lineup and tore the Hydro apart. Sadly not literally, as that place should be rebuilt from scratch to fix the awful acoustics. At the time I thought that was it. No more Slayer, but what a way to go. And then I got the chance to cover Wacken’s 30th anniversary show. Of course Slayer were headlining one of the nights! Though the set wasn’t dissimilar to that a few months earlier in Glasgow, it was a hell of a show with a brilliant (and huge) crowd.
Aside from the live side of things, Slayer continued to chuck out albums – some better than others, but always happy to court a little controversy. For the record, Diabolus in Musica and Christ Illusion – meh. God Hates Us All and Repentless – awesome. World Painted Blood sits in the middle. My opinion, and I appreciate that others’ differ.
And then to the announcement of the final date. The temptation to book flights to LA (I even looked up prices – I could have afforded it), and chance being able to get a ticket. But my job put paid to that. I deliberately posted about it on facebook so that I couldn’t throw a sickie and go. I’m a teacher, so although I do get those nice long holidays – which we bloody well earn, believe me – I don’t get to choose when I want to take them. And November 30th is three weeks too early to coincide with my next break.
I’ll settle for watching my old War at the Warfields DVD and the new Repentless Killogy release. It won’t be the same. If there is a show I wish I could be at, it’s this one. But I can’t be there. At least I have some great memories of a band who created thirty years worth of ear-shredding, classically evil thrash metal. Thing is, I guarantee that even though they’ve retired (from albums and touring at least) that when I get to Bloodstock in August, there will still be cries of “SLAAAAAYYYEEERRRRRR!!!”