People fear what they don’t understand. Throughout human history, willful ignorance and lack of empathy have led to everything from broken hearts to ruined lives. At its worst, a lack of understanding has brought civilization to its knees through full-scale war.
Although not a war in the traditional sense, the Satanic Panic of the 1980s was a cultural battle for the hearts and minds of the world. Although its darkest moments created incalculable damage, there were occasional moments of levity.
In 1982, evangelical preacher and exorcist Bob Larson started a talk radio show, appropriately called “Talk Back.” After an on-air conversation with Spin founder Bob Guccione Jr, the publishing magnate got Larson to agree to an impossible assignment: Pastor Bob would go on tour with the most notorious “Satanic” band in the world, Slayer, and write an article about the experience for Spin.
Shockingly, it happened, and it didn’t go as anyone expected.
Larson met up with Slayer in Hamburg in what was then the country of West Germany during their 1988 World Sacrifice Tour. To his shock, the band and most of the crowd appeared to be good-natured, friendly people who were simply engaged in theatrics. Finding nothing of concern outside of lyrics and imagery, the pastor imagined that the dark hedonism of the Satanic metal band would rear its ugly face on the tour bus. However, what he found was a rather boring environment with moderate beer drinking, bad food, horror movies, and one old issue of Playboy. Slayer was there to work, plain and simple.
When the pastor asked the band flat out if they were Satanists, he expected a hostile reaction. What he got instead was general ambivalence:
Kerry King: “No.”
Jeff Hanneman: “What’s a Satanist anyway?”
Dave Lombardo: “That stuff scares me.”
Tom Araya: “I won’t say.”
Over time, the band members elaborated. Kerry King mainly wanted to talk about his house in Phoenix and breeding reptiles. Although he admits to writing “sick” lyrics, he’s never read the Bible and threw away his copy of The Satanic Bible because he found it boring. He didn’t like televangelists and occasionally took aim at them, but most of his inspiration came from horror movies.
Jeff Hanneman held a general agnostic point of view, annoyed by assumptions over his nonexistent system of belief and saying in no uncertain terms that all religion is “stupid.” To him, playing this kind of music was a way of dealing with unresolved childhood aggression.
Dave Lombardo straight up didn’t like Slayer’s satanic image, telling Larson: “I didn’t write those lyrics. And I wasn’t in favor of using an upside-down cross as a stage backdrop. I just want to be the best metal drummer in the business.” He does remember his Cuban mother dabbling in Santeria, but Lombardo and his family firmly identify as Catholics.
Tom Araya wouldn’t say whether or not he is or ever was a Satanist, but his outlook on the future of the world was apocalyptic. However oblique he was about theology, his family was deeply rooted in the evangelical movement, with his parents both being lay charismatic preachers. He told Larson: “My mother prays for me every night.”
Before leaving for tour, Larson asked his audience for questions to ask the band. One caller claimed to be a 17-year-old who was influenced by Slayer and worshiped Satan by committing animal sacrifice in exchange for power.
When asked if they feel responsible for the actions of the teenager, Araya bristled: “It’s the parents’ responsibility to be aware of what their child is listening to.” King then added, “Every album we’ve put out always has a sticker about objectionable language.” For his part, poor Dave Lombardo said: “I don’t care about all these things. I play drums. That’s it.”
In the end, Bob Larson’s takeaway was that although the band might not be satanic, they had indeed sold their souls for rock and roll. Satanism was a gimmick for them to attract fans, and they didn’t care about what collateral damage that might cause. Slayer projected an image to sell tickets. Greed and apathy, to the pastor, were the band’s real sins.