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SLAYER – Let It Bleed
Bernard Doe
Metal Forces, Issue 20 (1986)

Tom Araya

Slayer’s career has pretty much been surrounded in controversy and even more so now with the release of their new album Reign In Blood.

Earlier this year the Los Angeles-based thrash quartet of Tom Araya (vocals / bass), Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman (guitars) and Dave Lombardo (drums) signed to Def Jam Records in New York, who are distributed by CBS Records. However, after CBS had seen the lyrical content of the band’s third album, they refused to release it. Leaving Def Jam to secure the album’s US release through Geffen.

The band have also received a lot of controversial press, particularly from the top music industry magazine Billboard. Not to mention Slayer’s apparent late withdrawal from the Aardschokdag festival (which I’ll talk more about later), causing the cancellation of the entire festival. But anyway, with no further ado let’s get the views of Tom Araya.

So, how did the deal with Def Jam come about? “Well, a friend of Def Jam’s boss Rick Rubin took him to a Slayer show and he was really impressed. So he talked to us and we signed the deal. Really, that was all there was to it.”

Presumably there were other offers from other labels? “Yeah, Elektra were interested, but we were supposed to meet with the guy several times when we flew into New York, but he never showed up – they were really poor at keeping appointments. So we thought, well let’s forget Elektra and any majors; if they wanna talk then they’ll come to us, and Rick was the only one willing to come looking.”

Now Def Jam are distributed through CBS who refused to release the album. Why was this? “Well, a magazine over here done an early review of the album and the people at CBS found some of the stuff that was written offensive. Also, they didn’t like the idea of the first song, ‘Angel Of Death’, starting off with the lyrics ‘Auschwitz, the meaning of pain’; they didn’t like the idea of us writing songs like that, so they refused to release the record. They feel the only way to deal with Slayer music is to ignore it, so fuck them.”

So it was purely lyrical content, the reason that CBS dropped the album? “Yeah, I think it was more lyrical content than anything else. I guess they were offended. You see, a lot of these major corporations are Jew-oriented. Now, let me make it clear that I’ve got nothing against Jews, but a lot of them do own these major companies and some of them could be hot headed. Which is understandable, because they don’t like to see shit about concentration camps and a Nazi criminal. They don’t like seeing Nazi criminals being glorified. But ‘Angel Of Death’ is not glorifying him (German SS officer, Josef Mengele), it’s just stating what he did and got away with. They just have a tough time accepting it, so the only way they can deal with it is by refusing to release the album and voiding their contract.

“It was really upsetting that we didn’t go with CBS, because they’re a big company and it would have looked good. Also, I think it would have done CBS a lot more justice than by them dumping the record, because I think people would have regarded them highly for sticking their necks out to be successful with a band that a lot of people don’t like.

“But Geffen have now got the album, so more power to Geffen. I think everyone will be happy in the long run.”

I’d imagine the fact that Def Jam were distributed by a company like CBS persuaded you to sign to them in the first place? “Yes, that was the major issue, the fact that they had major distribution, and when Rick told us that CBS had dropped the record we just couldn’t believe it. But Geffen Records is nearly the same as CBS. They’re not as big, but they have a lot of pull too, so I’m sure they’re gonna do well with the album.”

Are you happy with the way that Reign In Blood came out? “Hell yes! I listen to the album all the time and I hope the next album is along the same lines, because I think this is our best album yet.”

Kerry King

The song structures on Reign In Blood are probably more like the first album than your last, Hell Awaits. Would you agree? “Yes I would, I think this album’s a lot more like Show No Mercy than Hell Awaits.”

Then don’t you find it strange that some magazines, who slagged off Show No Mercy but gave good reviews to Hell Awaits, are now raving about the new album? Or are they, as I suspect, just jumping on the bandwagon because thrash is currently so popular with the fans? “Well, it’s probably because they haven’t even listened to the first album; usually they don’t hear anything to the second album anyway. But that’s no big deal, it’s the hardcore and the underground people that matter – the ones that have been with us since we’ve been together – they know what they’re listening to. Obviously, now we’ve got a major distribution we will hopefully get a bigger audience, but the important thing is that the hardcore people can get hold of the album.”

Now that you’re on a major label, have you noticed a change in attitude from the music press towards Slayer? “Not really. Well, not yet anyway! But I do think that magazines will change their attitudes towards us. Before, magazines like Music Connection slagged off our first album real bad. They thought it was a big joke, and that having a side ‘6’ and a side ‘66’ was meaningless. But that whole record was made in fun. I mean, I never thought it would get to the extent that is has now and we’d get a major deal.

“Anyway, now I think that they’ll be looking at us more critically; they’re gonna have to sit down and listen to the record rather than just slagging us off because of our image. Now they’ve got to look at it differently because we’ve had three albums out, we’re signed to a major and they’ll be realising that Slayer mean business and are more than just another Devil-worshipping band. To be honest though, I don’t care if they now decide to start treating us seriously or not. So I guess you can cut out what I just said and print ‘Tom Araya doesn’t really care a fuck about music critics’. Ha! Ha!”

