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SLAYER – A Man For All Seasons
Borivoj Krgin
Metal Forces, Issue 60 (1991)

Slayer (l-r): Dave Lombardo, Jeff Hanneman, Tom Araya and Kerry King

Judging from the Metal Forces 1990 Readers Poll results published in the last issue, it appears that Slayer are still very much the kings of thrash in the eyes of most of our readers as well as the general thrash audience (they came out top in no less than six categories: Best Band, Best Live Band, Best Album, Best Male Singer, Best Guitarist and Best Drummer). Having released an excellent LP in the shape of last year’s Seasons In The Abyss and followed it up with some ripping live work both in Europe and the States, it’s certainly no surprise to this writer that the Los Angeles quartet are continuing to be hailed as the genre’s finest.

While there are many factors that make Slayer the killer thrash act that they are, few would disagree that the unique drumming style of Dave Lombardo is at the very core of what makes this brutal thrash machine tick. His skin beating, while not the fastest or the flashiest, is easily the most solid and recognisable within the current thrash genre.

However, despite the fact that he is continuously hailed as the best thrash sticksman alive, Dave Lombardo very rarely talks to the metal media (to date, only a couple of interviews with the drummer have ever been published). Whether or not this is by his own choice is unclear, but the fact remains that Dave Lombardo has kept a remarkably low profile in the press throughout Slayer’s nine-year existence.

When Metal Forces caught up with Slayer at the Montreal Verdun Auditorium this past February (in the midst of their North American trek with Testament), we were granted a special opportunity to sit down with Dave Lombardo and discuss his role in one of metal’s most original and controversial acts. What we learned was that behind this hyper, relentless drum machine, lies an exceptionally intelligent human being as well as one of the most sincere guys you’d ever want to meet. His comments about Slayer’s music and his band mates, while certain to raise a few eyebrows, offer a rare glimpse into the mind of this extraordinarily talented musician.

I know you don’t do that many interviews. Is this by choice or do you just never get approached to do any? “Well, the problem was,” explains the drummer. “In Europe I was doing interviews and the journalists over there, a lot of them, were against what Jeff (Hanneman, guitar) was writing. So, they would condemn me and get down my throat for something that Jeff did. And of course, I know how to answer some of the questions that pertain to the music, but some of the stuff is getting really bad because it has to do with murder and stuff like that, and some magazines were really offended by that stuff. So I was taking the shit for them. What they, Jeff, Kerry (King, guitar) and Tom (Araya, vocals/bass), deserve to be getting, I was getting. And it’s like ‘Hey…’.”

So how do you feel about Slayer’s lyrics then? “I don’t mind them, because it’s a picture being painted in their minds through way of music to where you could picture stuff… what’s going on. Really, all we’re doing is describing what it is, what it’s like. We’re not saying it’s good, we’re not saying it’s bad, we’re just showing you what it’s about. Just like somebody making a movie, it’s not for it, it’s not against it, it’s your own opinion. All it is is just an art form of music. Music is an art.”

Dave Lombardo

So what do you think about kids that buy your records and misinterpret some of the stuff that’s being said to where they go out and actually commit some of these acts? “I don’t think they’re educated enough to go out and buy a record if they think like that. Because they’ve gotta sit down and read the lyrics and know what it’s about, and know that it’s just music, and know that it’s entertainment. It’s something to make you feel good. No matter what it says, the music should make you feel good. That’s what these kids are getting out of it. They don’t care really what it says. Even though it does say some bad things, it still makes them feel good, ’cause it’s just the way the music is. But I just think they’re too young… if they feel that way, that they have to ‘Go do this, go do that’, they’re misinterpreting the whole Slayer thing.”

So how do you feel about the whole censorship issue, then? Do you think that stickering albums and letting the parents monitor what their kids are listening to is the right way to approach it? “Well, the stickering… I really don’t mind it. I’m not for it, I’m not against it. It looks kinda neat on the band’s part, ‘Oh look, they’re censoring our stuff’! You know, it’s kinda funny. Because really, on the part of the band members, it’s like, what’s so wrong with it? Look at how we are. We’re no different than any other kids, we just have the talent to do this. So, really, I don’t mind the stickering; it’s just like a joke, it’s funny. What is it gonna do?”

