There are a million stories out there that begin like this: "I saw Slayer and it was fucking nuts." Here's mine:
Knowing the show would sell out, I got my ticket the day they went on sale, Reign in Blood playing on my Walkman as I bought it. My humungous friend Bizmark was a bouncer the night of the show. We were talking right before Slayer was to play. The house lights went down and without even a pause in the conversation--something about the ice cream store we had both worked at the summer before--Biz reached into his pocket and took out rubber gloves and started putting them on. I asked Biz what the gloves were for, afraid I knew the answer. After all, Slayer shows come with a reputation. "Oh these? They're to keep the blood off me."
The instant Slayer launched into their first song, I felt like I was in the middle of a bar brawl in The Muppet Movie. There were bodies flying around the club like so much fur and stuffing, while the band blazed through their set, song after song without a break. Every so often, I'd get pushed aside by bouncers dragging some overly enthusiastic fan out of the club via the old Maglite around the neck chokehold maneuver. I spent most of the night scared I was going to get unwittingly pummeled by somebody losing their shit near me and the rest ducking flying water bottles and flying people. And I was standing way in the back.
Jeff Hanneman, Tom Araya, and Kerry King cut quite a profile bathed in eerie red light, smoke machines burning in the background, while they, with drummer Paul Bostaph, bang out the tightest, most aggressive music on the planet. "Slayer has always delivered live," says Bostaph. "The live show is one of the most intense things about it because everything is intense. Not just the band--the fans are also intense." This is a universally agreed upon point amongst everybody who has seen Slayer play. And whipping the audience into such a frenzy is a skill Slayer doesn't take for granted. They take this ability so seriously, Bostaph pins the band's very existence on it. "We're not onstage saying, 'love us, here we are.' When we hit the stage, we hit the stage with respect for the fact that we have to deliver 100 percent. The day we can't do that is the day there's no Slayer."
Closing in on the 20-year mark, having just released God Hates Us All (Slayer's 12th), and on tour again, it appears the band won't be giving up the ghost any time soon. Bostaph attributes this longevity to the band giving the middle finger to everybody's expectations but their own.
"There are no rules except for the rules that Slayer sets for themselves inside of their own musical framework." This strict adherence to their own vision has established Slayer as something of an institution, attracting droves of followers, all the while keeping them out of the mainstream spotlight--a position the band revels in. "A lot of bands adhere to certain rules that are set by the music industry in order to get played on the radio, and Slayer isn't interested in that," says Bostaph. "If radio changed for Slayer, that'd be awesome, but Slayer won't change for radio. I think Slayer fans appreciate the integrity of that."
While a lot of heavy bands strike out in bland new directions looking for crossover success, Slayer keep doing what they have always done. You won't find a string section or rap cadence on God Hates Us All. Instead, Slayer are finding the new in the old. "I think the new direction for heavy music is for heavy music to go back to its roots," says Bostaph. "You can chase the tail of reinvention but you've got to go back to the basics." The basics, as Bostaph sees them, are guitar riffs that are "original, heavy, and dark--everything a heavy metal band should be, but with the punk aggressiveness."
Does he worry about their aggressive music bringing out aggression in their audience? "I'm not scared of our fans; our fans are some of the nicest people you'd ever want to meet."