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Archives|Review/Rock; For Slayer, the Mania Is the Message


Archives | 1988

Review/Rock; For Slayer, the Mania Is the Message


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September 3, 1988, Page 001014 The New York Times Archives

If Slayer didn't exist, anti-rock forces could have invented the band. Slayer brings the sensational imagery of tabloids and horror movies to pummeling, speed-metal songs whose lyrics revel in death, gore and allusions to Satanism and Nazism.

Songs take the point of view of a homicidal maniac, a vampire, a dying soldier or a servant of Satan; the band's fan club is called the Slaytanic Wehrmacht. At one point in Wednesday's Slayer concert at the Felt Forum, Tom Araya, Slayer's bassist and main lyricist, chant-sang ''Kill! Kill!'' as upside-down crosses, the band's backdrop, flashed on the beat.

Slayer's music is intricate and strenuous. Like Metallica, which set the style for speed-metal, Slayer plays songs that are volatile and asymmetrical, with bursts of speed and silence and choppy unison passages that explode into one-chord rock played at hyperfast tempos; some songs, like ''Chemical Warfare,'' move so fast that Mr. Araya sings only one word every bar. It's as technically advanced as a howitzer, and about as loud - much louder, in fact, than AC/DC the night before at Madison Square Garden.

The band revels in taboo topics, but its deadpan descriptions of death in every imaginable form don't sound like propaganda for viciousness. The music's churning impact and the lyrics' bloody scenarios are deliberately scary, like horror movies and amusement-park haunted houses. The band doesn't suggest that its tidings are realistic; like Dave Mustaine of the speed-metal band Megadeth, Mr. Araya introduces songs with the scratchy, put-on voice of a Hollywood ghoul.


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Teen-agers, the band's primary audience, are grappling with the fact of mortality, and Slayer shares that fascination. When Mr. Araya isn't singing about blood rituals and psychotic rampages, he's detailing the ravages of war in songs like ''Mandatory Suicide,'' ''Chemical Warfare'' and ''Behind the Crooked Cross,'' which Mr. Araya introduced by asking, ''Do you think you should have a right to choose whether to live or die?'' The force of the music, and its desperate urgency, exorcise genuine fears.

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The music's aggressiveness does hurl a crowd into motion, and the Felt Forum audience was by no means decorous. After the mediocre opening band, Danzig, there was a long delay as people on the floor, where seats had been removed, were asked to move back so a barricade and monitor equipment could be set up. A line of policemen with nightsticks came onstage to back up the request.

During Slayer's set, there were pockets of slam-dancing on the floor; up front, audience members continually climbed onstage to launch themselves into the audience. Slayer performed amid a line of bouncers who kept the stage-divers away from the band. It was easy to tell which of the band's guitarists, Jeff Hanneman or Kerry King, was playing a solo: he would stand back from the rumpus to concentrate on his fingers. In the latter part of the show, cushions torn out of the seats in the stands started flying through the air; a Felt Forum spokeswoman estimated a few thousand dollars in damage. There were no arrests or medical emergencies.

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''You guys came here to have a good time, and you're blowin' it, big time,'' Mr. Araya complained, dismayed by the melee. ''Why don't you give us a break? We can probably never play here again.'' And then the band played ''Angel of Death.''

A version of this review appears in print on September 3, 1988, on Page 1001014 of the National edition with the headline: Review/Rock; For Slayer, the Mania Is the Message. Order Reprints| Today's Paper|Subscribe

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