The members of Lamb Of God, Anthrax, Behemoth and Testament — who just recently opened for Slayer on the first leg of their farewell tour — each shared to Kerrang! a recollection of seeing the iconic metal band live for the first time.
Lamb Of God’s Randy Blythe was the first to share his story, saying:
The first Slayer show I ever saw was in ’89, ’90, or ’91 – one of those three – at a venue in Richmond, Virginia, called the Mosque. The Mosque hosted several legendary artists over the years, including Iggy Pop. Now it’s called the Altria Theatre, or some bullshit.
I was really excited to see Slayer, because I didn’t start really listening to them until maybe the summer before my senior year in high school. I lived in this little town, and I was like, the punk rock kid: Bad Brains, Sex Pistols, Black Flag, all that stuff. My brothers and I were the only ones into punk rock. But there were a couple of metalheads — real metalheads; we’re not talking like, glam rock metalheads, but like, thrashheads — who would hang out with us ’cause they were the burnout stoner-type. You know, they had the jean vest before everybody could buy them at Hot Topic, with the big Slayer back patch, and looked like they were around in ’81 even though they weren’t born then.
This one kid was like, “You need to check out Slayer. They’re fast, and they’re aggressive like punk rock.”
Back then, there was a much bigger divide between the punk scene and the metal scene. There was some crossover-type stuff like CoC, D.R.I., The Accused, Septic Death, and SoD…. but [with Slayer] I was like, “Ugh, I don’t know — They sing about Satan, which is kinda silly.”
Finally, I went to the record store and I was like, “What Slayer record should I get?” This was before South Of Heaven had come out, so [the record store clerk] was like, “Reign in Blood.” It was the first album I ever bought with a parental advisory sticker on it. I listened to it, and I was like, “OH MY GOD, DUDE. This is so aggressive!” It’s fast, and there’s this raw energy to it.
Of course, getting to know these guys over the years, I know Hanneman was into a lot of the punk stuff, and that’s where the speed and all that shit came from. But Slayer was one of those groups that bridged the gap. Even back in the day when there was such a big divide between the musical scenes, punk rock kids would see Slayer, metalheads would see Slayer, hardcore kids would see Slayer. It’s fucking Slayer. Slayer is a noun, it’s a verb, it’s an adjective. They’re more than just a band!
But that first Slayer show I saw was probably the worst Slayer show I saw. Because the Mosque is a very nice venue for like, the Nutcracker Ballet at Christmas, so it was 100% seated. There wasn’t even a little pit area up front. And the security is walking through telling people to stay in their seats, y’know, not to be too raucous — and of course a bunch of seats got broken that night, and a bunch of people got thrown out.
Testament opened up (who’s also out on this tour with us), and I was like, “This is crazy — why does that dude have half a mic stand?” And then Slayer came out, and I do remember their light show. I was really impressed because coming from like, just seeing punk rock bands and basement shows, nobody gives a fuck about lights, you know?
I’m pretty sure I didn’t see Slayer again until July of 2003, when they took us to London to play two sold out nights at the Astoria, a historic venue that no longer exists. This was a very impactful thing on me, as a musician, and on my band. People always ask, “What were some of these magic moments you’ve had on stage?” The first was playing at CBGB for the first time; the second was Slayer taking us out of the country for the first time. (Canada doesn’t count.)
It was just us and Slayer. Slayer played the entirety of Reign In Blood both nights. And people knew the words to our songs, they were goin’ off! And I remember very distinctly seeing off-stage right, there’s Kerry King with a bottle of Jagermeister. He gave me a shot later, and I was like, on stage, going “I’m in England, with Slayer…I’m getting paid to do this…and people know our music.” And that was a moment where I thought, “Okay, maybe this could turn into a career.” I still had to come home and work a day job after that — working in the restaurant business, or construction. But that moment on stage was very impactful for me.