How do your parents feel about you playing in a band as controversial as Slayer? “They really enjoy it. When my dad started hearing from other people about what we were supposed to be like, he came up to me and told me, ‘Hey, this is weird, what is this? What are you doing here?’ And I told him, ‘Hey, Dad, just don’t worry about it, it’s not bad, there’s nothing wrong with it’. So, then as time goes on, he just ignores the people. When they tell him, ‘Oh, he plays in a Satanic band’, he goes, ‘Get out of here, I know my son better than that’. So, my parents are fine. They don’t mind it at all.”

You are considered to be an integral part of the Slayer sound as well as probably the finest thrash drummer there is. How do you react when people put you on such a pedestal? “I’m definitely flattered, because I never thought that I’d see the day when I would be considered that. I still look up to other drummers; for example, the guy in Faith No More (Mike Bordin). He’s really good, he does stuff that I can sit there and go, ‘Wow, I can relate to that’. I appreciate it in the fans’ part. It took a lot of hard work to get where I’m at, but still, even with all the magazines and fans saying all this nice stuff, I keep thinking, ‘I gotta work harder’, so it’s like non-stop. Everybody said, ‘Reign In Blood, wow, that’s as far as you could go’. And then we came out with South Of Heaven and it was like, ‘That’s as far as you could go.’ And now with Seasons In The Abyss, everybody’s saying, ‘No, this can’t be it’. They say I always come up with something to top what I did the time before, which I’m glad about. I guess I’m just expanding or just growing up or something like that. I just work hard at it.”

Do you ever play along to records? “Yeah. When I first started playing drums, all I did was just listen to records and play along. I got books, laid them out on my bed, sat on the edge of my bed and played on the books. That’s how I learned. And I listened to Kiss, I listened to Led Zeppelin… this was like early, early days. Then I started getting into more harder rock, then I got into Judas Priest, then Iron Maiden, and then after that, I threw all that away and I got into punk. But during that time, from Led Zeppelin to Kiss to probably Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, I was practicing on a bed on boxes… boxes, books, whatever, anything that could get a good sound.”

A lot of people, when they want to make fun of this kind of music, say that playing fast is easy, that anyone can play fast. Do you find that, in your experience, playing fast is easier or harder than playing at more conventional tempos? “Well, it depends on what you’re used to. I’m used to playing fast, and now, recently… all the way until the Reign In Blood days, we played fast. Then we started slowing down a little bit with South Of Heaven, that was a little bit, you know… it was okay. And now, we’re getting a little bit faster again. My problem was, I didn’t keep a good slow beat; I sped up, I slowed down, and that’s not good. You’re supposed to keep a steady beat throughout the entire song, if the song is slow. I had to practice on that. I think that was hard until I practiced with a metronome, that ticking time thing. I practiced that just for two months. Boom, I got my timing, no problem. Now I can play an entire show, play the slow songs at a good steady beat without speeding up. I’m aware of it now, because I was catching myself, ‘Wow, I’m speeding up. What am I doing?’ It’s a lot easier now playing slow and fast. Now, for the people that say playing fast is easy, I would like them to sit behind my drum riser and watch me play for an hour and a half and see if they could do it. I find it very hard for myself doing it. Sometimes, I’m like, ‘C’mon, when is this show gonna end? I’m so tired’. We have twelve shows in a row, and this is the third show, before we have a day off. My arms are dead tired. I don’t have pressure in my hands. I can’t squeeze a beer bottle cap off. It is hard. I don’t know how anybody could say otherwise.”

Kerry King

Do you ever find Slayer’s music to be limiting to you as a musician? Do you wish that you had more room to try different things and expand your abilities? “Yeah, I’d like to try other things, but Slayer is Slayer, you can only go so far with Slayer. I would like to try other bands. I would love to try to play with Robert Plant or some type of music like that. I feel like I could really add a lot to his music. Now I hear that Zeppelin is coming back, and it’s like a dream in my mind to say, ‘Please. I’m writing you a nice letter, blah, blah, blah, I would love to play for you guys. At least give me a shot. I know I could give you what you need. I know the style of drumming that you want, the back-beat. I know the rhythm that you want’. So, I’ve always wanted to play with somebody else, something to just put under my belt, just for the experience of it. There are other goals. You’ve accomplished one thing already, so it’s like, ‘C’mon, I’ve accomplished this, and now I wanna go on to something else’. But not actually leave Slayer, you know, just on my free time. But Slayer’s free time is so much; you know, between albums and tours, there’s like two years. I’d like to do something else in between; that would be great.”

