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Tom Araya is laughing at me because I’ve just told him how surreal it is to be talking to the frontman of Slayer at 10am in the morning.

Tom Araya is laughing at me because I’ve just told him how surreal it is to be talking to the frontman of Slayer at 10am in the morning.

"Being in Slayer? I’d assume it’s probably no different to… working where you work."

Pull the other one, is my response.

"Well, you know what’s really amazing, is when just before, you mentioned how surreal it is to be talking to me. I find remarks like that, or things of that nature… I don’t quite get them, or understand," Tom offers, sounding genuinely puzzled. "I’m a bass player and singer in a band that happens to be Slayer, and to me it’s no different than being in any band."

What, even some shit like 30 Seconds To Mars?

His face cracks into a grin. "Pick ‘n’ choose a band, or talk to fellow friends that have bands, and ask ’em what it’s like to be in that group with their friends."

He’s forgetting one crucial difference here, and that’s the fact that they’re Slayer. Slayer’s a cult followed by many a madman the globe over.

Tom bristles slightly, as if remembering that one time with that one guy with the dripping red package in his hands. "Yeah, yeah, you know, it’s… at one time, it was fun and comfortable. Nowadays, there are just some crazy people out there that do crazy things. So nowadays? I just kinda keep to myself!" he laughs, uproariously, like personal isolation is a terribly funny thing. "As I’ve got older, I seem to have become more anti-social."

Many large individuals enjoy Reign In Blood on a level that’s perilous to be around, that much is true and obvious enough if you’ve ever been to a show or even watched Still Reigning. What causes the claret of men to boil with Slayer fever, so specifically? Plenty of maniacs love Metallica with the same zeal, but you don’t see them sacrificing their Jack Russells at the altar of Master Of Puppets.

"I don’t know, man." He lapses into puzzlement again, stroking his chin’s impressive salt ‘n’ pepper growth. "I dunno, I wonder that too. I remember earlier in our career we played some really nice theatres that ended up closing down, and once they were made habitable again, they were never allowed metal music in those venues. You know what I mean?" he laughs again, but it’s a bitter laugh, a kind of half-scoff with a gurgle on top.

"The very first shows we did with Ozzfest, we were excited to do that, and a lot of those places they had barricades; certain types of barricades that were very easy to dismantle and kind of fling around. That kind of crazy stuff really limited us to what we could do. It also drives the cost up, because we’ve become a liability."

The cult of Slayer, it appears, is an ironic beast. Much akin to CERTAIN OTHER RELIGIONS THAT SHALL REMAIN NAMELESS BUT HEAVILY IMPLIED, its followers often interpret its rhetoric in such a way as to do more harm to their thrash-metal deities of choice than good. Cue accusations of Nazism, and this makes Tom guffaw like you’ve never heard a man guffaw.

"The biggest thing is, it’s a Latin rhythm section!" he rumbles, and even though I don’t hear no 3/2 clave in Angel Of Death, I don’t say anything. "That stuff makes me chuckle. Me and Dave – we’re Latin."

Ooh. Yeah, right. That explains why Dave’s so white.

"Dave looks like a white Latin bro, but he’s still a bro. Dave’s just all-natural; he’s Cuban, you know what I mean? The rhythm and drums and percussion all come natural to him. It’s funny to hear Dave like that, you know, ‘Yeah, we’re Nazis! Neo-Nazis!’"

Blue eyed and blonde haired they most certainly aren’t – which makes the implication all the more ridiculous. And that Kerry King, he’s the most ethnic man I’ve ever seen.

Tom gives me the blankest stare in the universe.

Well, he’s intimidating, anyway. You know, the no-hair and the tattoos and the gigantic forearms and shit.

"Yeah, he’s intimidating-looking," Tom concedes, like it’s never really occurred to him. "I think people, at a glance, make impressions and they’re usually wrong. He’s like everybody else. He can be a hard-ass, but that’s personality. Everybody has personality, just like all of us. Kerry, Jeff, Dave… we’re all nice guys." Tom’s voice suddenly darkens. "But the minute you flick that switch and become an idiot, well. You just get stupid people saying stupid things, and you just sorta look at them, and you just have to walk away from ’em. It’s like when you’re talkin’ to someone and they say something and you’re thinkin’, ‘You’re an idiot. I no longer need to be talking to you.’"

But every post-gig soirée must be an edjit switch-flicking carnivale waiting to happen.

Tom sits back, thoughtful. "I avoid those situations. I communicate with people I know." He sits up again. "You know what, because people just don’t talk anymore. Everybody wants something. To me, simple conversation is a great thing; but I avoid a lot of that because it becomes an autograph session, it becomes a photograph session, it becomes an in-store. Then everybody wants to join in, and people are askin’, ‘Who the hell is he?’ They don’t even know who you are, and they’re coming up to you. After a while, you’re just like, ‘Ah, I gotta get outta here.’"

The weight of expectation when meeting a guy who plays in Slayer must surely favour the clinical and insane – fuck, I expected him to carve his initials into my moobs – but Tom is amiable if not downright unassuming. I wonder how many faces he’s seen fall with deflated preconception upon greeting the screeching harpy behind Raining Blood for the first time.

"Uh… ah, I don’t know. I don’t think about that. I think the fact I’m such a normal person and not really a rager, I think people feel comfortable about that. I can rage if I want to, but you know, I save that for the stage. That’s my place to rage. Outside of that? I’m a grown man. Do you know what a hangover feels like? Yeah! I got tired of that a long time ago."

SLAYER headline the SOUNDWAVE festival at the Melbourne Showgrounds on Friday March 4, along with Iron Maiden, Queens Of The Stone Age, Primus, Slash, Rob Zombie, One Day As A Lion, Melvins, Stone Sour, Pennywise, Murderdolls, Coheed & Cambria and heaps more. It’s sold out. Their latest album World Painted Blood is out now through Sony.