The best part of interviewing known Satanists is that you can dispense with pop frivolities – "What's your favourite colour?" "Who do you fancy?" etc – and get down to the real issues of modern-day existence, like … "Do you really rape virgins and sacrifice goats on altars?"
Disappointingly, the answer is: "Of course we bloody don't."
Worse still, Slayer – thrash metal's most musically extreme and professionally offensive exponents – are in an almost apologetic mood. Via phone from his LA base, Jeff Hanneman is telling me things like "Now you see punks and longhairs getting together in harmony, which is cool."
Does he really expect me to believe that he's the guitar-wielding maniac who composed and wrote a current single that goes a little something like this:
"Surgery with no anaesthesia/ Feel the knife pierce you intensely/ Inferior, no use to mankind/ Strapped down screaming out to die"?
The bastard's probably knitting booties for the baby as we speak!
There's nothing quite as bad as a boring HM band, and Slayer are nothing like a boring HM band. Their latest album, Reign In Blood is hilariously OTT blitzkrieg bop, the real jabbering, puking McCoy. Like Judas Priest meeting the Circle Jerks on an old 78rpm gramophone, their bending, howling guitar noise is truly enjoyable – and the whole 10-track shazam is over before you've finished one side of a Dire Straits album. Neeeyarskreecrunch! What was that? That was a Slayer album, mate.
Slayer's frenzy is the last stop on the musical railway before you reach Shapeless Noiseville. After the 28 minutes of possessed berserkoid grunge that is Reign In Blood, a stiff dose of Paul Johnson is not only desirable, it's a highly recommended way of ensuring that you don't go out and strangle a few innocent passers by.
But the dementia displayed in the music seems irrelevant next to the evil supposedly provoked by Slayer's lyrics. If an album of viciously anti-God songs is unlikely to please the Washington wives, the single Angel of Death – an ambiguous tale of Auschwitz butcher Josef Mengele – is guaranteed to offend everyone. CBS, who paid a million dollars for the rights to distribute Def Jam, refused to touch the album, and even now, despite being reviewed as speed metal's finest album (ie in the last four years of metal), a major UK label (London) in only probably going to release it.
Given that the Americans take Ozzy Osbourne – long regarded here as an old panto dame, like Gary Glitter without the songs – seriously, it's a wonder Slayer haven't yet been stamped out.
HM sold its soul to the devil for the very tacky reason that it would look mean. Under all the leather and acne, metal mutants are almost invariably the tenderest, straightest folks in town, desperately looking for a convincing attitude problem. The heaviest occultist in British metal was Jimmy Page, yet there was no reflection of his interests in Led Zep's music, whilst the first bands to thrust 666 down people's throats, Black Sabbath and (later) Venom, knew nothing about black magic.
Did anyone mention poseurs?
"Most of the people," according to Mark Palmer at the label Music For Nations, "who have 666 and pentagrams on the back of their jackets have never heard of Anton LaVey or Aleister Crowley. They're attracted by it, but they don't understand it. Satanism's on the way out cos it's too negative. Bands like Bathory and Slayer won't ever be able to totally renounce it, it's too big a part of their appeal, but other metal bands are becoming worldly wise, putting more social comment in their lyrics."
The bands still riding the Satanist sinking ship include Dark Angel, Possessed and Britain's vile and pimply Onslaught. According to Mark Palmer, the band that really believes in it as a long-term concept are Bathory.
"They insist that if they can't call the sides of their albums Evil and Darkness [as opposed to One and Two], there's no point in releasing albums."
So Jeff, what attracts Slayer to Satanism?
"It provides such extreme lyrics, all that anarchic violence, ripping people apart. We were kinda serious about it when we started, but now it's old hat."
What were you serious about?
"We read a lot from the Satanic bible. It's not quite the opposite of the normal bible – a lot of its principles are just about being yourself, if you want to do something you do it, if you wanna have affairs you can. But we never hold daily rituals or anything."
Slayer are not into Christianity in a big way, but all that talk of "red books" and worshipping Satan sounds pretty religious to me. Isn't Satanism the same old crap in reverse?
"Yes, it's the same thing, you can get caught up in it just like any religion. What we're attacking, in a roundabout way, is the Christian TV conmen. It's unbelievable, the amount of money stolen in the name of Jesus."
There are good commercial reasons why the media and the metal industry stay way clear of Satanism, but bands like Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax just think it's ridiculous.
"Well, a lot of it is quite ridiculous, but you don't think of it as a pose, it's just something to write about which is way over the top, and is an easy way of offending people."
Is offending people good? What about Angel of Death?
"I feel you should be able to write about whatever you want. Angel of Death is like a history lesson, but as soon as we released it everybody was calling us Nazis. Our singer's a dark-skinned Chilean, there's no way we're fascists. I'd read a lot about the Third Reich and was absolutely fascinated by the extremity of it all, the way Hitler had been able to hypnotise a nation and do whatever he wanted, a situation where Mengele could evolve from being a doctor to being a butcher."
Slayer are skating on thin ice with this kind of libertarian "do what you feel" attitude. AoD doesn't condone Mengele's activities, but it doesn't condemn them either, and that could well be overestimating their audience's judgment. Strangely, WEA have refused to distribute Reign In Blood in the UK, but are doing so in Germany.
"That's REALLY strange, but I guess we're kinda huge there. We've been told that we can't play there, but we're going there anyway."
Heavy metal grew out of distorted, over-amplified blues and now, 15 years later, is – in some parts – threatening to dovetail back into black music through rap. Whilst bands like Anthrax are gushing rap freaks, Metallica hate the stuff and admit no link whatsoever with black music. How do Slayer feel about one of their guitarists [Kerry King] playing on the Beastie Boys' album?
"We all think it's great. The Beasties' music is very much like ours in that it's real extreme. I don't listen to much rap outside of Run DMC and the Beasties, but then I'm pretty burned out on most new music."
Speed-crazed animals onstage, laidback Californians off, Slayer are a group of passionate musicians, ex-punks, skateboarders and snake collectors. They'll be touring Europe in a month's time, then Japan. Punk realism may (!) supercede their Satanic lyrics, and they have the dynamic know-how to make their next LP both slower and heavier. And they love Rick Rubin and will be forever Def Jammers.
What I want to know is why they've just toured as support to Metal's mega-turkeys WASP. Weren't they too exciting for that pantomime?
"We found that out on the road, when we had most of the fans."
Why did WASP take you along, if you just showed them up?
"I don't understand it," Jeff laughs. "We couldn't believe it either, 'cos they took Metallica as support a couple of years back, and the same thing happened. They got spat at and had things thrown at them after Metallica had played. You'd think they'd learn from that, but next thing you know they wanna take us out on tour. It's ridiculous!"
At the moment, Slayer are reigning in blood.Topics
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