Would you say that you’re just as into playing with Slayer as you’ve always been? “Oh yeah! Definitely! In fact, a little more, too, because we’ve gotten bigger. Now, there are more kids into it, so I feel like playing harder and playing better. And now that you see other people enjoying it, you enjoy it more.”

Do you find it surprising that Slayer has achieved the kind of success that you have in spite of the sheer brutality of your music? I remember Kerry King saying in an old interview that he could not see Slayer ever getting a major label deal unless something drastic took place. Obviously something drastic did happen? “Yeah, it’s not that we’ve changed, because I don’t think Slayer has changed, but it’s just become more acceptable. More people are getting used to that style of music. If it wasn’t for Metallica then… they’ve always been like, maybe a year or two ahead of us, they’ve gained success before us, and hopefully we’ll get it this time too. It’s just a ladder that you climb.”

Did you expect to get this kind of success when you first formed the band? “No, but there was always something weird in the back of my mind, like I was gonna make it. It was just something weird. Playing in a band and success was just always with me. I always had it inside. It’s like ‘I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna do it’. No matter how many fights I had with my parents saying (imitating his mother’s voice) ‘You’re not gonna do it, you’re not gonna make it, get a job, cut your hair’, no matter how much stuff they told me, I sat in my room and it was like, ‘I’m gonna do it someday’. So, I was always determined. Then, when I got into Slayer, all that just went away and all I did was just play, play, play. And next thing I know, here I am ten years later, ever since we started Slayer, nine years actually, and it’s pretty big. It’s pretty cool.”

You’re renowned for your double-bass technique. I remember how shocked I was when I heard the double-bass break in ‘Angel Of Death’ back in 1986. At the time, it was by far the fastest double-bass that I’d ever heard. “Yeah. But now, I’m sure there are a lot of other drummers who can play at the same speed.”

How did you develop your double-bass technique? Did you just sit on your own and try to work on making it as fast as it possibly can be? “Well, how that ‘Angel Of Death’ part came out was I was doing drum solos at one time, and I would be playing and playing, and then all of a sudden I’d just stop and do a quick double-bass thing, and then play some more. And Kerry caught onto that. It was like, ‘Yeah. I got this song, let’s break it and do that double-bass thing, and then go back to the chorus’. And I go, ‘Okay, let’s work it out’. So we worked it out, and that was the ending of ‘Angel Of Death’. I don’t think I’ve ever told that story to anyone either!

Seasons In The Abyss

“Recently, though, I’ve been having a bit of a problem. Around, like 1988 or 1989, I started stuttering with my double-bass playing. It was like, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ So I was getting scared, ’cause I had gotten into an accident about a week before I started playing really lousy. Not my arms, but just my legs; the really fast double-bass I just couldn’t do it anymore. And still today I’m working on it real hard; I gotta practice a lot. But I just realised that I’m getting older, my muscles are starting to relax a little more. I’m not as hyped up as I used to be when I was a little kid, when I was 20, 21 years old. I’m not like that anymore. So now, what I gotta do is warm-up before I play, stretch, I gotta do little exercises. I can’t just go from the bus bunk – sometimes, when I’m sleeping – to, you know, ‘Dave, you’re going on in fifteen minutes’. ‘Oh, okay’, put all my clothes on, go onstage and play. I can’t do that anymore. I guess you just get older. You gotta keep in shape more as you get older.”

I remember seeing the first couple of Slayer shows after you rejoined them in April 1987 and it seemed like all the songs were played slower and there was a longer break between tracks. “Yeah, I was like (acting like he’s passing out), ‘I’m not used to all this’. Four months and I did not touch a pair of drum sticks. It was like, ‘Okay, you get back into the band, we start playing in a week’. So, I had a week to practice, and that was it. And I wasn’t ready for it. It takes time. It’s like a runner. A runner runs around the block. Runs once, and he’s tired. And then, the next day, he goes out, runs it again, ‘Ooh, I could do two laps this time’, so he keeps on going. Next thing you know, he runs around the block ten times and he doesn’t feel anything. It’s the same thing with me. When I first started playing, I’m like, ‘Give me a little more time to rest between songs. Like right now, tonight, the show is gonna be just one song after another. And it’s not gonna be any problem.”