Slayer’s music has also impacted our band. If there’s a modern metal band out there playing today that says they weren’t influenced by Slayer, they’re either really young and completely unaware of the history of this music…or they’re just fucking lying. Slayer has influenced everyone. Everyone. When we write music, you’ll see on the dry erase board, it’ll be like “Fast part / Breakdown / Slayer riff / blah blah blah.” Almost all bands do that.
I have a different relationship with Slayer now than I did when I started listening to them, or first saw them, or first played with them. The idea of Slayer as this, “RAHH!!! SLAYER!!!!!” thing that most people have is kinda gone in my mind, ’cause they’re my friends. I’m still a huge fan of their music, but they’re my friends.
I think that maybe on the last couple of shows we ever play with those dudes, it will sink in: that these guys are going. But I’m still gonna go to Kerry King’s house and fuckin’ hang out when I’m in California. They’re people. They’re cool fuckin’ guys! And it should be noted that they have been exceedingly cool to us over the years. Not only to us, a lot of other younger bands. And when they said, “Hey, you can come out and open up for us for two shows in England,” when not that many people had heard of us, it was a huge deal for a young band. I think it’s good to see that they’ve done that for so long, so consistently.
And that’s the other thing: Slayer’s a very consistent band. It’s not like all of the sudden they made like, a rap record, or went into country or something. And it’s not that there’s anything wrong with stylistic changes in the pursuit of musical growth… but Slayer has managed to consistently be Slayer their whole career. There’s something to be said about that. And they’ve had a long career. They did their first fuckin’ tour in a Camaro, bro.
Anthrax rhythm guitarist Scott Ian also chimed in:
The first time I saw Slayer was at L’Amour in Brooklyn back in 1984. I know it was ’84 because they came back on tour in ’85 with Venom and Exodus to shoot a video. I can’t remember if I had met the dudes before seeing them play, or if it was after, because I also have pretty distinct memories of having drinks with Kerry and Jeff at a Mercyful Fate show at L’Amour…. I’m kinda thinking that I met them before I saw them play.
L’Amour shows were always so packed and dark; half the time you couldn’t even see the band. I was in the pit with my brother, Jason, who got his nose broken that night. But he actually left the pit, wiped the blood off, and jumped right back in. Gotta give it up for my brother! And yeah, I just remember it being crazy, ’cause I believe it was Slayer’s first time in New York. It was for their first album, Show No Mercy – I don’t even think Haunting the Chapel was out yet.
As for discovering Slayer, I was always on the lookout for new music from like, 1980 on.
I was constantly at different record stores: either Bleecker Bob’s in Manhattan, or Rock ‘n’ Roll Heaven, which was Jonny Z’s store in Old Bridge, New Jersey. Generally, there would be a New Releases section and a New Metal section — and that’s probably how I came across Slayer. Because it’s not like we had magazines or any real media….
We did have tape trading – so maybe I had heard about Slayer from friends in Europe, first. There was so much trading going on between people in the States and people in England, and Denmark, and Germany, but I remember buying Show No Mercy. Like, [seeing the album] in the store and going, “Oh yeah, these guys are supposed to be good.”
I loved that album, ’cause I was already a Venom fan. And it was kind of along those lines, but tighter sounding. Maybe just…a more grown up version of Venom? But without sacrificing any of the balls or insanity, ’cause you know, it’s fucking Slayer. I remember thinking it was like if you mixed Judas Priest and Venom.
And then, of course, when I first met them, and we started hanging out and touring together, you find out Kerry’s a massive Judas Priest fan and Jeff was a crazy hardcore and punk fan — it all makes sense. And then you see that Tom Araya is in the Suicidal Tendencies video for Institutionalized. There’s that crossover thing. So it was all right up my alley. Slayer was instantly in my top five bands from the time Show No Mercy came out.
Slayer and Anthrax both started in ’81, but both bands were distinctly different from day one. It was pretty clear when we did those Big Four shows. All four bands [including Megadeth and Metallica] came from the same influences, same time…yet all four bands took different paths. We all sound so completely different from each other, yet live under the same branch of the metal tree.
