A lot has been said about Slayer over the years and, as with the natural ebb and flow that follows any entity that’s survived four decades of virtually non-stop activity, not all of it is going to be good. That the Slayer name still has a place in the heart of even casual metal fans – and the most irony-drenched hipster assbags drunkenly screaming out “Slaaayyeerrr” while stumbling back home to Williamsburg or wherever the handle-bar moustache crowd congregates these days – is indicative of both relevance and reverence after all these years.
Tons of awesome, yes, but in the eyes of many there have been a number of missteps along the way. If there’s one category in which Slayer has never failed to bring it, it’s Tom Araya’s vocals. Even when he’s fronting some of the band’s most milquetoast song writing moments, Araya’s gravelly ferocity, man-meets-evil forcefulness and exceptional clarity and annunciation gives every song a fighting chance. When it comes to the classic material, you’d better believe Araya is responsible for bringing home the Slaytanic bacon as much as some of those classic riffs. In the live arena, he has consistently brought, delivered and hurled it like a railroad spike through the collective forehead of concert goers. His surgically repaired back and neck may be fucked to the point where he can’t head bang (and after seeing them at FunFunFunFest in 2013 and witnessing various big screen close-ups of him during the band’s performance at Heavy Montreal last summer, you can see the aching to let loose in his eyes; dude is exacting tremendous amounts of restraint), but fuck me if Senor Tomás Enrique Araya Diaz doesn’t fucking nail it when he has to fucking nail it. Hell, before I started skulking around and offering my writing wares here, the folks who've brought you this fine site over the past decade created the Tom Araya Scream button.
So, in the spirit of my recent salute to Lars Ulrich’s drumming (check that bit of business out here), I’ve embarked upon a similar salute, though one that’s definitely not as contentious or controversial. There’s never been the ire directed at Araya’s voice as to Ulrich’s drumming, so it’s not like I’m poking a hornet’s nest. I’m confident most of the metal world is on the same page as I am in holding his voice in positive regard. This, then, had me turning my focus towards some of my favourite screams – as opposed to vocal performances in general, or top speed-singing moments, or whatever category you can think of – from the leathery lungs of the man himself. For a handful of reasons, this first part will focus on his work from the band’s earlier output. For one, the high-pitched piercing shrieks appear to be more a feature of Araya’s early repertoire, when Judas Priest and Iron Maiden played a more influential role; back before Slayer became icons in their own right. Second, the appearance of Araya’s invisible orange braying has been noticeably curtailed in the post-Reign in Blood days, which leads me to think that after the absolutely brutal brilliance of his vocal work on that 1986 classic, it’s almost like he said to himself, “Fuck it, I’ll never top that shit. Why stress myself out?” Finally, it’s the era of Slayer I’m most familiar with. Deal with it. I’m old, grew up in an age when the band was considered thrash, black and death metal all at once. And they probably were. So there. Anyway, without further blathering fanfare, I present my favourite Tom Araya screams, circa 1983-1990.
14) “Tormentor” (Show No Mercy)
“Are you afraid of the niiiiiiiight” and the closing air-raid siren sustain of the song’s title to finish the track will be the sort thing kids will be still using as drunken, mating call fodder in parking lots a thousand-plus years from now. Put that motherfucking holler in a time capsule and freak the shit out of the one-world government in the year 3145.
13) “The Final Command (Show No Mercy)
This track is filled with the vocal equivalent of basketball players doing vertical jump drills until their knees give out. I absolutely worship the way the register in Araya’s voice rockets up at the end of certain lines. Fun fact: stockbrokers and shareholders love "The Final Command" as well because it reminds them of how the trajectory of the New York Stock Exchange graphic shoots up when corporations announce mass layoffs and shit-tons of overseas outsourcing.
12) “Chemical Warfare” (Haunting the Chapel)
“…Sleeping souls liiiieeee!” Not for long, once they wrap their ears around this bit of power screech.
11) “Crypts of Eternity” (Hell Awaits)
He does this killer bit at around 4:48, making it seem like coming out of a bridge could be a valid means of satisfying psychological catharsis. Fuck your textbook versions of primal scream therapy; Slayer is all that you need.
10) “Evil Has No Boundaries (Show No Mercy)
I’ve always loved how the first thing to come tumbling out of Araya’s gullet on the band’s full-length is a high-pitched yawp par excellence that masterfully layers and even out-wails the accompanying screaming guitar. If this isn’t a kick-in-the-door masquerading as an announcement/introduction, I don’t know what is.
9) “Post Mortem” (Reign in Blood)
“Await the final caaalllll”! Fuck, do that again and I’ll wait around all day, or at least for the half hour it takes to spin Reign in Blood to get back to hearing this vicious wail once again.
8) “The Antichrist” (Show No Mercy)
“Tortuuure is what I love!” Me too, my friend. Me too.
7) “Metal Storm/Face the Slayer” (Show No Mercy)
The fucking haul he takes off his vocal chords at the 3:00 mark is stratosphere-tickling and once again Araya’s voice competes with – if not, outdoes – the screechy guitar solo that follows.
6) “Black Magic” (Show No Mercy)
At the 2:20 mark, he hammers out a vintage bit of caterwauling gymnastics with “crying in luuuuuuuust.’ Why so? Well, not only is the scream nice and lengthy, but the range over the course of his bellowing is almost operatic as he goes from balls-in-a-vice-grip highs to a phlegm-y, demonic denouement by the time “lust” is rolling off the tongue and over the teeth.
View Tom Araya's top 5 screams on the next page…