Remembering The Slayer Riots Of 1988

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No heavy metal band in history has inspired fanaticism, awe, and revulsion quite like SlayerThe crowd hungry chant of the band’s name rivals any sports team. They have roused adolescent spirits to self-mutilation with their logo. They have been blamed as the motivating factor for heinous crimes and picketed by church and parent groups.

Of note above all else, they have driven fans to riot. On the South Of Heaven tour in the summer of 1988, two of these infamous incidents occurred.

The first Slayer riot was at the Palladium in Hollywood on August 12th. According to news reports, the trouble began when the venue suddenly cut off the line for entry, leaving roughly 200 ticket holders outside and irate. People began screaming and throwing bottles. At one point, someone was seriously injured after being thrown through a plate glass window!!!  

It took 40 cops to get the crowd under control. In the end there were four felony arrests, including attempted vehicular manslaughter when a fan tried to run down a police officer with his car. The incident led to Slayer being banned from the venue until 2013.

On August 31st, the band played Madison Square Garden’s Felt Forum in New York City. According to the book Slayer 66 ⅔: The Jeff And Dave Years by D.X. Ferris (and as posted in Dead Rhetoric in January of 2014): An anonymous account from the time claims NYC police stood shoulder-to-shoulder between the barricade and the stage before the show. But on a video of the concert, no police are visible. Eyewitnesses who were there don’t recall that kind of police presence, just regular Garden bouncers.

“It was ’88,” remembers Howie Abrams, co-author of The Merciless Book of Metal Lists and former A&R rep for Warner Bros. and Roadrunner. “So as far as the ‘bigger’ venues go, the type of crowd reaction Slayer got must have freaked them out. They were clearly not ready for it, and this particular crowd was above and beyond!” Fans decided they couldn’t wait for the headlining band to start, and they started the action early.

“The barricade collapsed multiple times, including before Slayer even came on,” recalled Abrams. “And verbal attempts to get the crowd to cooperate with its repair fell on angry, deaf ears.” Farther back, one fan ripped open his seat, tore open the foam cushion, and whizzed it across the crowd like a massive Frisbee. The idea went viral, and the air filled with white foam squares, like seagulls zooming over a beach. Other fans hurled gutted folding chairs.

“Eventually, Slayer came out and told us that if we didn’t mellow out, they wouldn’t be allowed to play,” notes the show review. “After a while, they came out and played one of the best shows (outside of a L’Amour show) I’ve ever seen. The pit was so fierce that night that everyone who was in it left bleeding and battered.”

The book then goes on to describe the concert itself in great detail, with reference from a bootleg video: Slayer take the stage and rage in their longhaired glory. Nine-foot squares of Marshall amps flank Lombardo’s three-foot drum riser. Armless T-shirts expose wiry arms on Hanneman and King, and the guitarists shred in front of black walls.

Araya stays rooted, front and center, for the whole set. At either side of the stage, King and Hanneman headbang in place. Periodically, the guitarists casually stroll across the stage, switching places. With a constant cluster of lights on Lombardo’s riser, the wafting special-effects smoke is a permanent cloud around the drummer, who looks like he’s playing atop a volcano. And the crowd is a crater full of bubbling lava. By the third song, the pounding “Silent Scream,” the pit is spitting a constant flow of bodies onto the stage.

At the song’s climax, Araya screams, “Death / Is / Fucking you insane!” To his left, a shirtless longhair wearing fingerless gloves and leather vest leaps from the stage, onto the crowd. It’s so dense, he doesn’t go anywhere. He just crawls backward onto the stage, mashing heads and grinding his knees on surprised fans’ shoulders. When he reaches the stage, he jumps again. And this time, he swims away, torso buoyed by a tide of raised arms.

Deeper in the floor, four or five mosh pits break out in the convulsing mass of bodies. Araya has to stop the show and plead with the crowd for a little respite. “I’m gonna ask you for your cooperation — I KNOW I’M ASKING FOR A LOT! I’m going to ask you for your cooperation, just once, OK?”

At least half a dozen bouncers are stationed across the stage, clustered at strategic points. They’ll hardly get a moment’s rest through the show. And this point, they could have used another dozen.

“We’ve got to straighten some of the shit that’s down here in the front,” Araya says, gesturing to the rapidly disappearing space between the stage and the crowd. The frazzled bouncers shuffle some hardware around, and the crush continues.

Slayer kick into the slower “At Dawn the Sleep,” Hanneman and King both stage right, headbanging in unison, at either side of a giant, bedazzled, inverted crucifix mounted on the Marshall wall. The crowd has subsided for now, but it doesn’t last. By the time the song reaches a crescendo and Araya chants, “Kill/Kill/KILL!” the crowd-stage overflow has resumed.

“You guys have to be one of the fuckin’ wildest bunches we’ve played for yet, man!” the singer barks after the song. “I take it there’s no taming the New York hardcore influence!”

In about 75 minutes, Slayer plow through 17 songs, playing at their tightest:

  1. “South of Heaven”
    2. “Raining Blood”
    3. “Silent Scream”
    4. “At Dawn They Sleep”
    5. “Read Between the Lies”
    6. “Fight Till Death”
    7. “Mandatory Suicide”
    8. “Kill Again”
    9. “Behind the Crooked Cross”
    10. “Postmortem”
    11. “Reborn”
    12. “Die By the Sword”
    13. “Altar of Sacrifice”
    14. “Jesus Saves”
    15. “Chemical Warfare”
    16. “Ghosts of War”
    17. “Angel of Death”

Even on the bootleg, the performance and sound quality are more impressive than anything from the band’s official live album, 1991’s double-LP Decade of Aggression. By the set’s penultimate song, “Chemical Warfare,” the entire floor area is a churning pit. The main set concludes with “Ghosts of War.”

For two tense minutes, the crowd surfing dies down. But deeper in the hall, the frenzy escalates.

“I began to see packs of kids with knives and other sharp objects running toward the back of the venue, where there were several rows of seats,” says Abrams. The cushions keep coming. Once again, the air fills with whizzing white-foam squares. Recalled Abrams, “It looked like it was snowing.”

Rather than milk the tension for an inevitable encore, Araya takes the stage and pleads with the crowd to settle down. “Listen, man,” he says, chuckling. Under inadvertent assault by loyal fans, he issues some directions to the light crew: “Can we drop the spots, cuz I can’t see shit flying at me?!”

Alone in front of the pulsing crowd, the frontman continues: “Listen! I’ve been asked to inform you guys: Stop throwing these fuckin’ cushions around! You guys came here to have a good time, and you’re fuckin’ blowin’ it, bigtime, man!

“Listen, this isn’t me talking,” he continues. “This is common sense here, dudes! Fuckin’ A, come on! I know you’re here to have a good time — you’re having a good time. But fuck, man, why don’t you give us a break? Do me a favor? Leave the fuckin’ spots off. I can’t see shit flying! We can probably never play here again because of all this shit!”

And, after a killer “Angel of Death,” they never did play there again. Not that century. When they returned to New York in October, they were back in L’Amour, for a two-night stand.

Araya plays the final song with a bouncer stationed on his left, who spends the tune trying to catch or deflect flying foam. The studio version of the song runs 4:51, but the band finish it in 4:36 tonight, about 5% faster.

“Thank you, fuckin’ New York!” Araya shouts after the song. “Good night, assholes!” Slayer 66 2/3: The Jeff & Dave Years can be purchased via Amazon.

You can watch the full concert here:

The band had some colorful commentary to Headbangers Ball host Riki Rachtman as well:


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