Slayer are the only band I have ever fallen in love with without hearing a note.
It was in 1994 when I was sixteen – despite growing up in a house full of Rock music I started caring about it quite late. Until fifteen, my only interests were video games, movies and books (initially about dragons, later about eldritch tentacle horrors – I must be one of the few Metal fans who got into Lovecraft before the music), with Rock arriving very suddenly through the surprising medium of Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet (Mercury). From there it was a rapid journey through Guns n’ Roses, Motörhead and Black Sabbath, and then a family friend put Master Of Puppets (Elektra) on and by the time ‘Battery’ had finished I was a different person.
I loved the music and the look and the artwork – which often had so much in common with the books and games I still loved – but I still remember being disappointed at the themes of so many of the songs. Sabbath sang about wizards and ‘Iron Man’ (who I chose to associate with an angrier version of the character from the Ted Hughes’ book I’d been obsessed with years earlier), but they also had drugs and other stuff I wasn’t interested in. My favourite Motörhead song was ‘Orgasmatron’ because Lemmy sang “I am Mars, the God of War” and I chose to take it literally, but whenever he sang about sex or drinking or being cool my eyes glazed over. Metallica were better, but by then “the Black album” (Electra/Vertigo) was out and ‘Nothing Else Matters’ just seemed to ruin everything.
My first exposure to Slayer was a live report in an issue of Kerrang!, bought for coverage of a band I forgot about the instant I saw Slayer. The photos were part of it – underlit in red with staring eyes and dragon tattoos, Tom looking like an actual necromancer – but the thing that grabbed me was the set-list. Just the titles of songs I’d never heard, completely out of context, but so instantly fascinating that I couldn’t think of anything else for a week. ‘Captor Of Sin’. ‘Angel Of Death’. ‘Hell Awaits’. ‘The Antichrist’. ‘Dead Skin Mask’. That I’d been putting up with songs about cars and girls while there was a band playing something called fucking ‘DEAD SKIN MASK’ just completely changed everything, I was filled with this almost indescribable need to hear this song, to know what a piece of music called that could possibly even sound like. This being the time when I actually had to save money and get a train into town to get new music it was months before I got to hear them, months which I spent writing the titles on pretty much any surface I could get my hands on, and by the time I did the music (as good as it was) had almost become secondary to what it meant – songs about sex and cars and being cool were part of a world that, at that point, I had no desire to be part of and no idea how to try even if I wanted to, but this was something I could understand. I was, quite truthfully, a fan without hearing a note.
Like everything, of course, my passion mellowed and discovered something akin to reasonableness with age, and a combination of factors put distance between myself and Slayer since then. Nothing else they’ve recorded truly matched the power of Reign In Blood (Def Jam). I discovered bands who captured the otherworldly horror in their music more effectively than Slayer’s verse/chorus Thrash. I became uncomfortable with some of the online reactions and commentary from the band and their fanbase. I even started to question the desirability of pure escapism – the very thing that brought me to them in the first place – and realised that political and social mundanity does and should lie at the heart of even the most fantastical of artistic pursuits. Slayer and I haven’t been close for decades now, and it’s hard to mourn too hard for them, but they will always be the band who gave an awkward lonely boy the feeling that he wasn’t actually alone at a time when he really needed it, and I’ll always be grateful for that.