FEATURE: Facing Life Without Slayer

Slayer, photo credit Gary Alcock

From the first day of December 2019, we enter a dark, horrifying new era. Life without Slayer.

Sorry. Life without SLAAAAAYYYERRR!!!

There, that’s better.

From the moment I discovered Slayer on a compilation album called Speed Kills back in 1985, my life was changed forever. Just the sound of their name was enough. Everything you needed to know about the band encapsulated in two perfect syllables, especially when screamed at an ear-splitting volume or when chanted with thousands of other like-minded blood-hungry psychopaths.

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From witnessing an irate Jeff Hanneman hurling his instrument at a frightened guitar tech on the Clash of the Titans tour in 1990, to the bottle war at Download 2004 when a swarm of famously tolerant Slayer fans politely suggested to the festival organisers that Taking Back Sunday might  not be an appropriate substitute, to actually getting to meet them in person at Bloodstock 2013, Slayer have been responsible for some of my fondest gig memories.

And then, of course, there’s the issue of my terminally crippled bank balance. Gig tickets, albums, singles, box sets, mugs, limited editions, books, graphic novels, comics, posters, and t-shirts, if I calculated the amount of money that I (like many, many others) have spent on merchandise of different sorts over the years, I’d probably have a heart attack or three.

Controversial from the start, it wasn’t until the band signed to Def Jam – a Hip Hop label (editor’s note: later Def American and later still American Recordings), of all things – in 1986 that Slayer truly showed they didn’t give a flying fuck about convention. Angering and/or confusing your own audience can be a suicidal business but when Reign in Blood was finally revealed, even the most skeptical of fans were forced into awed silence as the landscape of metal was changed forever.

Happy to risk the wrath of their fans once more, Slayer chose to slow down on 1988’s South of Heaven, showing another side to their writing, before exploding into the 1990s with Seasons in the Abyss. As thrash metal lay dying around them, Slayer entered the new decade ascending to an even higher level as they brought their songs of blood, death, war, and Satan into the world of arenas.

By now, Slayer was already becoming virtually untouchable. Even with changes in personnel, and in later years when the material didn’t quite live up to its promise, such was the strict adherence to their no-fucks-given attitude that they eventually became something more than a mere band. They became a way of life.

It was only with the tragic death of Jeff Hanneman that, even with unanimous fan approval for replacement Gary Holt, murmurings of discontent could be heard above the riffs for the first time. With poor health plaguing vocalist Tom Araya, the band released Repentless (Nuclear Blast Records), the album which (at this point anyway) would prove to be their studio swansong, and made the decision to step down as the kings of thrash and pass into legend.

So, in lieu of a turnaround of Motley Crue proportions, this really does look like the end of the road for the Californian quartet. But with fans having travelled across the globe to attend the final shows at The Forum in Inglewood, just a few short miles away from the band’s birthplace in Huntington Park, you can guarantee it was a suitably epic and apocalyptic climax.

GARY ALCOCK