No band in history has ever inspired awe, love, and revulsion quite like Slayer.
Since their inception in 1981, the unholy quartet has infected the hearts and minds of impressionable teenagers the world over with their profane sermons of blasphemy, violence, and death. Born of the Bay Area thrash movement, Slayer dared to push the envelope into far darker territories than their compatriots.
The 1990s were a strange time for heavy metal. The commercial explosion of grunge all but eradicated the decadent glam scene of the prior decade. Thrash bands flirted with the template of commercial rock to varying degrees of success. All in all, heavy metal was experiencing a collective identity crisis.
Ironically, the bands that seemed to weather this storm with the most grace were the ones who leaned into the darkness. The crossover scene segued into the groove metal of Pantera, Machine Head, and Biohazard. Death metal reached the apex of the genre’s popularity, and a horde of teenagers in Norway took the satanic camp of Venom in a far more literal, sinister direction.
Things were changing, and Slayer didn’t give a single fuck about it.
Released in 1994, Divine Intervention might not hold the legendary status of Slayer’s prior records, but it sacrifices none of their fury. It is an album that eschews pedestrian satanism for the sake of real life horrors. Front to back, it is 37 minutes of war crimes, serial killers, and riots. It is the antithesis of Metallica’s self-titled “black album.”
What Divine Intervention is most remembered for is the gore-soaked act of self-mutilation that adorns much of the art and ad campaign associated with the record. Spitting into the abyss of human suffering, Slayer adorned the inner jewel case of the CDs and vinyl sleeves with a picture of two arms with the band’s name brutally carved into them.
Those arms belong to a man named Michael Meyer. He had this to say about the experience in a 2016 interview with CLRVYNT:
“I was in a band called Wash. And instead of spending our time practicing, we spent our time making costumes and figuring out how to destroy the venues we were playing at. And the one thing we really liked to do when we went to shows was yell ‘Slayer!’ really loud, and then we’d try to cause mayhem. Greg Abrams, who got me the gig, knew me because one of the first gigs my band played was in a house across the street from where he lived. He had seen what we did, so when they had the meeting about the Slayer arms, he told them, ‘Don’t worry, I know the guy who’ll do that.’”
Meyer continues, “We showed up with beer, and luckily, the guy who did the carving got a hold of me before, and said if I drank too much, my blood would get thin. So, he asked me not to drink. I actually thought that they wanted me to break a bottle open and cut Slayer into my arms myself, so when I found out that there was going to be someone to professionally do it, I thought, ‘Okay, that’s cool. It’ll look better.’”
In a video documenting the event, we see Meyer’s freshly carved arm lit on fire. “He told me that if I really wanted it to look good, he had to set it on fire,” said Meyer. “And I was okay with that. I didn’t care. When you’re young, you tend to not think about things, and I didn’t really mind getting damaged. And it’s not like I was working at a job where I had to wear a suit or worry about showing my forearms.
“I used to set myself on fire pretty often as a party trick. Once my friends were playing an outdoor festival, and I showed up in the guise of a clown by the name of Stupid the Clown. I did contortions and set myself on fire, and had a buddy of mine smash a cinder block on my stomach with a sledgehammer.”
When it comes to the significance of the arms in Slayer lore, Michael Meyer sums up the relevance of the photo well by saying. “For anybody who knows about Slayer, this can’t be too shocking. When you go to Slayer shows, they love the band and go to extremes to enjoy it. I can see how the picture is more iconographic, because it does sum up what Slayer fans are like.
But the fact that so many people know about it is kind of shocking. I just had a scalpel taken to me. I didn’t have any skill. I’m just the set dressing on top. Most people my age don’t go around saying, ‘Oh man, I need to find that Slayer guy.’”
For those with a strong constitution, you can watch a video of the carving and burning below.