For more than 30 years, Slayer has been considered metal music royalty. Part of the “Big Four” of thrash metal — along with Anthrax, Megadeth and Metallica — Slayer has released 11 studio albums and won multiple Grammy Awards.
The wildly popular — and always a bit controversial — group is set to play at the Fillmore Silver Spring on Tuesday.
Slayer has inspired generations of musicians, most of whom give credit to the band for their sound and lyrics. For Slayer vocalist and bassist Tom Araya, inspiration came from a little closer to home.
“I learned to play bass because my brother was learning how to play guitar,” Araya said. “The bass player I looked up to when me and my brother were learning how to play music was actually Paul McCartney from the Beatles. I didn’t want to emulate him, but I enjoyed the Beatles’ music and me and my brother used to play it.”
Araya said he and his brother were really inspired by the music of the 1960s, especially Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the Rolling Stones and the Doors.
“All that music inspired me and that’s the music I listened to growing up,” Araya said.
On May 2, guitarist Jeff Hanneman, one of the founding members of the band, died from liver failure due to alcohol-related cirrhosis. Before that, he had battled necrotizing fasciitis, more commonly known as the flesh-eating disease, that doctors seemed to think was a result of a spider bite on his arm. Doctors had to cut open his arm from his wrist to his shoulder to remove the diseased tissue.
“About a month after he passed, we had started a European tour,” Araya said. “That tour was hard for me because at the very end of the set that we did on that entire tour, we did two songs … ‘South of Heaven,’ and ‘Angel of Death,’ and we had a banner that was made that was done in the logo of a Heineken, but it said Hanneman. It had ‘Angel of Death still reigning,’ and it had the year of his birth … it was a banner we put up as we started ‘South of Heaven,’ and going into ‘Angel of Death,’ which were two songs that Jeff wrote musically.
“Of the four original members, me and Jeff kind of built a friendship. [We were] like brothers or family where every time we saw each other, it was ‘Hey, what’s going on? How are you doing?’ I thought for sure he could get it together. Even if he couldn’t play, I just got to the point where it didn’t matter to me whether he could play or not. I know he was struggling and he was having a tough time gaining dexterity back in his arm. It got to the point where I didn’t care, I just wanted him back out on the road being a part of this. He should be there. Slayer is our baby and he had every right to be there.”
As part of the “Big Four,” Slayer did two concerts in the United States — New York and Los Angeles — with Megadeth, Anthrax and Metallica. In Europe, the bands played in several countries and even have a DVD of their show in Bulgaria. Although the bands played for packed stadiums, Araya said fans shouldn’t hold out hope for more shows — and points the finger at Metallica.
“I don’t want to say politics is preventing that,” Araya said. “It’s not the politics between bands; it’s the politics of character in one particular band. We had an issue that came up on the New York show, which really freaked everybody out, but the New York show happened. I think, in all honesty, that was the last time we did the Big Four. I think another Big Four show might not happen. They could prove me wrong. Those shows basically, even though it was called the Big Four, it was done through Metallica. It was with Metallica’s blessing that allowed those shows to happen. If they want to continue and do a couple more shows, I think that would be great … if we were to sit down with them and communicate with them, that’s what I’d tell them.”
Until then, Slayer is moving on with its own projects. Araya said currently the band is working on material for a new album with hopes of recording in January.
“Yeah, that’s the plan,” Araya said. “That’s the plan [we] have on paper. I say that because things always change. Everything that this band does is never really set in stone. A lot of the time, we end up just doing stuff and things are taken care of after the fact. So that’s the plan. From what I understand, we’re going to head to the studio and start doing something. I know Kerry [King, guitarist] has been working on stuff for the past two years or so. … There’s plans for us to do something, starting in January and yeah, we’ll see where that goes.”