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Six Life Lessons from a Slayer Show

By Brent Hill Photos by Drea Atkins 

My first thought: What does one wear to a Slayer concert? The answer is black. I should have worn black. Black cotton. I should have bathed in black cotton and rolled around in black cotton then draped myself in black cotton. I should not have have worn a light gray cardigan sweater with elbow patches over a faded red, almost pink, Iron Man t-shirt.

Wardrobe miscalculation notwithstanding, I should say this: I am not a Slayer fan. Boo, I know.  But I should also say: I’m not NOT a Slayer fan either. After all, they are the godfathers of thrash metal — and they have been around a really long time.

So, I have a healthy amount of respect for them and the genre they inspired. Healthy enough, I suppose, to find myself solo at the Fillmore on a Monday night for what amounted to one of the most visceral concert experiences of my life.

The sights, sounds, and smells of a thousand metalheads with zero fucks to give banging and slamming themselves into Super Tuesday was, dare I say,eye-opening. So, I felt it important to share a few life lessons (for the metalhead in all of us) that I learned at the Slayer concert.

1.) Dedicate Yourself to Something. Anything.

I’ve always lived under the unspoken concert-going rule that you never wear the t-shirt of the band whose concert you’re currently attending. I was wrong about that.

Slayer fans wear Slayer shirts. Proudly. They celebrate their favorite band. They’re as committed to Slayer as they are their own wives and children. This is a marriage made in music heaven and that blood speckled black t-shirt is the wedding ring. When was the last time you outwardly professed your love for something on a Monday night? Like I said, zero fucks.

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Photo by Drea Atkins

2.) Let the Noise In

A Slayer concert is loud. Very loud. The kind of loud that you feel in your nuts. The kind of loud that you’ll pass down to your great grandchildren. But loud isn’t always bad. Sometimes you gotta let the loud in. Let it rattle your brain a bit.

Slayer has a lot of important stuff to say about social injustice and corruption. The great irony, of course, is that anti-metal crusaders assume that Slayer is attempting to corrupt its listeners. But it’s just the opposite. They’re trying to expose the corruption all around us. And when you’re playing songs that take on the establishment, well, the only way to do that is loudly. Now, granted I could not understand a single word lead singer Tom Araya sang, but I felt every damn one of them.

3.) When in Doubt … Denim Up

There’s no problem so daunting that denim can’t solve it. Think about that feeling you get on Casual Friday when you wake up and remember that you get to wear jeans to work. That fuck-the-world today feeling that can only be experienced when you’re swathed in denim: Today you are bulletproof, impenetrable.  

I’ve seen underpaid state employees raise ungodly amounts of money for charities they’ve never even heard of or care about just so they can wear jeans for a week. Slayer fans embraced the denim mentality a long time ago. “Jeans week” is every single day for a Slayer fan.

They know that denim exists to be worn anytime, anyplace. A concert. A wedding. A job interview. A church service. A divorce proceeding. They’re all the same, really … a reason to celebrate. When in denim, all is right with the world. So rip the sleeves off that old jean jacket in your hall closet and rock the shit out of it tonight.  

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Gary Holt of Slayer. Photo by Drea Atkins

4.) Get Your Damn Hands Up

Throw your fists in the air and pound them like you just don’t care. It’s funny how many concerts I go to where the audience is just standing there, maybe bobbing their heads or clapping along with the beat. It’s sad, really.

Not at a Slayer show. Fists and limbs are always in the air. It’s a sign of respect for the band, but it’s also a release. A release from the crap day you had. The crap week. The crap month. Fist in the air means you still have a little fight left in you. Tomorrow may suck, but tonight belongs to you and your brethren (and a sprinkling of sistren).

5.) Be Fearless

I watched in horror as audience members lined up on opposite sides of the mosh pit and charged at each other with a ferocity that would have made Mel Gibson run away. Bodies bashing against bodies. Shirts ripping. Blood spilling. It was medieval.

My horror eventually turned to jealousy when I realized that I would never have the guts to get in that pit. And not because I’m old. There were plenty of older guys in there. I would never get in that pit because I was scared. And for a few moments while the music blasted through me, I felt a tinge of regret for what I figured was a life half-lived. Then I noticed that most of the dudes standing around me were leaning on canes, and I felt better about my decision. I even moved back two more levels.

6.) Find What You Love To Do and Do It Forever

Slayer has been grinding away for 35 years. Lead singer Tom Araya used the earnings from his job as a respiratory therapist to finance the band’s 1983 debut album “Show No Mercy.” He eventually quit his day job, and has lived out his dream ever since. Plus he seems like a nice guy. I watched him express concern for the “little metalheads” at the front of stage, offering a harsh warning to those thrashing blindly behind them.

“They don’t have eyes in the back of their heads,” he said. “So just be careful guys.”

Araya is a husband, a father, a farmer, and a metalhead — and he made the windows of the Fillmore rattle like it was the end of the world. (At least the world that I knew).

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Tom Araya photo by Drea Atkins

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