Out of all the Big Four bands, Anthrax and Slayer certainly have done the most together since 1991, when we did Clash Of The Titans. We get along great. We’re friends! We were really excited when we got the call for this [farewell tour], ’cause we had no intention of even being on tour this year. We were supposed to just do the Killthrax run [with Killswitch Engage] earlier in the year, and then the rest of the year was gonna be writing and maybe getting into the studio. And then our agent said “Do you wanna do this Slayer tour? It’d be Slayer, Lamb Of God, Anthrax, Behemoth, Testament.” And I immediately said yes when I got the email. I wrote back, “Yes! That’s fucking awesome.”
We didn’t know it was gonna be a farewell, though. We found out just like everyone else when it came out on the internet, and I called our manager and I was like, “Did you know about this?!” He’s like, “No, nobody did!” Even the guys in their crew. But then it made it even more special that they asked us to do this first leg — and then we knew there was gonna be a leg two, and Europe as well, at the end of the year.
People keep asking me. “Is it bittersweet?” No! We’re not even a month into the first leg of this thing. Once they’re done and there’s a hole where Slayer used to be, and they haven’t played a show in three years, that’s when I’ll process it and go, “Wow, it’s fuckin’ weird that Slayer’s not out there touring anymore.”
Someone actually said to me “Is there a melancholic feeling on this tour?” I said, “There’s no fuckin’ melancholy in metal!” Slayer, Lamb Of God, Anthrax, Behemoth, Testament – yeah, we’re all sittin’ around crying in our soup. What are you, fuckin’ nuts? No! We’re having a blast! The shows are fuckin’ awesome! We’re out here playing giant places and they’re packed, and people are loving it. Everyone is having a blast. Maybe if anything, it will change [Slayer’s] minds — they’ll be like, why would we not wanna do this more? That’s what would be the best — is if after one of these legs they’re just like, “You know what? We changed our mind. It’s just too good! Why would we leave?”
But look, I’m not in their band. Band politics and dynamics are as difficult as family dynamics. And you spend more time with your band members than you do your family generally, for longer periods of time. If you know anything about family dynamics you know how difficult that can be. And 37 years in a band, that’s like 180 years in normal shoes.
So I can understand it. And look, they’ve been through other things. When [guitarist] Jeff [Hanneman] was out of the band, and then of course, we lost him, that’s a big fuckin’ deal. [Anthax] never had anything like that. You know? Metallica had that — but early on, with Cliff. If they had to deal with something like that now, I can see why it’d maybe take some wind out of your sails.
But we bust their balls. We’re like, “What if Metallica calls and says, ‘Let’s do a Big Four run AFTER you’ve officially retired.’ Then what?!” And you just get smiles.
Next was Nergal of Behemoth:
I think the first time I saw Slayer was when they were in Poland with System Of A Down. It was the late ’90s, and they were supporting Diabolus in Musica.
When we were kids, a friend of mine was always ahead of me when it came to metal. He really liked thrash, and my barrier wasn’t pushed that far yet. And I remember he’d play me Raining Blood, and I was like, “Oh, man, that’s too much. I can’t take it, it’s just too extreme. It’s not even music, it’s chaos!” I must’ve been 8 or 9?
But then I got into Destruction, Kreator, and obviously Slayer. And I became a disciple. My first Slayer experience was with Show No Mercy or Live Undead (when they pretty much played Show No Mercy). Evil Has No Boundaries was one of the songs that got me hooked on Slayer. Everyone goes for Reign in Blood — but for me it’s always Show No Mercy. That’s how Slayer deflowered me; the album that they used to rape that naive little kid.
Show No Mercy was uncompromising, it was crazy, it was fast. I remember I read this article in which someone compared Slayer to jazz, and back then Show No Mercy seemed very technical to me. In fact, it’s not a very technical record — it’s pretty punk-y. It’s a very punk-y, hardcore thrash metal record.
