Skeletons Of High Society

There are very few bands that take me back to the 80s and my awkward teenage haircut more than Slayer. Over the last couple of years I’ve found myself falling down a satanic speed metal rabbit hole where I’ve been revisiting and adding to my collection some of the most important speed metal albums to my existence on wax. I never realized growing up how much Slayer affected me. From age 13 to 18 I was all about Metallica, Megadeth, and Anthrax. While I did dabble in Slayer I always seemed to keep my distance. Call it a fear of satanic panic, paranoia of ritualistic killings I’d hear about on the evening news, and just the general feeling that Slayer fans were basically the kids in The River’s Edge, and those kids scared the hell out of me. As much as flirting with the dark side seemed exciting and the best way to keep the jocks at bay, I just felt like there might be a Pandora’s Box of evil just waiting to open as soon as I’d hit play on that Maxell copy of Hell Awaits for the 666th time. I just didn’t feel I had enough moxie to hang with the Slayer crowd. I was too much of a square, man. I thought I was cool with the occult and Hell and all that “Angel of Death” noise, but really the most ritualistic I got was listening to Motley Crue’s Shout At The Devil on my boombox in the backyard playing badminton with the neighbor kid and watching the edited cut of The Exorcist on network television.

I was living on the edge, guys.

So in my revisiting of those classic speed metal albums I realized just how amazing Slayer were. At their core they were a southern California hardcore band. Even in some of their most progressive moments Slayer were pure nihilistic punk rock. Reign In Blood, Hell Awaits, Show No Mercy/Live Undead, and South Of Heaven have become favorites of mine, but I think the album that hit me the hardest was Seasons In The Abyss. That came out in the fall of 1990, my junior year of high school. My older brother bought it in February of 1991. I went with him into town when he grabbed it. I remember I bought Queen’s Innuendo at the same time. Talk about the ying and yang. I remember seeing the video for “War Ensemble” and thinking that nothing could get that heavy. Nothing before it or what came after could reach those kinds of metal highs again. Then you hear a song like the title track “Seasons In The Abyss” and you realize these Slayer cats were almost a damn progressive rock band. The chicken scratch guitar solos of Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman didn’t matter. When they locked in rhythmically with the monster drummer that is Dave Lombardo there was no stopping these guys. Seasons In The Abyss was indeed the most progressive and technically on point record they ever made.

Even back then with me attempting to drown out my brother blasting that Seasons In The Abyss cassette in his room with myself blasting Freddie Mercury secretly telling the world goodbye with “These Are The Days Of Our Lives”, I couldn’t help but notice just how good that album was. By the time I’d made it to my senior year Slayer had released the video for “Seasons In The Abyss” and all bets were off. It was like a cross between Lawrence of Arabia and Headbanger’s Ball, but in the desert. It was this amazing mix of cinematic grandeur and progressive speed metal. It was also this crossover song that seemed to fold in fans of all makes and tastes. I can remember even my girlfriend’s marching band buddies digging the track as much as my hesher Music Appreciation classmates. In-particular, the drum line guys were pretty floored by the skill and precision of drummer Dave Lombardo. Seriously, to this day I think he’s one of the best metal drummers to ever walk the face of the earth. I feel every Slayer album he played on was top notch because of him. Nothing against Paul Bostaph, but Lombardo is the man and one of main reasons Slayer was so good(my opinion, what’s yours?)

Anyways, when I delved into the speed metal re-christening a couple years ago Seasons In The Abyss was at the very top of the list of albums to get. Prior to snagging it, I was able to find OG pressings of Hell Awaits, Reign In Blood, and South of Heaven. When it came time to grab an OG pressing of Seasons I instead grabbed one of the recent 180 gram reissues. I have no complaints. Though I prefer original pressings of these speed metal classics, this reissue sounds amazing, and at over half the price of the going price of 1st pressings I’m fine with it(btw, those new Metallica reissues sound amazing, too.)