When you left the band back in December 1986, there was never really an official explanation as to why you decided to leave. A lot of rumours were going around… “Do you know some of the rumours? Cause I’d like to hear them. I think we’ve heard the worst of them.”

What was the worst you heard? “That I caught my wife and Tom in the back of the bus. And that’s why I left the band. Ha! Ha!”

Ha! Ha! Actually, I heard that you wanted to bring your wife (Theresa) out on the road, and the other guys didn’t want her around. Personally, I think it’s understandable that you’d want to bring the person that you want to share your life with out on the road with you, because being away from each other for so long can put a serious strain on a relationship. “Yeah, and this was right when we got married too. We got married in July 1986, and I think we left on tour in October or November. I wasn’t ready for that; living apart from my wife. And besides that, I told her before we were married, that there was gonna be a time when she was gonna come with me, ’cause I’ve been with her nine years, as long as I’ve been with the band… she saw us playing the first time the band ever played a club. She saw me play with this band at a party in a backyard. So that’s how far me and her go back; about the same time as me and Slayer.

“And, for that reason they didn’t want her around. It was like, ‘Why? You’ve known her for years. You’ll bring the sluts and the scumbags on the bus, or whatever, they’re with whoever comes around, and I have my person I wanna be with every night. What’s the difference?’ So, they didn’t approve of that. So then, when I went home, none of my bills were paid, my rent was overdue, nobody was taking care of me, I was being treated like shit. And I was like an equal member of the band for so long. So then, I just got a band meeting, and I said, ‘Hey, I quit. I’m tired of this. I’m gonna get a job, cut my hair. I’m tired of living this lifestyle’.”

Tom Araya

Were you serious when you said that? “Yeah. You saw me with my short hair and everything, right? I got a nice job. I was living fine. I was happy. Because at that time, I was really mad. I was able to make the same amount of money with me working, both of us working, I didn’t have to play in the band. I was so mad at the situation, the way I was treated, the way Theresa was treated after all these years, that I left, with no regrets, no nothing. Then time went by and I started getting phone calls from Kerry. He called me and said, ‘Hey, you wanna do Europe? I’ll call you in two days’. I was like, ‘Nope’. And then Tom’s brother, Johnny, he’s on tour with us, he’s a guitar tech and bass tech for Jeff and Tom, he was coming around and asking, ‘What are you doing?’ So, there were people keeping an eye on me, on what I was doing. I had a chance to join Megadeth, but I didn’t join them.”

Oh, they asked you to? “Yeah, things were gonna be prepared to, but then I went to go see them and they looked in bad shape. It was the time when they wanted to replace Gar Samuelson. They were all involved really badly in drugs, and I don’t believe, really, in getting that involved in drugs. They were wasting their lives away. So I was like, ‘No way, I ain’t joining this’. So I go, ‘Forget it’. That was it. That was my chance; the only band I felt could have fit my needs at that time playing drums. So then, as time went by, Rick Rubin, our producer and record company owner, was calling me up every other night: ‘Dave, what do you want?’ ‘Well, you know what I want. I want my wife to come on the road with me’. ‘Okay, you got that. The guys said it’s okay. No problem’. I go, ‘No man, I don’t wanna deal with that’. ‘Why?’ ‘They treated me like shit. Why am I gonna go back to somebody that treated me like shit?’ So then it kept on, and every two or three nights he would call me up and we would talk for hours and hours and hours.

“So, me and Theresa were at this restaurant, we were sitting around, drinking strawberry margaritas by the beach. We’re like sitting there and she goes, ‘David, listen to me. They’re offering you anything you want. They’re saying, ‘We’ll pay your bills, you’ll live on a salary, on so much amount a year, and I get to go on the road. And everything is taken care of’. I go, ‘No, I don’t wanna talk about it’. Because I was really hurt at the fact… they’ve known her for years. I mean, it’s not like she came around the other day, I met her and that’s it, here she is. She doesn’t bother anybody, she’s quiet, she doesn’t bring her curling iron around and set it up in the dressing room, like some of these girls these guys bring around. They think they own the entire dressing room, they go, ‘Oh, yeah, we’re gonna get this…’ It’s like, you don’t wanna hear that sometimes. She’s really quiet. She gets ready before we leave, and that’s it. Nobody ever sees her getting ready or using her hairspray in the dressing room, like they were complaining at one time that they thought that she was going to do. So, I go, ‘No, no, no, no…’ I told her no.

