“Here man, you should probably listen to this”
When Slayer announced in January 2018 that their upcoming global tour would be their last trek around this hunk of rock we call home, it triggered an important memory.
I was 14 years old, growing up in a small town in Atlantic Canada. My knowledge of “metal” at that point did not extend much beyond Korn, Coal Chamber, and Limp Bizkit, and none of my friends at the time showed much interest in heavier stuff. Then I met Sheldon. Sheldon was dedicated to three things: skateboarding, being the nicest dude on the fucking planet, and good music. When Sheldon discovered my interest in nu metal, instead of calling me a poseur and telling me my taste was wack, he simply rummaged through his own music collection, handed me a cassette tape and said, “Here man, you should probably listen to this.”
The tape: Slayer’s Reign In Blood
I remember thinking after hearing Tom Araya’s piercing howl at the beginning of “Angel of Death” just how dangerous the whole thing sounded. Everything else I was listening to at the time seemed instantly safe by comparison. It felt as if the tape could, at any moment, burst into flames and cause blood to spurt from my speakers. It changed my perception of what extreme music could be and instilled a thirst for more. Of course, I was a tad late to the party. Released in 1986, Reign In Blood was Slayer’s third studio album and their first the crack the Billboard top 200. It received near-universal critical praise upon release and is regarded to this day as one of the greatest heavy-metal records of all time. On top of that, it is the record that turned me into a lifelong Slayer fan.
And while I am a fully committed Slayer die-hard, news that the band would be hanging up their pentagram-bedazzled boots for good doesn’t sadden me. For Christ (Illusion) sake’s, it’s been a 37-year run! Twelve studio albums! Relentless touring! What more do you want? Of course, for a portion of the fandom, it is never enough. Not only do they want their heroes to go on forever, they want them to do so encased in amber, performing the classic hits like “South of Heaven,” “Chemical Warfare,” and “Raining Blood” ad infinitum until Kerry King’s tribal tattoos wilt off and he needs a nurse to help him perform that one dive bomb solo he uses in every song. Of course, it’s hard to deny the quality of Slayer’s classic material in comparison to their contemporary offerings, but expecting an iconic band to be content with effectively turning into their own tribute act isn’t fair to anyone. To that point, it seems completely natural to me that King and Araya would have begun planning an endgame after the death of founding guitarist Jeff Hanneman in 2013.
Slayer’s legacy is simply undebatable. Along with the other members of the Big Four, they represent the pinnacle of American thrash metal and were a fundamental influence on countless musicians around the globe. American death metal simply would not exist as it is today without Slayer. Not convinced? What do you think would have happened if Chuck Shuldiner never heard Hell Awaits? Undoubtedly, the finer points of Slayer’s career will continue to be debated until the inevitable heat death of the universe (No Slayer without Hanneman! No Slayer without Lombardo! Everything after Seasons In The Abyss is garbage! etc…). Yet Slayer’s personal legacy to me will always be that tape from my friend Sheldon.
As Slayer pull into town on May 30th, 2018 for their final show in Montreal, I’m left wondering how best to commemorate a band that has meant so much to so many. Since I won’t be carving the logo into my arm anytime soon, I’ll do what my friend Sheldon did for me and spread the gospel. When someone tells me they’re getting into heavy music, I will try my best not to reflexively shit all over whatever it is they are listening to and instead say, “Hey, you should probably listen to this.”
Written by Jesse Gainer
*edited by Kate Erickson