As far as the songs? Man, they all retain their power, aggression, and dark eccentricities very well. The nice thing about Rick Rubin producing is that nothing sounds dated. He didn’t kowtow to current engineering and recording trends of the time. His style was to let the band do the talking, not let gated reverbs and bright treble on everything do it. Because of that all of Slayer’s records sound of the time they’re being played in. I think that’s what appeals to me so much with them. Their music sounds good anytime. You could be frozen in a cryogenic state for 200 years, wake up from your sci fi nap, and then put on Reign In Blood and even the alien warlords running the planet by then would be like “IRUYC *$&CKDHF ++UCHRXM~?”, which roughly translated means “Hey, is that the new Slayer album?” So much of the stuff that came out in the mid-80s and early 90s has a certain musical “taint” on them that puts a very specific expiration date on the record. Songs like “War Ensemble”, “Hallowed Point”, “Deadskin Mask”, and “Skeletons of Society” get better with age, like a fine wine(blood red, of course.) When Slayer started out they weren’t the most proficient players, but what they lacked in skill they made up for in animalistic rage and fury. By the time Seasons hit they’d had 8 years of recording, touring, rehearsal, and societal woes and missteps under their belts, which turned them into this precise and jagged speed metal behemoth of a band.

From “Show No Mercy” to “Seasons In The Abyss” these California metal freaks grew leaps and bounds, while still retaining all of the youthful abandon and punk rock attitude they started out with. Not all the of the “big four” can say that.

Seasons In The Abyss is still a solid album, even 26 years after its initial release. I still don’t think I could hang with those River’s Edge kids, but really, who would want to?

Dark Tones : A Soundtrack For Halloween

We’re a mere day from Halloween. It’s time to have your costume figured out, the Fun Size candies bought for the trick-or-treaters, all the proper movies picked out to finish out the month with, and most importantly you need to be spinning all the appropriate Gothic-related albums to keep the eerie vibes humming along.

In honor of my favorite time of the year I thought I’d make a list of some of my favorite Gothic and generally dark mood records. Really, these records are spun by me year-round, but October benefits greatly from their maleficent vibes. Turn down the lights, light up some candles, and drop the needle(or hit play on the iPhone) and get a little weird with me.


Pentagram Home Video : The Satanic Path & Who’s Out There

I think one of my favorite musical finds in the last year or so has been the UK’s Pentagram Home Video. The band consists of one guy that makes hypnotic, dark songs that lie heavily in lo-fi electronic vibes. Synths that wail eerily over top simple dance beats. Most of his records are put together as “soundtrack & cues sourced from a parallel reality“. He’s a master of the imagined soundtrack. I picked up Who’s Out There last year, and earlier this year The Satanic Path was released. Both are very low key listens, but after they play in the background a bit you sort of feel yourself falling into those parallel realities. Who’s Out There soundtracks the tale of “a soldier sent back from a future war to 1986 to prevent an alien bounty hunter from tracking and destroying his target. A relentless pursuer emanating a powerful telekinetic wave of hallucinogen that frighteningly alters reality for anyone within its range. The story unfolds over the course of one night, across the streets & through the underground bars & clubs of New York.” It’s a very hypnotic record, full of old school synth tones of subtle beats. It’s a perfect listen for those cold, fall nights when you want to chill out or summon a demon.

The Satanic Path is a much more extroverted listen. It’s more bombastic, as a soundtrack that deals with the occult and the Prince of Darkness himself should be. There’s still the subtle beats and classic synth sounds, but the songs are more in your face. The story, if your interested, was interpreted by yours truly. Check it out right here, if you dare.

Both albums are exquisite and ooze dark moods and vibes. They’re the perfect spin for a dark and stormy night.

The Cure : Seventeen Seconds 

Sure, at a glance Pornography seems to be the ultimate Halloween spin. It’s dark, gloomy, the proto-Goth album, and even the opening line is “It doesn’t matter if we all die”. But for my money, Seventeen Seconds holds more darkness. It’s subtler, quieter, and it feels like more of an album that would be playing in your head as you walk a path lined with falling leaves and dark, overcast skies. Robert Smith hadn’t fully committed to all black attire and zombie makeup just yet. He was in manic-depressive ghoul transition, so Seventeen Seconds comes across more grounded in everyday horror. That existential dread was permeating songs like “A Forest”, “In Your House”, and “A Reflection”. “Play For Today” comes off like The B-52s going full Bauhaus. It also hints at what The Soft Moon would be up to in a couple decades.

Seventeen Seconds is really the ultimate doomed soul sadsack album.