But I also was very much attracted by the aesthetics of Slayer which has been all about occult and Satanic topics. That was something that made them also stand out. It was evil, it was captivating, it was very tempting in many ways. And I was raised Catholic and was still Catholic when I became a Slayer fan. I remember I managed to buy a Live Undead poster — you know, with like, the zombie in the cemetery, fuckin’ like, gravedigging. It was fucking scary as shit! And I would put it right next to my face above my bed. And then I would pray to baby Jesus and reject that [evil] ideology, but at the same time I was drawn to it somehow.
Following the Catholic tradition of my family and my country that is so Catholic — it’s like a mandatory thing. You just do it automatically, because you’re already brainwashed. But then there’s something much stronger than automatic behaviors and inbred formulas, and that is intuition and some kind of activism. There must’ve been a massive rebellious potential within me…that was just the spark — the flame, it started burning. Slayer was a part of my liberation.
Slayer influenced me musically, too. There’s a song called No Sympathy For Fools on Zos Kia Cultus that has this total Slayer vibe. The Slayer groove will come out occasionally in Behemoth’s music as well. Or sometimes, “How about using a Slayer harmony here?” Obviously our music is different, but there’s a huge Slayer part in what we do. There’s Venom in there, too. Even if you don’t literally hear Venom, it’s there.
I was talking to Kerry [King, Slayer guitarist] two days ago — we were having Jager shots backstage, and we started talking Venom. He said, “You know what? You are what Venom could have become if they learned how to play and would be able to elevate that.” That’s a huge compliment! We’re both Venom worshippers so we have this common ground, you know?[Touring with Slayer] is a dream come true. And hey, I’m 41, I’ve been running this band for, what, over 25 years? And I’ve been around; we’ve done shows with some big bands, but I’m a fan-boy. I’m a huge admirer of the scene, and Slayer is a huge part of the scene. So being part of this tour — already historical, because it’s a farewell tour — we’re already in the books forever.
The other thing is that we’re being exposed to fucking massive audiences. Some of them never heard of us; some are scared of us; some of them are potential Behemoth fans that we’re gonna convert.
But also, even today we’re doing our set and I see Kerry on the right side watching, and on the left side I see Paul [Bostaph, drummer]. The other two tours that we did [with Slayer] were more intimate. It was only three bands: Us, Lamb Of God, and Slayer. Pretty much everyday there’d be all four of them watching our set. Tom would come out and watch us! I don’t know them that well, but managers were like, “That’s weird — Tom never goes out to see other bands.” And I’m like, “That’s awesome.”
So they are like the pioneers, right? One of the very first bands to define extreme metal. They’re still here, and at the peak of their career now. This tour is outselling the famous Clash Of The Titans tour from the early ’90s, which is fuckin’ incredible. This is the proof that Slayer is the #1 extreme metal band on the planet, and I’m not even trying to be nice — I don’t need to lick anybody’s ass — I’m just happy to be on the bill with this awesome band.
To me, it’s somehow surreal to think that one day there’s gonna be a world with no Slayer. I can imagine a world without Trump, you know? I kind of anticipate that. I really hope that there’s Poland without PiS, the leading political party, which I sincerely hate. But I cannot imagine a world without Slayer.
And last but not least, is Chuck Billy from Testament’s story:
The first time I saw Slayer was in the Bay Area, at Ruthie’s Inn [in Berkeley], at Exodus shows — that’s when they used to come up from LA. And we were like, “Who are those guys?” Kerry’s got this spiked bracelet, and I’m like, “Holy shit, that dude’s serious!” Hanneman’s got baseball gear on and I’m like “The hell is that? Is somebody attacking his shins with bats?” So it was different; it was intimidating at first. You didn’t know what to think. But when they played it was like, “I get it!”
I think the first time we met Slayer was at [legendary Brooklyn club] L’Amour. We did two nights with them before our first record came out. [Our record label] Megaforce got us the show. And of course, at every Slayer show I’ve been to, fans don’t wanna see the opening act, which gets pummeled and booed. We knew, “Nobody knows who we are or what we sound like, they don’t know any of our music. Two nights of this is gonna be brutal.” But we were up for it! And I just remember on the first night the crowd was brutal to us, but we only had that first record and I think we got the crowd by the third or fourth song.
