April 29, 2008
I just learned that Tom Araya, the bassist and vocalist of the seminal Slayer, is a Christian. Catholic, to be precise, and still believes strongly in that faith.
Apparently, all the anti-religion and anti-deity lyrics in that band’s catalog does not bother or shake his beliefs one bit. For exact quotes taken from interviews, visit the Wikipedia entry on Mr. Araya.
I myself had two reactions to this discovery.
First, I thought that it was cool. I totally expected all members of Slayer to be anti-religion (I did know that they were not Satanists. If their message is anti-religion, then it’s hard to stand on the side of Satan, too!). I enjoy seeing people who defy expectations — especially some of these metal musicians. They just have such macho, stereotypical images.
Well, to their credit, Slayer is one of the towering pioneers and probably the only ones to remain to this day with their more-solid-than-metal credibility fully, and I mean very fully, intact. If they didn’t invent the whole genre of thrash metal, then they are the one pillar still left standing, holding up the big roof and acting as the central column. They were the trend setters.
But apparently beneath their surface there was more than what meets the eye. I love discovering this kind of contradictions in people. We humans (and nature/world in general) don’t all make perfect sense, fit any molds all the way to every corner. I myself sometimes inject contradicting lines into my lyrics, just to destroy the sense of every piece perfectly aligned to make a single point. Sometimes that’s good, but other times, I think that’s too simplistic — the complexity of reality is what fascinates me and I enjoy art that reflects that.
Anyway, back to the implications of Mr. Araya’s religious faith — the other thought I had is, what do die-hard Slayer fans think of this? Because of Slayer’s lyrical content and images, I expect their fans to be equally, if not more, passionate about their hate of religion, or their suspicion of it. Do they somehow feel betrayed? Do they perceive this fact as a compromise to the integrity of Slayer’s reputation? In interviews, not just Mr. Araya but most of the members have admitted to employing certain controversial topics (Satanism, Nazism, serial killers, etc.) mainly because of their shock values. Meaning, they don’t personally have the views expressed in their lyrics. It’s all for the show.
He was also asked “God Hates Us All, How does it fit in?” To which Araya replied “God doesn’t hate. [But] it’s a great fucking title.”
I personally am not a die-hard fan of Slayer. I wasn’t looking to them to validate my view on religion or god.
But that said, let’s say someone in the opposite camp — the “Christian” artists, like Michael W. Smith or Jars of Clay — came out and said “God doesn’t love. But ‘God loves us all’ is a great title for our market.” Then their credibility would take a huge hit.
So while I want to express my kudos to Mr. Araya for defying the stereotype, I also feel mixed about such a revelation.
In the end, I think the rule here is not a clear-cut one, but that of a varying degree. I think as artists, I certainly want the freedom to explore any views and angles in my art. I definitely say thing in my songs that are contradictory to what I personally believe, and I definitely consider song/album titles, blog topics and other material for their sensational values.
But on the other hand, I’d like to think that the core identity of an artist/band should remain genuine and personal, if not remain consistent over the years (we do change, and should allow anyone to do so).
In Slayer’s case, I can see where this can come as a slap on a fan’s face, because Slayer’s core identity is clearly contradictory to what Araya confessed. And he is the vocalist — though not the main lyricst — delivering the message. I must admit that this revelation “softened” my idea of Slayer a bit — for better or for worse.
The issue of public persona is something I do wonder about. But I think that as long as it’s more or less rooted in reality, I think the message will hold water. As musicians, we are not judged on per-song basis, but more for our total package — our sounds, our lyrics, our looks, our interactions with our fans.
On that level, remaining honest is probably advisable. I can tell you that I am choosing to be.