The Night Terrors : Pavor Nocturnus

Miles Brown has taken the art of theremin playing to a new level. When he performs live or on records by his band The Night Terrors he truly emotes with the strange box with an antenna sticking out. He captures both the eerie vibes and melancholy sadness that comes from playing the instrument correctly. Three years ago he and The Night Terrors recorded a live album at the Melbourne Music Hall with one of the world’s largest pipe organs. That album is the Gothic and beautiful Pavor Nocturnus, an album that oozes with otherworldly vibes and doomed romanticism.

All you need to do is drop the needle or hit play on this record Halloween night to create the ultimate dark mood. It’s like Phantom of the Opera just ran headlong into Forbidden Planet. “Pavor Nocturnus” will make your blood go cold, while “Megafauna” sounds like Suspiria, had it taken place in a European discotheque. “Kuceli Woke Up In  Graveyard” makes good use of that giant pipe organ, as this song permeates with the melancholy of the undead.

Seriously, if you’re a fan of the creepy and a lover of Halloween then this record is a must.

Slayer : Reign In Blood

So if you were an adolescent in the 80s then “Satanic Panic” should’ve made some kind of impression on you. Not just the kids that went to church 3 times a week and twice on Sunday, but the kids that weren’t raised ultra-religious eggheads. It was also kids raised in a household that taught them good from bad, that being polite and having manners were attributes, and that true crime was far scarier than anything you’d watch on Creature Feature late on Friday night. It wasn’t the ghouls that hid under the basement stairs you should truly be afraid of, but those gangly punks with the studded dog collars, stringy mullets, and t-shirts that donned pentagrams, Iron Maiden’s “Eddie”, and nearly every cassette they owned had an “Explicit Lyrics -Parental Advisory” sticker. Kids that decided killing a suburban family would be cool because Rob Halford, Dave Mustaine, or Tom Araya told them to in a hidden message on a song. Those were the true monsters.

As it turns out, no heavy metal song ever made a half wit teen murder anyone. It was usually because said teen was already seriously damaged(usually by seriously damaged parents), but lousy adults needed a scapegoat for their lack of parental skills or empathy in general so Slayer seemed like as good as one as any. And let’s be honest, as far as bands go that really tried to walk the walk in the early days of thrash and speed metal, Slayer wore those shoes well. It took me many years to get into Slayer because of their reputation as Satan-worshipping psychopaths. Turns out they were just California punks that liked to incite people and drink themselvies into oblivion. They were happy to keep the whole Satan ruse going. Though, I do think there was a general interest in the dark side, at least as far as Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman were concerned, and Reign In Blood was their first true masterpiece.

It doesn’t matter where you hit play on this album, each song will take you on a journey into darkness and bloodshed. This is the ultimate boogeyman album. “Angel of Death”, “Necrophobic”, “Jesus Saves”, “Aggressive Perfector”, and “Raining Blood” all work their dark magic on you. This is the ultimate “Satanic Panic” album. Just don’t play it backwards, or Tom Araya will beckon you to watch The Golden Girls and double check your algebra homework.

Fabio Frizzi : City Of The Living Dead S/T

I think this is one of the great Italian horror film scores. Frizzi’s City Of The Living Dead S/T has all the eerie vibes, slow-churning dread, and melancholy feel you need to get in the mood for the witching hour. He’s done amazing work for decades(and continues to perform), but for me this album is a shining example of just how much was put into these old horror film scores. I think in many ways, these scores far outlive the films they were created for. This record is proof of that.

Turn the lights down low, have the candy at the door, and crank this on the home stereo. Those trick-or-treaters won’t know what hit ’em.

Walter Rizzati : House By The Cemetery S/T

Of all the great Italian horror film scores, Walter Rizzati’s House By The Cemetery is probably my favorite. It was the one that stuck in my head for over 20 years before I revisited it. It’s creepy, haunting, melancholy, and for me stands as an example of just how great the scores were and the passion put into these pieces of music. I think it also reminded me of the NES game Castlevania, with its baroque organ work. I think that helped to solidify it’s longevity in my sponge-y subconscious for so many years. Listening to it I could just as easily be fighting ghouls and vampire bats in a castle as I could be running from the undead in a Fulci film.

Rizzati went above and beyond with this score. It’s perfect and perfectly eerie.