But just the fact that you’re now on a major label will mean that more magazines, who before wouldn’t have wanted to know you, are now writing about Slayer. That must be good in terms of exposure for the band? “Oh yeah, of course. Now we’re getting more popular, all these magazines will be looking at us as a selling item… especially the American ones. Ever since the success of Metallica, first on the Ozzy (Osbourne) tour in the States and then with their album, means they’re now popping up on magazines everywhere, and it’s opened the door for a lot of the underground bands to appear in these magazines as well. So it looks as if the attitude towards underground metal in general could be changing. I hope so.”

You’re currently doing this headlining tour of the US with Overkill, but I’d imagine you would have preferred to have done a support tour with one of the major bands? “Yes, I’d like to. But who do you think would take us on the road with them? Our music is so aggressive that I can’t think of many major acts who want us to play with them.”

“I guess we’re gonna have to make a name for ourselves by going out on the road on our own, and we’ll have to wait and see how far that gets us. Hopefully, if we’re lucky, we may hitch up with a major act, like Metallica did, but…. well, we’ll see.”

Jeff Hanneman

Your live shows attract a crossover section of hardcore punks and metalheads. Does it worry you that audiences are becoming more violent? “No, not really, because our crowds have always been ecstatic and rough. They have a lot of tension and frustration which they let off at the shows. But it’s nothing that can’t be controlled, and once it’s out of their system and the show is over then that’s that, it’s over and done with.

“The only bad thing is that in some cities they don’t allow metal shows anymore, because promoters cannot afford the ridiculously high cost of insurance that’s being set because of the violent reputation of the crowds. But this is America. Everyone is sue happy and they think they can make a quick buck. Americans no longer take responsibility for themselves. Whenever something happens to them in a supermarket, or wherever, they’ll blame it on the store rather than themselves; even though they were the stupid ones that were trying to yank the box from the bottom shelf when the whole lot fell on them. Or they were the ones that weren’t looking where they were going when they slipped and smashed their skull. They all think they can shift the responsibility onto someone else and make them pay for it. Sue here, sue there – the whole thing sucks and metal shows are suffering because of it. That’s my opinion.”

My attitude to the people who criticise the violent reaction of thrash crowds is that if you don’t wanna thrash or risk getting accidentally hurt, then watch the show from the back. “Yeah, that’s right. The people who go into that pit know exactly what to expect and you shouldn’t go in there if you don’t wanna get involved. They should just use their common sense.”

What with Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth, Metal Church and Slayer all getting major deals the ‘true metal’ scene is really looking healthy. Do you agree? “Yes I do. I just hope that it doesn’t fizzle out, and the momentum can keep on going so that the metal scene can become a heavier and bigger item in the music world.

“I also think people’s attitudes are changing. They’re getting tired of just sitting down and listening. Now they wanna get up and go spastic and they’re looking for that heavier, faster, more aggressive sound… they’re looking for that energy. But whatever happens, metal will never go away… it will always be there.”

Well, I’m sure all Metal Forces readers will agree with that statement, and I’ve no doubt that many of you will be hoping that Slayer will always be there too.

Regarding a European release for Reign In Blood; I understand that, despite strong offers from top independent labels like Music For Nations and Noise, Def Jam have licensed the album to London / Polygram and it should be released in Europe any day now. Hopefully, London will be capable of handling a product as controversial as Slayer, and will get behind the band 100%.

When I spoke to Tom, Slayer were due to be playing the Aardschokdag Festival on October 26th with Metallica and Anthrax. Then of course came the tragic death of Cliff Burton in September, forcing Metallica to pull out of the festival, and Slayer were promoted to headliners with Metal Church being added to the bill. However, less than a week before the festival, having agreed a new appearance fee to headline, Slayer decided to pull out, leaving the festival organisers little choice but to cancel the show and suffer a heavy loss in abortive advertising costs.

The blame for the late cancellation was put totally onto Slayer by the organisers, who refused to invite the band to play at the rearranged festival, now scheduled for February 8th, 1987. Unfortunately, Tom Araya refused to comment on the decision to pull out and the allegations that they were to blame. However, Def Jam did say this: “After Metallica pulled out, we never had any intention of sending Slayer over to still play Aardschok. The agent was informed of this, but he obviously did not pass on the correct information to the organisers.”

Dave Lombardo

I must say that Def Jam’s comments completely contradict what they had told me earlier, soon after the Metallica tragedy. They said then that “Slayer still want to play the festival as a tribute to Cliff Burton.”

It may seem crazy for a band of Slayer’s status, but, believe it or not, they do not currently have a manager. So my advice to them is, get one quick! Slayer are now in the big time, and if they want to stay there then they desperately need someone to take care of their business dealings and stop a repeat of embarrassing situations like the Aardschok shambles.

So, when can we now expect to see Slayer back in Europe? Well unfortunately, because of what happened with the Aardschokdag festival, I hear a number of European promoters are now having second thoughts about dealing with the band. But hopefully, if these problems can be overcome, we should still see Slayer invading Europe early next year.

Anyone who’s seen Slayer live will know that it’s an event that needs to be seen to be believed. And with the excellent Reign In Blood – an album that’s the most superior thrash product ever to hit vinyl, both in terms of power and production quality – Slayer deserve to be huge. I just hope there’s someone who can point them in the right direction and not let all that talent go to waste. May Slayer Reign In Blood forevermore!

Interview taken from Metal Forces, Issue 20 (1986)

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