Slayer’s Label Once Asked Them to Write a Radio Hit
This week, Loudwire pays tribute to Slayer, who kicked off their final tour on May 10 in San Diego (see our review of the show here). The thrash metal titans took the genre to faster, louder, and creepier places than anyone ever had, and they've influenced scores of extreme metal bands. From dissections of their songs to never-before-told stories, we're celebrating all things Slayer. Here, we talk to the band's longtime manager Rick Sales.
Shortly after Metallica’s “Black Album” blew up, thanks to mainstream metal hits like “Enter Sandman,” “Sad But True,” “The Unforgiven” and “Nothing Else Matters,” other major thrash bands started mainstreaming their sound a bit in an effort to appeal to a wider audience.
Seeing an opportunity to seize the moment and boost Slayer’s popularity, an executive at the band’s label, American Recordings, visited the Slayer in the studio while they were working on 1994’s Divine Intervention. The band’s longtime manager Rick Sales recalls that during a break from the session, the exec -- who he declines to name -- suggested the band make a deal with the devil: mainstream, commercial radio. “He said, ‘If you can deliver me one song that we can get on the radio, we can change the future. It’ll change everything,’” Sales recalls.
Without a pause, guitarist Jeff Hanneman said, “Hey, we’re making a Slayer record here, and if you can get it on the radio, great. And if you can’t, fuck it,” remembers Sales. “Jeff was always like, ‘Hey, I’m not changing for anybody,’ and the rest of the band were all completely lockstep in agreement on that. They were always concerned about, and maintained, their integrity.”
Sales first met Slayer when they were practicing in Tom Araya’s parents’ garage and he started working as their road manager in 1988 on the Reign in Blood tour. It wasn’t long before he was exposed to the type of madness that sometimes took place at the band’s shows. He watched numerous opening acts end their sets early after being heckled and harassed by the crowds, which sometimes threw things at the bands and chanted “Slay-ahh, Slay-ahh” between songs.
When Slayer headlined a show in 1988 at The Palladium in Los Angeles, approximately 200 pissed off fans couldn’t get into the concert. The unofficial story was that the show was oversold, but Sales says it’s unclear if that’s what happened or if the fans showed up hoping to get tickets and couldn’t get into the sold-out show. Regardless, the angry mob didn’t go away. They smashed through the front door of the venue, threw sticks and other objects at the security and formed a circle pit in front of the club.
“I was inside when I first got word that this was going on outside,” says Sales. “So, I went into the lobby and I watched a kid literally run through a plate glass door. The medical area was right by the front door. They went through the door after him and I followed. They stopped the kid and said, ‘Hey do you want some treatment?’ He was picking shards of glass out of his body, and he said, ‘No, I’m cool.’ And just kept walking.”
Outside, conditions had grown even more chaotic. The LAPD was called in and they showed little compassion to the rowdy fans. “When I followed the kid out the plate glass door, the police were organized into those little riot squads with batons,” Sales says. “It was like a military exercise. Ten or twelve of them were together, jogging down the sidewalk and knocking everybody away. It was kind of like a war zone.”
When it was over, the local media reported three injuries and three arrests; two fans were arrested for throwing rocks and bottles at police and a third was allegedly nabbed for trying to run over a traffic control officer with a van.
The Palladium incident was just one of many chaotic episodes Sales witnessed at Slayer shows. One of the most infamous was the fan rebellion at Madison Square Garden in New York on the Clash of the Titans tour in 1991. Slayer had already played a show in 1988 at NYC’s Felt Forum, at which fans caused thousands of dollars in damage by tearing apart the venue’s seats. During the Clash of the Titans show, fans again tore up seats and flung them through the air like Frisbees. They also set off firecrackers.
"Fuck! Didn't you guys learn anything from the Felt Forum?” asked Araya after Slayer played “Seasons in the Abyss. “You keep this up and we won't be able to play for you at all. I think you guys are crazy!" The audience reacted by cheering and continuing the rebellion.
“While all that was going on, the promoter was watching the show from the sound console,” Sales says. “The promoter was looking for me. He finally walked towards the back of the stage and saw me and said, ‘Are you gonna stop this show?’ I said, ‘No, I’m not gonna stop the show.’ And he said, ‘But what about what’s going on here?’ And I said, ‘It’ll just get worse.’ He realized I was right.”
These days, most Slayer fans aren’t quite as crazy as they were back in the day. And the band aren't as quick to promote the insanity, like they did when a fan was filmed in 1994 having the band’s logo cut into his arms (a photo was used as the CD art for Divine Intervention and the scene was captured in the 1994 Live Intrusion VHS, which was later released as a DVD).
Still, with all the fire and fury that will take place onstage during Slayer’s farewell tour, we expect plenty of wild antics will be captured on fan cellphones as the band zigzags across the world for the last time. For those who are wondering if this is gonna be like the Kiss reunion tour, which still hasn’t ended, Sales says absolutely not.
“They’re doing this for the fans,” he says. “And when it’s over, that’s it. They’re not gonna drag it out. They have too much integrity for that.”
Loudwire contributor Jon Wiederhorn is the co-author of Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal, as well as the co-author of Scott Ian’s autobiography, I’m the Man: The Story of That Guy From Anthrax, Al Jourgensen’s autobiography, Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen and the Agnostic Front book My Riot! Grit, Guts and Glory.