Wojciech Golczewski : End of Transmission

Golczewski has been doing amazing film work in the last few years, but his own personal albums are where it’s at for me. Lots of intergalactic doom going on with albums like Reality Check and The Signal, but if you want true, old school space doom you can’t get any better than End of Transmission.

End of Transmission is an all analog affair that feels like Blade Runner on a budget. It’s like this little 30 minute album that takes you on a dark and mysterious journey into the graveyard of the milky way. Each “Transmission” is a heady exploration of analog synth and existential space doom. You can’t go wrong with this one blasting through your headphones on a cold, Halloween night.

The Soft Moon : Zeros

Luis Vasquez knows how to build Gothic doom. His work as the Soft Moon has always tip toed around both the dance floor and the dark corners we attempt to avoid. Imagine a cross between Bauhaus, NIN, and Depeche Mode, then mix in tribal elements and you’ve got a good idea of what’s happening. All of his records are great, but Zeros feels like the most October of them all.

From opening track “It Ends” on there’s a propulsive doom. Industrial at heart, but more singer/songwriter than anything Skinny Puppy or Ministry ever did, Zeros feels like a walk thru some dark and dilapidated house long since abandoned by the previous owners. “Machines” visits some old school Cure territory, while “Die Life” feels like Def Con 4 on the panic level.

You’d be remiss if you didn’t play this at least once on Halloween. Then hit up all of the Soft Moon’s discography and get lost in it the rest of the year.

John Carpenter : Halloween S/T

Of course this is on the list. Why wouldn’t it be?


So there’s a few to get your Spotify Halloween playlists started. There’s plenty of other great Halloween-appropriate albums out there for you, so if you don’t like my suggestions go find some for your own damn self.

Happy Halloween!

 

 

 

South of Heaven…North of Kentucky

I can remember in those formative years of mine it was taboo to listen to Slayer. It was bad enough getting caught listening to something like Megadeth’s “Good Mourning, Black Friday” or Metallica’s “The Four Horsemen” by yourself in your bedroom with the lights off, your comforter draped over you like a cape while praying over a bucket of chicken blood. I mean, the rules were ALWAYS never take a bucket of chicken blood in your bedroom. You could stain the carpet. Anyways, for me listening to Slayer was like a filthy little secret. It was tantamount to keeping Playboys under the mattress or worn copies of Faces of Death 1, 2, and 3 hidden under puzzle boxes and Hot Wheels in your closet. Those California thrashers were just so dark. You got the feeling there was very little laughter going on behind the scenes. I could be wrong, but the band that wrote songs titled “Crypts of Eternity”, “Aggressive Perfector”, and “Dead Skin Mask” surely wasn’t getting stoned on the tour bus and laughing at Tex Avery cartoons and singing along to “Penny Lane”.

I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am.

You see, Tom Araya, Jeff Hanneman, Kerry King, and Dave Lombardo looked like dudes you did not cross. I imagined someone mouthing off at one of their shows and Araya pulling out a trident and forking them in front of the entire Palladium crowd. Maybe there were moments of levity in-between cases of Heineken and devouring the souls of virgins from town to town. But I’m sure those only lasted until the bloodlust returned and the band had to feed once again on the blood of the young. Okay, okay, so these guys weren’t monsters, but for the 16-year old me they scared the hell out of me. They were the musical version of those video nasties I always heard about. I knew a girl named Karrie in 10th grade. She was in my geometry class. She’d moved to our Republican stronghold of a town in 1990 from the east coast. I’m not sure exactly from where but I think I think maybe Massachusetts as she had a bit of a Bostonian accent. I may have had a bit of a crush on her as she dug metal and had teased bangs that were at least 8 inches long. She even sold me her VHS copy of Pink Floyd’s Delicate Sound of Thunder. How could I not be smitten? I was putty in her hands. Anyways, Karrie had told me a story about how she and a girlfriend had partied with Slayer and that her girlfriend slept with Tom Araya. Back then I was a little jealous, but now that I’m an adult and a dad with daughters I’m horrified at that story. I mean, she was 16. Ugh.