“So, finally she goes, ‘David, look what you’re doing’. So I gave them a call. Next day, Rick Rubin came out, picks me up, we went to the studio… it was like I never left. It was like, I went and played… boom, we were there. It was like… great. And they were like, it felt great for them, because what I heard, T.J. (Scaglione, Lombardo’s temporary replacement during Slayer’s early 1987 US jaunt with W.A.S.P.) wasn’t appropriate enough for them.”

Yeah, I think the whole experience on that W.A.S.P. tour probably made them respect your abilities more. “Yeah, I was really mad, because when I told them that I quit, it was like nothing. They were like, ‘Oh, really. Okay’. They ignored me the entire time that I was there. I was ready for a fight, I thought they were gonna fight me, I had a knife in the car, I was ready to go… nobody was gonna touch me. I started talking about their next tour. ‘Wow, you guys got another drummer ready?’ It’s like it didn’t even hurt them; they didn’t even say anything to me. And then, towards the end of the meeting, I go, ‘You know what, you guys? This was easier than I expected. It was great. See ya!’ Went to my car, took off. Never saw me for the next four months. So, that’s the way I did it. That’s the way I believe anybody should work. If you feel like anybody is taking advantage of you or doing the wrong thing, do anything you can to fuck them, and then let them sit there and realise what they did.”

Jeff Hanneman

So, I assume their attitude towards you has changed since you came back into the band? “Yeah. In fact, not only from the band. I mean, the crew were even at one time treating me bad. In fact, the tour manager would be treating Theresa bad. She would be sitting in a corner, being quiet, and the manager would come up, sit on her lap, and say ‘Move, you don’t belong here’. And she would go, ’David, they did that to me. Why are they doing this to me?’ A lot of that shit pissed me off. But, yes, it’s better now. The crew, they’re really respectful, which is what I like. That’s the way I am, the way my personal way is. That’s the way I was brought up. If nobody likes that, just don’t come around me. It’s just the way I am.”

Do you think that the other guys’ insensitivity towards your feelings is rooted in the fact that you guys have never been the best of friends? “That’s why I’ve always had my life. I don’t contribute to any of the music. Why? Because I think that they do a great job as it is. They don’t need my input. I could save my own ideas for somebody that probably could appreciate it someday.”

Do you come up with all the drum beats and rolls? “Yeah, the rolls. What they do is they do the basic guitar parts. And Jeff, he probably plays drums too, I think. He goes, ‘Dave, look, do this. Just keep a beat here, and then here’s a break here’. But in between all that, where I put all the tasty stuff in, is when I come in. I come in and do the rolls. I come in and hit the cymbals in the right places. I come in and clean it all up. But Jeff is the one that tells me basically which beat to put where. They just get the basic stuff down drum-wise.”

Do you think that you contribute enough to the songs to where you should get a songwriting credit for it? “Yes, I do. And I feel like I’m gonna do that on the next album. I guess I’m the problem causer in the band, ’cause now I’m getting a little bit tired of listening to the music and realising what they do. Okay, they do the guitar parts, they do the guitar leads, they do the guitar riffs, they put everything together, but I feel like, on some songs, I’ve worked so hard on it, there’s so much drum rolls, there’s so much things, it’s like, ‘Man, I should be getting paid for that shit’. The way I’m gonna do it is, ‘Okay, how do you want the song? Let me hear the song’. So they play the song, Jeff plays it, and I’m gonna play it like Jeff does. ‘You want a drum roll? You pay me. You don’t like it? Don’t pay me’. That’s the way the song is gonna be, exactly how he wrote it is the way I’m gonna play it. They don’t like it? What are they gonna do? Kick me out? Go ahead. I don’t care.

