ARAYA LOVES THE DARKNESS IN SLAYER
By Paul Freeman [1995 Interview]
Songwriters find inspiration in many sources, from an ocean breeze to a starry night. Tom Araya turns to more unusual sources, such as a book on forensic psychiatry.
Araya writes most of the lyrics for Slayer. He also handles the vocal and bass chores for this Southern California thrash band, which has earned four gold albums.
The latest Slayer release, "Divine Intervention," includes murder and mayhem among its favorite subjects. One tune takes its cue from serial murderer Jeffrey Dahmer. So it's no wonder that Araya is hungry to read more about the abnormal mind.
Slayer fans always know what the band has in mind: lurid material, frenetic guitars and screeched vocals. Some metal bands have softened their approach to become radio friendly. Not Slayer.
"It's just a question of integrity," Araya says. "Everybody else may be changing direction. We're expanding the road we're on, instead of making a left or right turn.
"I guess if you slow down and make things a little more melodic, you can guarantee yourself more record sales. But we don't think like that," he says. "We just put out songs that we like, then hope the kids like them too."
For 12 years, the band, which also features guitarists Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman and new drummer Paul Bostaph, has received an unusual degree of loyalty from their fans. The artwork in the new album includes a shot of arms with the word Slayer carved into them.
"Someone told me there was a kid who had scarring on his back that said Slayer," Araya relates. "I thought that was kind of sickening. I couldn't believe he had done that. I've seen tattoos with our logo or name or cover art. It's overwhelming to think that kids would put that on their bodies. I don't encourage that, but it is flattering."
When their kid is enamored of a band that sings of serial slayings, cannibalism and necrophilia, tattoos might be the least of a parent's concerns. Cuts on the new album, which debuted on the Billboard chart at No. 8, include "Serenity in Murder" and "Killing Fields."
Araya insists that his music has a cathartic, rather than negative, effect.
"This allows (kids) to get their frustrations out without actually resorting to violence. When kids come to our shows, they slam dance. When they're done, they take a deep breath and say, `Gosh, I feel much better now.' They have all this energy built up, and, at the show, they can go nuts. It works well. I meet a lot of these kids after the shows, and they're not so crazy then. They're subdued, polite, relaxed, not overly excited anymore. I'm proud of them."
Araya compares the pleasure of a Slayer concert to that of a horror film. "People go to those movies and scream, gasp and jerk out of their seats. They like to be scared. They walk out with their hearts pounding and say, `That was great.' Going to see Slayer is the same thing."
For Araya, helping to create the Slayer music is a form of release. He says that a sadistic little ditty known as "Sex, Murder, Art," festered from a painful relationship. "I was very upset at somebody. So it all came out in a very mean, graphic way."
The public, of course, is always tantalized by the dark side of life. Slayer used to fill its songs with more satanic imagery. "Now we deal with the devil on a reality basis. There's a lot of ills in this society. The real Satan is the one that creeps into someone's head and causes them to hate.
"People made up fairy tales about werewolves, vampires and demonic possession because they couldn't handle the idea that man is an animal capable of doing all of these terrible things. The modern-day werewolf is Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy. They don't turn into huge, hairy monsters. They have the monster within that can overpower them and take full control."
The world is bursting with real monsters, so Araya isn't worried about running out of material for Slayer songs. "I keep notebooks," he says. "It's a 24-hour-a-day job, looking for inspiration. My brain is constantly ticking, thinking of new, sick ideas," he says and chuckles.
Araya says he doesn't become obsessed with his work. "Usually when you're fascinated with something, you eventually end up doing those things. This isn't my great fascination. Writing about it just happens to be something I do well.
"When I'm creating, I love being in the darkness. But, when I'm done, I open the door and let the light in."
Slayer [with Araya, King, Hanneman and current drummer Dave Lombardo] is currently spreading darkness on the 2012 Mayhem Festival tour. For the latest on the band, visit www.slayer.net.