Point I’m trying to make is that Slayer were an infamous band in my mind. My junior year in high school I became a fan with Seasons In The Abyss, but my first true exposure to Slayer was actually the Beastie Boys. Both “Fight For Your Right” and “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” had Hanneman playing his famous squealing, all over the place guitar solo. I believe he was in the “No Sleep” video as well. I thought, “Hey, if the Beasties dig Slayer maybe I should too?” Of course that didn’t happen, but two years later my brother was inviting me into his bedroom so he could show me what he procured from Butterfly Records that afternoon. It was Slayer’s South Of Heaven. He put it into his console stereo and I was feeling like I did the first time I watched Henry : Portrait of a Serial Killer, which means I felt a little queasy.

South Of Heaven felt like this overwhelming of the senses. It was this perfect melding of their hardcore roots and what would become speed metal. But they weren’t singing about Stephen King books, drug addiction, or covering the Sex Pistols. Slayer seemed to be summoning Satan himself in their breakneck rhythms, speed-picked solos, and Araya’s manimal vocals. Songs about serial killers, devil worship, the horrors of war, and general depravity felt more like hearing a psychotic’s journal being read over death marches than four drunk California punks having a good time. You took these guys at their word when they sang lines like “Bastard sons beget your cunting daughters/Promiscuous mothers with your incestuous fathers.” Songs like “South Of Heaven”, “Live Undead”, and “Mandatory Suicide” were relentless. They seemed to push the boundaries of musical dexterity and human decency. But still, there was something about them that kept me wanting to hear a bit more. There was this lawlessness to their music that was appealing. I sort of looked past the lyrics about necrophilia, masks made of human skin, and wartime atrocities in order to appreciate what was going on musically.

All these years later and I feel like I’m having a bit of a speed metal renaissance. Last year I got a little overzealous on Discogs and located some first pressings of Hell Awaits, Reign In Blood, and South Of Heaven. Out of those I’d have to say that South Of Heaven is my favorite. It’s still that perfect mix of youthful aggression and disgruntled middle age, bashing each other into a bloody pulp. Lyrically they go for the jugular, but it’s more about shock value than actually summoning demons from Hell. I think Tom Araya had one of the best metal vocals in the 80s. It was this spitfire delivery. It was strong, upfront, and not to be stifled with. Rick Rubin’s production was near perfect. No overused effects or studio trickery. The songs were raw and in your face. Hanneman and King weren’t intricate players, but they’d built up their speed and could speed riff better than anyone. Their solos sounded like wounded animals or howling damned souls, which seemed to suit the songs well. And Dave Lombardo? Man, the best drummer of the era period. That guy’s double kick drumming was unlike anyone else. There was power and finesse, but he could also kick it old school and knock out some serious hardcore beats. Lombaro was Slayer’s secret weapon, and once he left for good they just weren’t the same for me.

I’ve learned to not fear Slayer, but embrace them. And I’ve learned that first pressings can be a little expensive. More expensive than a VHS copy of Pink Floyd’s Delicate Sound of Thunder? Hell yes. Worth every penny? Oh hell yes.

 

 

Hell Awaits…among other things

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 toIMG_1650 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.

FullSizeRender (63)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.

FullSizeRender (64)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.

 

Slayer : Repentless

One of the scariest moments I ever had at a concert(besides that Petra concert at the Notre Dame ACC when I was 17…long story) was the Clash of the Titans tour inslayer July of 1991. My older brother and I headed down to Noblesville, Indiana and for $7 we were granted access to the lawn at Deer Creek Outdoor Amphitheater and witnessed Alice In Chains, Anthrax, Megadeth, and Slayer pummel a crowd into submission. The last band to play was Slayer, going on when the sun was blood-red on the horizon. They were touring for Seasons In The Abyss and they made all three other bands look like the opening act at some dumpy bar in downtown Seymour, Indiana. Their set was loud, anxiety-ridden, and terrifying. They never let up, ripping through nearly ten years of Satanic incantations put to speed metal riffs and whiplash-inducing double kick drumming thanks to the drum God called Dave Lombardo. My brother and I witnessed a 50 foot mosh pit form in the middle of the lawn at Deer Creek. We saw bodies, shoes, wallets, and countless clothing items fly into the air. We’re not sure anyone emerged the same from that storm of whipping hair and devil horns.

