It’s a curious phenomenon. Slayer are unparalleled in their support. Not only are they the metaller’s metal band but they’ve also captured the attention of people who possibly weren’t even born when Reign In Blood was released.
The thrash legends are back in the UK this weekend, headlining Bloodstock Festival 2013. Last May they performed at Alexandra Palace as part of All Tomorrow’s Parties’ I’ll Be Your Mirror event. While Bloodstock Open Air is the preserve of the staunchest metal community in the world, ATP events tend to draw those in who are one step ahead of the madding crowd.
While the quality of Slayer’s music and their presence as one of The Big Four thrash bands are the main reasons cited for their lofty position in heavy metal hierarchy, their popularity in hipster communities is slightly more curious. They have been fondly featured in modern fashion/journalism bible, Vice, but Reign In Blood has also been seized upon as the non-metaller’s metal album of choice.
Ultimately, Slayer are a mainstay in two massively discordant groups of people. It brings the question of how this has come to pass, so let the reasoning commence.
They’re not Metallica
Slayer may have sold millions of records but nowhere near as many millions as ‘Tallica or Megadeth. That puts them third in The Big Four, only being more important than Anthrax. Slayer are the underdog. While their trailblazing nous as one of the original thrash bands is not in doubt, they are the best at walking the tightrope between the multi-million-selling mainstream they enjoy within The Big Four and the the obscurity-through-obnoxiousness of extreme metal. ‘Seasons in the Abyss’ is the closest Slayer have ever got to a power ballad, for instance.
There is no doubting Slayer’s credentials
Of the classic thrash bands, Slayer are the most ostensibly metal. Their name is fucking brutal without being Megadeth levels of cheesy, Kerry King wears a XXL Slayer t-shirt and a ridiculously metal guitar onstage and every single Slayer song is more metal than anything else. An extra bonus in the authenticity stakes is that Slayer were there right from the start. Money can’t buy that kind of credibility.
Slayer have never drastically changed their sound
(Successfully, anyway.) They have never once stopped being that metal and that is just as appealing to their hardiest fans as it is to an outsider looking for a heavy metal badge of honour. Slayer did think about dabbling and experimenting with their music at one point in time but soon thought better of it and soon went running back to thrashier surrounds. You could sell it as: “Slayer have never had a crossover hit, so have remained true their roots,” or you could play someone Diabolus in Musica and see how long it takes for them to leave.
They are well-known enough to make an impact
If you tell a random passer-by you’re listening to Slayer (Scream, “SLAYAAARRRGGGH,” in their face?), they’ll know it’s a heavy metal band. They might not know they’ve been around for over 30 years or even exactly what thrash metal is, but they’ll know that Slayer are a metal band. This means they’re a big enough name that even people who don’t like metal know who they are. They have transcended their genre into popular culture. It’s unclear but also unimportant whether that’s down to their music or rather the negative press coverage accusing them of being the (sometimes last) music that depressed teenagers listen to and agendas from various religions about their imagery and lyrical content. They’re a massive band.
There is substance to their style
While it’s easy for heavy metal hipsters to hide in plain sight – their adoption of the cut-off denim jacket, adorned with patches and a straggly mullet, fits in well amongst the hardened thrashers they intend to be camouflaged in amongst – it’s much more difficult to feign interest in the music. Luckily, Reign In Blood is routinely held up as one of the greatest metal albums of all time, which points towards the fact – yes, the fact – that it’s a stupendous album and that’s as difficult to ignore. You can always pretend to prefer South of Heaven or even Show No Mercy for early career knowledge kudos, but there really is no beating those 29 minutes of thrash metal madness. Any two people talking about Reign In Blood will have the same wild-eyed enthusiasm for it, and that’s what music is all about.
They are Slayer
THEY’RE FUCKING SLAYER. DEAL WITH IT
If you read this and wondered which of the points applied to metallers and which applied to metalheads, just assume they all apply to both. That is neither accusing metalheads of being fashion-conscious nor is it suggesting hipsters have good taste. It’s just the effect a great band has on the world.