Slayer guitarist Kerry King knows Chicago very well. Of course he knows many places extremely well because Slayer have now been touring the world for more than 20 years. But for Chicago, and more specifically the Aragon Ballroom, he reserves a special place in his heart. As nearly any band that have ever opened for Slayer will likely attest, it ain’t an easy gig. There may not be a fanbase in the history of music that has the reputation of Slayer’s, which, with teeth bared, hackles raised, and eyes squinted, loves to pounce on an opening band as if they were three-legged gazelles.
And, as King attests, nobody is safe: not even hometown legends.
“It’s ominous man. It makes me proud to be part of it for sure,” he says about Slayer diehards. “We were playing at the Aragon, awesome place, played there a million times. I think it was Trouble, they were opening for us, and the drummer, he got fed up with our boisterous crowd and said something [to the crowd], and they were getting chants of ‘Slayer’ louder than they [Trouble] were coming through the P.A.
“I was like, ‘Dude shut up! You’re going to get killed,'” he says, laughing as he remembers the incident. ‘”Nobody cares that you’re from here; just do your gig and go away.’ I’ll never forget that, it was killing.”
To a generation of fans who didn’t grow up on Black Sabbath, Slayer *are heavy metal, which might explain their ferocious following and why you’re likely to hear SLAAYERRR! screamed in beer and bathroom lines at metal concerts everywhere — whether Slayer are on the bill or not. Your mom may not know the lyrics to “Angel Of Death,” but it’s likely she can identify Slayer as “that metal band.” King, bassist/frontman Tom Araya, guitarist Jeff Hanneman, and drummer Dave Lombardo’s footsteps can be found all over the genre’s vast terrain. Thrash and speed metal are their obvious handywork, but bits and pieces can be heard everywhere from death metal, grindcore, the Gothenburg sound, and metalcore.
“You can hear it,” Araya says. “There’s certain things that other bands do, or sections of songs they play, how they go from one to another section, you can tell, ‘Wow, I can hear the influence there.’ Or the music, the notation, the musical notes, how they’re played and what they follow it with. You can hear that it’s a Slayer notation.”
“They’re undeniable influences on us and everyone else in the genre,” Lamb Of God guitarist Mark Morton admits. “They’ve never changed, and I mean this in a good way: They’ve never changed their method. They’ve never conceded to any trends, and they just kept doing their trademark sound.
“Records had different dynamics and different flavors — you look at *Reign In Blood versus *South Of Heaven, two very different records but still very much Slayer, both of them,” Morton continues. “There was a time after the whole grunge thing when metal was really, really, kind of all but dead, and there were just a few bands you could count on to put out a metal record, and Slayer was one of them. Everybody knew you could always go to Slayer and get real metal, and it still holds true.”
“I think of us as modern AC/DC,” King confesses. “We make up our records; this is our sound; and that’s what our fans want.” The guitarist remembers when he was a kid and one of his favorite bands would experiment with their style, abandoning what made a listener out of him in the first place. “It pissed me off. As a fan I was like ‘*Ahhh, I put all these fucking years into you guys and look what your fucking doing to me!’* And I was like ‘I’m never going to be that guy.'”