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Back in the Day, Thrash Attack

Stories From The Combat Tour With SLAYER, VENOM, and EXODUS in 1985 – Drunken Fistfights, Territorial Pissing, & Death To Disco

Posted by on March 10, 2019 at 11:42 am

"Without Venom, there’s a good chance there wouldn’t have been a Slayer. Their Welcome To Hell (1981) and Black Metal (1982) albums were a big influence on our guitarists Kerry King and (the late) Jeff Hanneman."

–Tom Araya telling it like it is.

On April 3rd, 1985 a different kind of clientele descended upon the infamous Studio 54 disco, usually filled with elite members of Hollywood and quantities of cocaine that would satisfy Scarface's posse. Tonight instead of seeing Andy Warhol sitting next to Jerry Hall chugging champagne right out of the bottle, the 1,000 person capacity club was filled with ravenous metalheads there to see Slayer, Exodus, and black metal pioneers, Venom. In the words of Cronos himself, Welcome to Hell.

The brief tour had traipsed across the country and met by angry Christian protesters at nearly every show. Guitarist Kerry King took along his pet snakes (who traveled under King's front seat in his truck), and everyone got fall-down drunk, including one night when a sympathetic Jeff Hanneman would stuff Dave Lombardo's pockets with pancakes after he passed out on a toilet. By far, the most debaucherous story from the tour (and there are many) concerns an altercation between a very wasted Tom Araya and Venom vocalist Cronos (Conrad Thomas Lant) on Venom's tour bus.

According to legend (or in this case a very detailed account by drummer Dave Lombardo in Decibel), the members of Slayer were getting hammered with Venom on their fancy tour bus when a very, very intoxicated Tom Araya arrived in urgent need of a bathroom. Cronos jokingly replied to Araya, telling him he should relieve himself “Right here. Just piss right here” seemingly inviting Araya to piss on him. The gonzo Araya took Cronos' request quite seriously, dropped his pants, and attempted to take a piss on the vocalist's hair–which as far as I can tell looked nothing like a toilet in 1985. Cronos, a bodybuilder in his spare time, responded just like anyone else would if someone was trying to piss on you while not on fire, he smashed Araya in the face, giving him a bloody nose, black eye and other injuries to his face that should have required stitches. According to Cronos, Araya apologized for taking Cronos literally, and the two "shook hands" and completed the rest of the tour fistfight-free, though Araya's black eye can be seen during the gig at Studio 54. Let's get to that, shall we?

A shot of Tom Araya on stage at Studio 54. It's hard to see his black eye through all that hair, but it's there.

The throng of exuberant metalheads converged along West 54th Street on the way to the show. Exodus would start things off, followed by Slayer and then Venom–who were, by most reports, close to calling it quits. Venom guitarist Jeff "Mantis" Dunn was especially cynical of the band's future and hadn't wanted to do the tour at all. He was also less than happy with their latest record, 1985's Possessed. Venom liked to live large and were rolling around in high-end tour buses (noted in the 2008 book The Bloody Reign of Slayer) without the means to support the lifestyle for the entire tour, so by the time the it was winding down, Venom was forced to travel in ordinary passenger cars to the rest of the gigs because they were dead broke. But none of this would stop the tour, touted as the "Ultimate Revenge for Disco," brutally hammering crowds night after night with satanic jams, even at Studio 54, while the club's famed disco ball hung over them. As you may already know, a video crew was there that night to film the show, and footage of Exodus and Slayer would become a sought-after VHS–but not Venom. Here's Cronos on why the band's only appearance on the video is of a pyrotechnic explosion:

"The guys who came down to shoot the show were supposed to pay the management because they were gonna release the VHS video. As you know, this is called the music business. And they refused to pay. They tried to say, “We’ll pay you after the show.” [Laughs] But we’re from England. We don’t fall for that one. But they didn’t think we’d be able to stop them, so we took the ax from next to the fire extinguisher and just chopped all their cables. So they recorded Exodus and Slayer, but all they got of Venom was the (pyrotechnic) bang. Later on, Neat Records sold them a couple of songs from the show from England. [Laughs] Venom don’t like getting ripped off. Whether Exodus or Slayer got paid, I’ve no idea. But I very much doubt it. It was a shame that the video doesn’t have Venom footage from Studio 54. We weren’t asking that much—they would’ve made ten times that off the video sales. So it was just greed."

It's pretty easy to track down footage of the show online, and I've seen vintage VHS tapes out there for sale online which in addition to the live footage of Exodus and Slayer, includes interview segments with all three bands. Below you can see some of the highlights from the fateful night when this satanic trifecta fought disco to the death and won.

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Exodus performing "Piranha" at Studio 54.

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High-quality footage of Slayer performing "Die By The Sword" at Studio 54.

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A video shot outside of Studio 54 of fans lined up for the show.

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