That show left an indelible mark on me. I’d liked Slayer enough. Their videos for “War Ensemble” and “Seasons In The Abyss” made them semi-popular equally with music nerds and jocks alike at my high school. But beyond the musical prowess and raw vitriol that got even the quarterback giddy with headbanging excitement, there was the myth of Slayer. These blood-thirsty Californians that emerged from the late-70s and early 80s punk scene and combined that with this newfound love for NWOBHM. These guys were those greasy punks in River’s Edge, but for real. Scary as hell, singing about Satan, Hell, the gnashing of teeth, serial killers, child murderers, and guys wearing dead skin masks. They wore t-shirts and torn jeans. They could be that guy sitting in that 1977 El Camino that’s idling next to you at the stop light. Is that a body in the back?

What I’m saying is that you took Tom Araya, Jeff Hanneman, Kerry King, and Dave Lombardo at their words, and their words were disturbing.

Through the years Slayer have kept a pretty solid discography. Some records worked(World Painted Blood), while others didn’t(Christ Illusion, God Hates Us All), but regardless it was always a Slayer record. With the unfortunate passing of guitarist, founding member, and major songwriting contributor Jeff Hanneman it was unclear whether the band would continue. With ex-Exodus guitarist Gary Holt Slayer did indeed continue(along with Dave Lombardo replacement Paul Bostaph) and they have given us Repentless. Repentless isn’t chartering new territory here, but that’s not necessary with a Slayer record. What’s needed is aggression, break neck riffs, pummeling drums, and Tom Araya’s blood-curdling howl. We have all of those here in spades.

The songs? “Repentless”, “Take Control” and “Atrocity Vendor” are like stepping back in time to 1985s Hell Awaits, still very much steeped in that hardcore punk scene they emerged from. “Vices”, “Cast The First Stone”, and “Chasing Death” venture more into their progressive metal tendencies that were very present on their breakthrough Seasons In The Abyss. Pretty much any era of Slayer you want is here. They may be older, but they haven’t lost their vigor for this stuff. They’re still scary at all the right places.

This could very well be the last Slayer album. Tom Araya was ready to call it quits back in 2008, but decided to keep on keeping on with his pals. If this is indeed their death knell, at least Repentless is seeing that they go out bloody, kicking, and screaming.

8.2 out of 10

The Need For Speed

Year’s ’94 and my trunk is raw
In my rear view mirror is the motherfucking law – Shawn Carter

Okay, actually the year wasn’t ’94, it was ’88. 1988 to be exact. It was the last day of my 8th grade year and my mom picked me up from school. We only went a half day on that last day of middle school and I was ready to give a triumphant middle finger to academia and be done with it altogether(at least for the two months summer break lasted.) But seeing that my mom was in the car driving she’d probably smack me in the head if I’d a given my middle school the middle finger so I settled on a mumbled “Up yours” under my breath as we drove away.

From the school we stopped and got some lunch, then headed to Dunlap, Indiana. Dunlap is a small “town” that resides on Highway 33 in between Goshen, In and Elkhart, In. We were heading to Dunlap because my unlce Mark lived there. Mark is my mom’s youngest brother and sibling. He was a major influence on me to wanting to play guitar, write songs, and get into recording. Mark was just a hugely fun and loving uncle that was down with listening to Boston at top volume, play NES games, and eat fast food for days. For a 14-year old he might has well have been Buddha(I’ll post more about Mark at a later date.) Anyways, my aunt and little cousin were going to Florida for the week to see her brother graduate high school so Mark invited me to come over and hang out for the week.

Of course I said hell yes.

The first night Mark and I headed into the video store to rent some movies. When we got back it was dark out and as we got a movie ready to watch at his place we heard knocking on the back door. Neither of us had any idea who or what it was. So we sneak over to the door and Mark slowly opens it and I hear a “AHHHHH!!!” Mark starts laughing. It’s my older brother. He mustv’e gotten time off from work and came over to my uncle’s as well. Turns out my dad wasn’t good with the idea of me hanging out at my uncle’s trailer all day by myself while my uncle was at work, so my mom and dad asked my brother if he’d go over as well. At first I was a little peeved about it, but that soon dissipated. So for the week it would be the three of us hanging out.

Turns out that was best thing that could’ve happened, my brother showing up.

My uncle was one of the few people we knew that had an NES and we abused that thing with vigor. Mario, Kid Icarus, and a flying game called 1942. My brother was convinced he was going to beat this game, so one night after Mark went to bed we started playing 1942. Once we got to the 2am mark I was done, but my brother kept going. I struggled to keep my eyes opened, so I made a bologna and ketchup sandwich. That helped for a little but soon enough I was out like a light. I can remember waking up and seeing daylight begin to appear in the living room and my brother still flying his bomber over the Pacific. I honestly can’t remember if he beat it or not. It was the journey that mattered.

