Intense Slayer blasts its imagery home


When: 8 p.m. Feb. 16.

Where: Painters Mill Theatre, Owings Mills.

Tickets: $20.50.

Call: 481-6000 for tickets, 581-2212 for information.

Slayer singer Tom Araya can't help but smirk. Considering the way current events are catching up to those described in the song "War Ensemble," from the album "Seasons in the Abyss," Slayer suddenly seems uncannily prescient. Does he feel a bit prophetic when he sings those lyrics now?

"Oh, just a little," he says with a laugh.

It's not a pretty song by any means. An aural blitzkrieg whose chorus climaxes with the lines, "The final swing is not a drill/It's how many people I can kill," it is filled with brutal images and blaring guitars, all propelled at the breathless pace of thrash metal. In fact, the music so accurately sums up the controlled panic of combat that the Army itself has been using Slayer songs to psych its troops for military maneuvers in the Saudi desert.

"Yeah, they play them over the loudspeaker," says Araya over the phone from a tour stop in Montreal. "The music is pretty intense. It's the proper kind of music to be playing at the time."

Does he take it as a compliment, then? "Well . . . I dunno," he says. "I think it's kind of cool that we offer them some kind of aggressive inspiration. Especially out there. You need that little edge. Otherwise, you might end up coming home dead."

But Araya, though happy to help the troops, doesn't really see the song as an endorsement of war. That might seem odd, given the band's name and its penchant for titles like "Expendable Youth," "Spill the Blood," "Angel of Death" and "Mandatory Suicide," but as Araya points out, singing about death and destruction doesn't necessarily qualify as an endorsement.

"If we were for all these things, we wouldn't be here, you know what I mean?" he says.

"Actually, I write what I see. I am not for or against anything [in a song]. I am, personally, a very opinionated person. But when I write, I don't write as a preacher would, telling people what they should and shouldn't do. I write sort of painting a picture of what I see.

"And, hopefully, I've painted the picture vividly enough for people to understand what it is I have to say. That way, they can see the picture, and if they don't like the picture, they can do something about it."

Araya understands that the band's unblinking vision, combined with its show-no-mercy sonic assault, has given Slayer one of the most fearsome reputations in rock. "I think the intensity that we create scares people," he admits.

But for those willing to take the ride -- in particular, the band's core audience of preadolescent males -- Slayer's music can provide a much-needed catharsis, a way of working past real-life horrors. "You get past the ugliness because you see the beauty," he says. "And that's the idea. That's what I'm trying to do."

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