“It’s become that way. I mean, I don’t have a big head or my head up my ass to do that to them, but you gotta realise that they’re different human beings. I’m treating them the way they would treat me in situations, in any other particular situation. So, it may sound mean the way I’m gonna do that, but really there’s ways they do things that I feel like, ‘Man, that’s cruel’. So, it’s just the way Slayer is. We don’t get along. That’s the way we do things.”

So how did you get together with these guys in the first place? “Years and years and years back. I had some friends that played guitar and I played drums, this was when I was like 13, 14 years old, and they said, ‘Some guy lives down the street’, from where I live, and that was Kerry, ‘and he plays guitar and he’s really spoiled. His dad buys him like ten guitars, all kinds of different guitars’. So that always stuck in the back of my head. I quit one band that I was in called Sabotage – not the Sabotage anyone has ever heard, this was a completely different – because my parents gave me the choice of, ‘Either get out of the house, or get a job’. So, I was in high school and I had to get a job. What am I gonna do? I wasn’t ready to live by myself, I didn’t have the responsibility or anything, so I got a job working at a pizza place, delivering pizzas. And I’d drive by Kerry’s house, and I’d see Kerry wandering along. I mean, I didn’t say, ‘Hey Kerry, hey, dude, you play guitar, right?’ ‘Yeah’. ‘Well, I play drums. Let’s get together some day’. He goes, ‘Come over one day and check out my guitars’. So we exchanged phone numbers and I went by one day. He had a lot of songs that he knew how to play, a long list. So then me and him got together, we were in my garage, we played two or three times, and he goes, ‘Yeah, I got a guitarist, he’s gonna play with us’. So that was Jeff. He dug up Jeff from somewhere. I don’t know where we got him from? So then, as time went by, it was just me, Jeff and Kerry playing our favourite songs… three or four of them. Then Kerry goes, ‘I know this singer guy named Tom’. Kerry and Tom played together in another band before called Quits until the band didn’t play anymore. Then Kerry started getting another band together, it was us three, and then Kerry got Tom.

Slayer 1983 (l-r): Kerry King, Tom Araya (back), Jeff Hanneman and Dave

“So we started practicing at Tom’s house and started learning songs. Tom, this stuff was new to him; rock, heavy rock like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, was all new to him. Then we were doing cover songs. He started learning the songs, and we played our first show; we practiced I think a month before. We played a Battle Of The Bands at the city park, and ever since then it’s been non-stop. That was back in… I think October 1981. We played throughout 1982, then we released Show No Mercy in December 1983, when I graduated from high school.”

So you were never really the best of friends? “No. I never hung out with Kerry. I tried every now and then to hang out with all the guys, but… it wasn’t my thing. The way I function is different. Then I met Theresa, and it went on from there. It was just me and her… that was it. I had the band, yeah, I played, I practiced, we talked and stuff like that, but I never really cared to go out with them; it wasn’t really a buddy-buddy type thing. The only buddy-buddies at first were Kerry and Jeff. Then they kinda, like, went their own way. And then now, it’s Jeff and Tom that are really, like, friends. Me and Kerry really don’t get along. Me and Jeff, it’s so-so. But me and Tom we get along a little better than the other two. I hold little grudges. Every now and then, it burns me inside when I remember things that happened before. It’s like, ‘Ooohh…’.”

Do people ever get disappointed or surprised when they meet you ’cause they’re expecting this ‘demon’, really nasty kinda guy? “Yeah, they do. They go, ‘You’re a hell of a lot nicer than I thought’. Last night in Toronto I did a radio interview, and they were going, ‘Man, it blows me away’. I go, ‘Man, I’m a human being. How do you think I’m gonna be?’ If I was anything else, I would be a fake. Yeah, you could be evil and mean, but there’s enough crap going on in the world to contribute to more crap. You don’t need it. The music, it’s entertainment. That’s as far as it goes with me. The other members of the band, they could probably be whatever they wanna be. That’s just the way I am.”

So, some rather revealing thoughts from Dave Lombardo. As Slayer end their US tour with Testament, they have now been confirmed along with Megadeth, Anthrax and Motörhead for the Clash Of The Titans US tour beginning in May. Unfortunately, their much rumoured European tour with Sepultura will not now take place, so it could be quite some time before Slayer are back on British soil. But, as ever, we’ll keep you posted.

Interview taken from Metal Forces, Issue 60 (1991)

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