Mark had also picked up a new NES game. One he’d read about and heard it was supposed to be pretty great. It was called Castlevania and this little game from Konami turned out to be a juggernaut. To this day it’s still the only game I’ve ever truly obsessed over. I’d never consider myself a big video game player. I like simple stuff, not asking for clues from trolls and secret punching techniques. I like running, jumping, shooting, stabbing, and coin bags appearing out of whipped candlesticks. That’s my thing. But Castlevania had it all. It even had a game flaw that after a certain amount of playing it would freeze up, usually at the Grim Reaper level, which was the second to last level. This happened on so many occasions. So many pained, angered, and furious occasions. Still, I kept at it.

Here’s the thing, all of this leads up to one vital moment in my early teen years. The moment when my brother introduced me to speed metal. This was the week in my life when I first heard speed metal. One morning my brother and I got in his car and we headed to the Concord Mall. It was one of the few big indoor malls we’d go to and shop as a family. Besides JC Penney, Montgomery Ward, and a Walden Books, it had two record stores. The first was the chain store Musicland. The other was the locally-owned Super Sounds. Super Sounds was where you went when you wanted the hard-to-find stuff. The stuff you heard about in magazines but couldn’t find anywhere. That morning my brother was on a mission for something special. Metallica’s Master of Puppets. I’d never heard them before, but was intrigued. Honestly, I was cool with Ace Frehley’s Frehley’s Comet that Chris had playing in the car, but whatever. We found Master of Puppets and were on our way back to the trailer for more bologna and NES. He put the cassette in the player for our short ride back and I was astounded by what I’d heard. I’d heard the phrase metal for years, and even thought I knew what it was, but this was something completely different. This was speed, anger, intensity; this was war and death put to tape. This was the beginning of the end for those hair metal years I’d been lingering in since I’d turned 10 and had bought Ratt Out of the Cellar.

From that point on everything changed. Sure, there were a few setbacks. Whitesnake, Kingdom Come, Van Halen’s OU812, and of course Cinderella’s Long Cold Winter; but for the most part I’d moved on into heavier territory. Master of Puppets led to Ride The Lightning, Kill ‘Em All, and eventually And Justice For All; Megadeth’s Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying and So Far, So Good, So What. Those led me to Slayer’s Reign In Blood, South of Heaven, and Seasons In The Abyss; then Overkill’s Fuck You and Death Angel’s Act III. Then of course there was Anthrax. Spreading The Disease, Among The Living, State of Euphoria, and then Persistence of Time. Anthrax, out of all the other speed metal bands, seemed to not only be ferocious players(and had one of speed metal’s best drummers, Charlie Benante), but they had a sense of humor about them. Plus, lyrically they tried writing about more than just death, drugs, Satan,….and death. Sure they were dark in their songs, but they pulled from comics, science fiction, books, and movies that were cool. Stephen King’s Misery, Blue Velvet, and Judge Dredd were just a few of the many interesting subjects that colored Anthrax’ songs. Hell, their album cover for Persistence of Time was heavily influenced by Salvadore Dali’s painting ‘Persistence of Memory’. You didn’t find that kind of stuff in most speed metal at the time.

So that week at my uncle’s place was a pretty important moment in my formative years. We got to hang out with our favorite uncle, watch Evil Dead and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, eat tons of bologna, play ample amounts of NES, stay up till dawn, and I discovered the wonder of speed metal. My brother even left early that week as he got the chance to see Megadeth at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago. Plus, I even got to go into an actual music studio and watch my uncle Mark and uncle John record some songs together. Pretty cool.

I’ve recently gotten on a speed metal nostalgia trip. I picked up And Justice For All on vinyl a couple of weeks ago, and yesterday I bought Anthrax’ Among The Living and State of Euphoria on vinyl off of Discogs. I shouldn’t be as excited as I am, but dammit I can’t wait to bang my head to “Caught In A Mosh” as my kids stare in fear at me. I’m setting up future generations for speed metal love.

JH, 2015.

 

 

 

Talking to you is like clapping with one hand – Anthrax