The next night, the crowd was ready for us, and that’s when we met everybody in the band and became good friends. Me and Tom, more so than everybody else. Over the years, Tom would come up and stay at our house. We’d do things together, you know? We had a pretty good relationship.
Tom and I bonded over weed at the beginning. And I think we both had more of the same personality as each other. We just kind of mellowed, smoked weed, and hung. I think that was our connection. And we have a lot of history touring together.
One time, I cut my wrist over in Europe with Slayer, and I remember I poured it all over Hanneman at the bar. I think we were in Poland, and Tom’s like, “We’re gonna go to the hospital.” Tom’s walking through the place barefoot, and he comes to the hospital with us. The doctor was so nervous; he was trying to stitch me up and he’s shaking, and Tom’s like, “Here, give me that! Let me do it!” (Tom has some medical background from EMT work he did in his early days.) I’m like, “Man, look at us: here we are in some weird country, bleeding to death, we’re drunk, and you’re in your bare feet.”
We had some really good bonding times. I think, over the years, the larger they got, and with Tom’s injuries and stuff, he’s been more low-key. Away from crowds and people and stuff. And then once the family started coming into play, it really changed. You know?
As far as trading influence between Testament and Slayer goes, for me, it was the relentlessness of Slayer’s music and their approach. Especially them coming from the LA area where it was more glam metal, they were always true to what Slayer was. To me, that made a big statement: “Stay true to what you do.” Slayer’s always had that serious look and attitude. And it rubs off on you a little bit when you’re younger, because there was all that Glam-era stuff happening, and people in those bands and magazines looked down at our type of music and would think, “What is that?” But Slayer created something; they’ve stuck with it, fine-tuned it to the T, and have never changed it. Kind of like AC/DC almost. If you hear AC/DC, you know that’s AC/DC. Same thing with Slayer in our genre: that’s our AC/DC!
We’ve toured with them a lot since that first time. In ’90 we did Clash Of The Titans in Europe with Suicidal [Tendencies] and Megadeth. That was a great tour. And again, weed was my bond with Tom. Kerry’s was more of the drinking, of course. Over the years, I’ve gotten closer with Kerry. He’d come up to the Bay Area, and we’d go see Raider games. And I’d go down to their house and visit and hang.
I’m glad to be a part of this final tour. When we were first offered the opening slot, some fans and band members were like, “No, we shouldn’t be opening.” And I’m like, leave your ego at the door, dude. This is something that we wanna be a part of. It’s Slayer’s last run, we’ve got a lot of history; we’re stupid if we don’t do it. If this is the last one, I wanna be there. And I’m glad we are, and I think everyone else is too.
The show is the best I’ve ever seen Slayer. It’s the best production. The last tour we were with them, Tom was really off the radar. You really didn’t see him ’til show time, and I can see he’s havin’ fun now. I saw him in the hall last night and he was smilin’ and jokin’. And I see it when he’s on stage. I’m thinking, what’s going through his mind? Maybe he’s thinking, “Yeah, this is it. I’m having a good time, I’m enjoying it. Maybe this is the last time I get to enjoy it like this.” You know?
Slayer will begin the second leg of their farewell tour later this month, featuring the same lineup as the first leg — Lamb Of God, Anthrax and Testament — though Behemoth will be replaced by Napalm Death. The farewell tour will continue into the summer of next year, which includes a European tour in November-December (supported by Lamb Of God, Anthrax and Obituary) and their last-ever show in France, which is the 2019 edition of Hellfest.
Although Slayer have yet to announce more dates between the European trek and Hellfest, there have been rumors in over the last six months that they will participate in a reboot of the “Clash Of The Titans” tour with Megadeth, Sepultura and Testament. Rumors of this tour were at first denied by Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine, who recently said that he hopes his band will play with Slayer at least one more time, hinting at either another “Big Four” show or the rebooted “Clash Of The Titans” tour.