The scariest concert I ever went to(besides Petra at the Notre Dame ACC with my uncle’s youth group) was Slayer in 1991. They were only one quarter of that evening’s entertainment, but they made up for it with sheer velocity, anger, and a smidgen of evil.
I was 17 years old and as part of the Indiana State Fair week, Deer Creek State Park hosted a series of relatively cheap concerts. Deer Creek was an outdoor amphitheater that was located in the middle of nowhere. It was a cool place to see shows, and that week they were hosting the Clash of the Titans tour which included a still fairly new Alice In Chains, Anthrax, Megadeth, and Slayer. And all of those bands were only going to cost $7. My brother picked us up some tickets and he drove us down to central Indiana for some headbanging.
Slayer were the closing band, and had the unlucky task of following a young and hungry Alice In Chains, a pissed off and everything to prove Megadeth, and an at their utmost best Anthrax. It didn’t seem to bother them as Slayer came out and launched right into “War Ensemble”. The stage lights turned a blood red as Araya, King, Hanneman, and Lombardo crushed the crowd with sheer musical force, even us losers on the lawn.
My brother and I had enjoyed the entire show from the grassy lawn, which is a pretty safe spot to be for concerts of this magnitude. The lawn is a safe haven for the stoners, the lovers, the freaks, and the “had nothing better to do tonight so I bought tickets to this show to see if I could hook up with some drunk chick” crowd. We weren’t in any of those groups. We just took the cheap route in order to see four bands we were crazy about. Within about 10 minutes of Slayer’s set a mosh pit of epic proportions formed about 30 feet to the right of us. We would occasionally peak over at it and make sure the distance between us and it was the same. Soon enough it was obvious that it had begun shifting towards us. The shoes, shirts, and wallets were coming into plainer view. The sea of bodies seemed to have taken on a life of its own. My brother Chris grabs my arm and says “Let’s move over quickly.” “Disposable Heroes” echoes through the valley as we make our way stage left. The mosh pit seemed to be beckoning to my brother and I. In between aural thrashes of “Dead Skin Mask” and “Angel of Death” I swear I heard the pit moan “Feed me.” The folks that seemed for the most part normal had begun changing as well. Lyrics to “South of Heaven” and “Raining Blood” were being sung out loud by red-eyed fans who at once suddenly turned to snarling demons. The pit gained momentum and so my brother and I decided we had to make a run for it or we would never see another day again. We made it to the back fence just as Slayer went into ‘Seasons In The Abyss”. Being the great big brother that he was, Chris boosted me over the top of the fence. I reached back to pull him up when that possessed mosh pit grabbed him by his army boots and pulled him into its dirt-covered, sweat-drenched center. He disappeared from my view as “Mandatory Suicide” rang in my ears. It was left up to me to go home and tell our parents of my brother’s heavy metal fate. Unfortunately, he had the car keys so I had to bum a ride home from a couple guys heading just south of my hometown.
Okay, so my brother didn’t get eaten up by a giant mosh pit, though we did have to avoid it a couple of times. Slayer did leave an indelible mark on my psyche. They were a scary band not because of what they sang or how heavy the music was that they played, but because they seemed to believe what they were singing. They reminded me of dudes you’d see walking down the street that had a certain darkness in their eyes. They looked like the guys in River’s Edge, and those guys scared the hell out of me. They wore jeans and t-shirts, and jean jackets with patches all over them. They looked like guys that I’d see at school walking the halls, but with stranger skeletons in their closets. South of Heaven and Seasons in the Abyss were the two albums that made the biggest impression on me and my older brother. That ultimate mix of speed metal, punk, a Herschell Gordon Lewis film, and the occult. It was dark and we knew we shouldn’t be listening, yet we continued to listen. Slayer were the cassette you’d hide in your car if you were driving around with your girlfriend, or picking up grandma for Christmas dinner.
Of course we grow up and realize that they were just dudes getting completely messed up on Jagermeister and cheap draft beer. They aged like us. All the virgin blood and goat skulls in the world wasn’t going to stop that process. Poor Jeff Hanneman gave into not Satan, but Cirrhosis of the liver. Tom Araya is grey and wrinkled, with a bad back. Kerry King, well he’s still really scary looking actually.
So as far as my “collecting the speed/thrash metal classics” is going, I can mark one off the list. I recently acquired a copy of Slayer’s Hell Awaits. It’s a third pressing from 1987. It’s a joint release from Combat/Metal Blade Records. The album is definitely a step up from their debut Show No Mercy, with Hell Awaits sounding more like a speed metal record than a thrash/hardcore affair. It’s relatively short, but it packs a punch in it’s seven total tracks. Lombardo staked his claim is the premier double kick drummer, with Charlie Benante from Anthrax closely behind him. Lars Ulrich. Well, he was damn impressive up to And Justice For All. After that his ego took precedent over the music(see Some Kind Of Monster for proof.) The one-two punch of Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman came to fruition on Hells Awaits as well. They may not have been guitar wizards, but what they lacked in technical skill they made up for it in pure angst and speed. Tom Araya’s haunted howl is as essential to the Slayer quotient as anything. He perfects his scream on tracks like “Necrophiliac”, “Crypts of Eternity”, and the heart-health track “Hardening of the Arteries.” At times I find it hard to hear Araya’s bass playing, but on Hell Awaits it’s actually pretty well blended in the mix. “Praise of Death” even has a nice spot where everything drops out while the bass moves on.
Lyrically, you pretty much know what to expect going in. By last year’s Repentless, the lyrics have become pretty much part of the surroundings. You don’t think twice about songs discussing murder, Satan, murder, rape, murder, and more murder. But back in 1986 this was some seriously disturbing stuff(ironic, given that this was the decade of Punky Brewster and Silver Spoons.) “Necrophiliac” sported lyrics like “I feel the urge the growing need/To fuck this sinful corpse/My tasks complete the bitches soul/Lies raped in demonic lust”, or this fun line in “Kill Again” that goes “Schizophrenic lunatic/Uncontrolled desire/Rape and ravage lady fair/Pledged to die.”
Certainly no Walt Whitman.
Let’s face it, these were lyrics made to shock. A horror film in lyric form. It helped to establish Slayer as the premier house band in Hell. People like my brother and his friends could get high and sing along to “Dead Skin Mask”, then put on Python’s Life of Brian and call it a day. I never got into Slayer because of their PRMC status, more so because the music was as aggressive as it was. Hundred mile an hour music.
One more record down. Next stop South of Heaven.