Slayer Reflects on Low Mayhem Festival Attendance, King Diamond, & Jeff Hanneman's Passing

Andrew Stewart
Slayer's Tom Araya, Gary Holt, Paul Bostaph and Kerry King photographed in 2015.

For 34 years, thrash titans Slayer have performed for familiar crowds of devoted headbangers and this summer’s Rockstar Energy Mayhem Festival was no different -- except that attendance for more than a few dates (including the Aug. 5 stop in Holmdel, New Jersey) was shockingly low. Rumors of its demise now persist, partly fueled by a Facebook post from fest co-founder John Reese. (A rep for Mayhem told Billboard, "John Reese said what he said on Facebook -- who knows what the future holds.")

Slayer singer Tom Araya shrugs off the suggestion that the band was playing to a smaller audience. “We have a fanbase of about five or six thousand at every place we play, so the crowd that we have for Mayhem is about what we would draw if we were doing our own tour," he tells Billboard. Besides, he adds, "Everybody seems to be having a good time.”

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Among the revelers: Slayer's own band members, who took the opportunity to sample other acts on the bill. “The Devil Wears Prada is not something I would listen to, but my daughter’s a big fan of that music," says Araya. "Hellyeah, who we've toured with, they’ve been at it for a while so they’re kicking it through.”

Most notably for Araya and for his following of metalheads, Mercyful Fate’s King Diamond joined the main stage this time around.

“When we started as a band, we knew King Diamond as Mercyful Fate and I was a big Mercyful Fate fan, I love their first two albums," Araya says. "I like him [Kim Petersen]. He’s different, but he’s also part of the scene that we were part of, so we were the ones that chose King Diamond [figuring] it would be a great bill.”

While excited to be on tour with Diamond, the band is still adjusting to Mayhem without founding guitarist Jeff Hanneman, who passed two years ago from alcohol-related cirrhosis of the liver. Former Exodus guitarist Gary Holt began as a touring guitarist while Hanneman was ill, and stepped in as a permanent member following Hanneman's death.

“Gary’s been filling in now for five or six years and he’s made the transition, for me, easier. It wasn’t an easy decision to make but I was able to make a decision because of Gary. He’s an amazing guitar player and he’s doing an awesome job. Plus, he’s a really good guy. It’s good to have someone like him around, so I’m glad he is.”