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Slayer attracts a new generation of fans

Web Posted: 06/22/2006 12:00 AM CDT

David Glessner
Special to the Express-News

Leave it to Slayer's maniacal minions to want more than autographs from their favorite rock stars.

"Some of (our fans) can make you a little nervous," says Slayer vocalist/bassist Tom Araya. "I think the craziest (request) would have to be this kid who wanted one of us to carve Slayer into his back. We looked at him and said, 'You're crazy.' So his friend did it. They took a picture of it and I'm almost positive we used that picture in a tour program. We asked the kid if we could use it and he said, 'Hell yeah!'"

Slashing into a third decade of unwavering speed-metal mayhem, Slayer still reigns as the unholy grail of all that is fast and forbidden. Religion, warfare, the occult and serial killers have seasoned Slayer's breakneck blasphemy since the band unleashed "Show No Mercy" in 1983 and continued storming ahead with milestone albums such as "Hell Awaits," "Reign in Blood," "Seasons in the Abyss" and "South of Heaven."

With the recent 6/6/06 (naturally) release of the "Eternal Pyre" EP through Hot Topic stores and the upcoming Aug. 8 release of the new, full-length album, "Christ Illusion," Slayer will hack through old and new material when the band, including guitarists Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman and drummer Dave Lombardo, brings the Unholy Alliance Tour to Freeman Coliseum tonight.

Opening acts Lamb of God, Mastodon, Children of Bodom and Thine Eyes Bleed will battle chants of "Slay-er! Slay-er! Slay-er!" that are a rite of passage for any band that clashes with the time-tested titans.

Fully recovered from gall bladder surgery, 45-year-old Araya phoned earlier this month while resting under doctor's orders at his East Texas ranch. As it happens, the volcanic vocalist is a pretty mellow dude when chilling with the wife and kids.

"I have five cows," he says describing his ranch. "I have a bull and four heifers that are due to have babies so I'm hopefully going to increase my herd. I also have chickens. My wife does a lot of the work, but when I get home (from tours), I help out. She's the supervisor, though (laughs).

"I also have an acoustic guitar and I sing various country songs from songbooks. That's how I keep my singing chops up and my fingers at the ready."

Back in fighting form, Araya and Slayer have their frothing fans eagerly awaiting "Christ Illusion." The album features searing tracks such as "Cult," "Eyes of the Insane," "Supremist," "Consfearacy" and the traitor-bait "Jihad," which looks at today's political climate through the eyes of terrorists. Produced by Josh Abraham (Korn, Velvet Revolver) and longtime Slayer svengali Rick Rubin, it marks the long-awaited recorded return of Lombardo, who had been at odds with his band mates.

"The issue (with Lombardo) was we would all hang out and meet at this place, and then head off to rehearsal," Araya says. "A lot of times, we never made it to rehearsal (laughs) and he didn't like that. He was ready to take care of business and we were, too, but a lot of times we never made it out of the bar (laughs).

"That was then, and now it's different. It's like he never left. It's like a comfort feeling knowing he's back there."

While Slayer continues to slam with uncompromising fury, the band's defining album remains the 28-minute sonic onslaught of 1986's "Reign in Blood." Try as they might, upstart bands ultimately run out of gas while trying to match the speeding blitz-scream of "Angel of Death," "Jesus Saves," "Altar of Sacrifice" and "Criminally Insane."

"We didn't even realize the length of the record until we finished recording it," Araya says. "I remember looking up and seeing 28 minutes. I asked the engineer, Andy Wallace, if that was the total time of the whole album and he said, 'Uh ...' He messed with the computer and looked up at the screen again and said, 'Yeah, that's the total time of all 10 songs.' We were all kind of shocked."

Whether it's the need for speed, escapist aggression or an appreciation of the band's unyielding sound, Slayer fans have remained uncommonly loyal.

"We see (fans) from 40 to 12," Araya says. "To me that's great because a lot of that is kids going, 'Dude, my Dad turned me on to you guys.' That's great to hear, because at my age, I'm not too old to listen to metal. When I hear people say, 'Oh, I used to listen to you guys,' I say, 'What do you mean used to?'"