Spanning a career of 30-plus years, there isn’t a Metal band on the planet that is more revered or respected, by fans and fellow musicians alike, than Slayer. Along with Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax, they were part of the “Big Four,” a tour that made its way through several cities last year, celebrating the four biggest game-changing bands in Metal. But what many might not know is that the band thousands of people show up to see at arenas around the world is fronted by bassist and Metal God Tom Araya, a native of Chile.
Famous for his growl, signature laugh, deep voice and superb bass playing, Tom is a self-taught musician, whose interest in music started at an early age as both his older brother and sister played instruments in their high school band.
“My father always wanted to play guitar but he never learned and except for us no one in my family was musically inclined; influenced by my brother and sister I just picked up a guitar,” says Araya. ”As a kid I listened to The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, and my sister was into Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, so I was too. Sometimes we’d play acoustic guitar around the house for my parents and sing Neal Diamond songs, HA!” adds Araya.
Born Tomás Enrique Araya Díaz in Viña Del Mar, Chile, he arrived in 1966 with his family at the age of 5 and grew up in Southern California. “You know we grew up pretty traditional, my parents brought the culture with them; we spoke Spanish in my house, grew up listening to Cueca and Chilean party albums. My dad always said in here you are Chilenos and out there you are Americanos.”
Like many Latinos raised in the United States, Tom speaks Spanish and considers himself pretty fluent, but is sometimes shy to speak it with those who are truly fluent. “You know sometimes it can be a little bit intimidating and depending on who you are speaking to, some people aren’t so nice about it.” But it doesn’t stop him from communicating with fans or even fellow band member/drummer David Lombardo who is Cuban. “Kerry (Kerry King is Slayer’s lead guitarist) said to me how do you do that and not lose a beat? I said what? You and David switch from English to Spanish and back again so quickly. I don’t know, we just do, but it happens when your thought process is in two languages,” says Araya.
The former respiratory therapist who worked at a hospital for five years before becoming a full-time musician has been married for sixteen years and tries to keep his Latin roots alive with his two teenage kids. “I always speak to my mom in Spanish even though she is fluent in English and she speaks it to my kids in hopes that they pick it up. My wife is always telling me you need to teach them so they can communicate with her,” explains Araya.
While he may be a little shy when it comes to speaking Spanish, he certainly isn’t on stage. Watching them live shakes you to the core; it’s a visceral attack on your senses and soul. The band garnered five Grammy nominations and has won twice, not without controversy.
Since the band formed back in 1981, Slayer has been accused of being a satanic band, worshipers of Satan, due to some of their early lyrics and imagery still used today. “You know at the beginning yes we were singing about demons and devils but as the band grew we started singing about real life demons and devils,” says Araya.
He was raised a Catholic and is still practicing; his parents weren’t too thrilled with the use and talk of demons. “My parents, like my band mates’ parents were all very supportive since the beginning, they all knew their sons; as a kid I did my first communion. They didn’t like it but they understood it,” explains Araya. Unfortunately, his dad had a difference experience. “I found out later in life after my father passed away that he did face some negativity from the church community, but he never told me, I wish he would’ve, but he didn’t and that made me very sad,” he adds.
For now, Araya is touring in the hottest festivals in the United States, including the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival. Once Slayer is off the road, they will continue to focus on the new album which they have started writing for, and are hoping to release in the near future. “The festival has been tough with the summer heat, but we are always happy to see and play for our fans,” says Araya.