Meet the Man Who Carved ‘Slayer’ Into His Flesh
In 1994, Slayer were at a crossroads.
Over the last few years, they'd watched as the other three members of thrash's Big Four released new, very different albums: Anthrax replaced their singer and hired a grunge producer for Sound of White Noise; Megadeth focused on melody and “groove” to create Countdown to Extinction; and Metallica's Black Album saw the addition of cellos, a love ballad and a lullaby.
Not only were each of these naked lunges towards the mainstream by metal stalwarts, but all were massively successful. There would never be a better time for Slayer to take that next step.
But they didn't.
Nothing on Divine Intervention became a classic. The songs no longer make it onto the band's set lists, and haven't for around 15 years. There was no “Only” or “Symphony of Destruction” or “Enter Sandman.” But for fans of Slayer and extreme music, it showed that, faced with an easy path to mainstream viability, the band was willing to fail on its own terms. Instead of broadening their fanbase, they maintained the image that what they were doing was still not for public consumption.
And nothing spoke to that more than the image of the Slayer logo carved into some guy's forearms.
Various photos of the bloody arms outstretched over a sink appeared on the CD itself, under the tray, on the original vinyl and on tour merch, and in many ways helped solidify the band's mythology. While their contemporaries were trying to write Top 40 hits, this was a reinforcement of what made metal so appealing to so many: the spectacle, fearlessness and catharsis. And even now, when tattoos are ubiquitous and body modification rarely shocks, the image still retains its effect.
So, it was a surprise that tracking down the man himself was actually pretty difficult.
Although memes, stickers and a handmade yarn recreation are for sale on Etsy, there is very little information on Michael Meyer. Having a name similar to both a fictional serial killer and a famous comedian doesn't help with Google searches, but part of his reputation likely stems from his remaining somewhat anonymous. While you can see his face briefly during a video of the carving, Meyer's arms, in a way, stopped being his. They became a symbol of all true Slayer fans — the screaming, mutilated cult.
Now, at 45, Meyer doesn't speak like a fanatic. A father of two living in Long Beach, he doesn't spend very much time thinking about any influence the photo may have. He didn't know about the memes and doesn't parade his faded scars. He was pretty surprised that anyone would ever want to interview him. But he has no regrets about his decision. And when talking to him, you get the feeling that he'd be happy to do it again.
When did you first hear about Slayer?
Probably '85 or '86. They're from L.A., and they practiced around here somewhere. I didn't like metal because they wore more makeup than I was interested in. I was always into more hardcore punk. But then some harder bands start coming out, and Slayer was one of the first. It was kind of an organic thing. One band leads to the next leads to the next.
In the video, it doesn't even look like you have tattoos. Why did you decide to go straight into carving "Slayer"?
I was in a band called Wash. And instead of spending our time practicing, we spent our time making costumes and figuring out how to destroy the venues we were playing at. And the one thing we really liked to do when we went to shows was yell “Slayer!” really loud, and then we'd try to cause mayhem. Greg Abrams, who got me the gig, knew me because one of the first gigs my band played was in a house across the street from where he lived. He had seen what we did, so when they had the meeting about the Slayer arms, he told them, “Don't worry, I know the guy who'll do that.”
So, it wasn't your idea?
Yeah, they had a meeting at, I think it was called Def American at that point. They were talking about wanting to get someone to carve "Slayer" into their arms. And he went around to all the bars in Long Beach, and [at] about two in the morning, he found me stumbling out of the Reno Room. I just heard him yell, “Hey Mikey, you wanna carve 'Slayer' into your arms for one of their albums?” and I was like “Yeah, no problem. Just let me know when.”
Did you actually like Slayer that much?
I loved Slayer. “Raining Blood” is one of my favorite songs of all time. And when they released that video that starts with them carving my arms up [Live Intrusion, 1995], and it goes slo-mo with flames licking up and down on my arm, and then they play “Raining Blood,” I was like, “Oh yeah, that is awesome.”
Was there any drinking or drugs during the event?
We showed up with beer, and luckily, the guy who did the carving got a hold of me before, and said if I drank too much, my blood would get thin. So, he asked me not to drink. I actually thought that they wanted me to break a bottle open and cut Slayer into my arms myself, so when I found out that there was going to be someone to professionally do it, I thought, "Okay, that's cool. It'll look better."
In the video, one of your arms does look a little more ragged.
I think when you're going to basically scar someone with a scalpel, you may be a little tentative, because you don't know how someone is going to react. But it actually hurts less than tattoos. So, when he realized I was fine, on the second one he really went for it.
What was with the fire?
He told me that if I really wanted it to look good, he had to set it on fire. And I was okay with that. I didn't care. When you're young, you tend to not think about things, and I didn't really mind getting damaged. And it's not like I was working at a job where I had to wear a suit or worry about showing my forearms.
Had you been set on fire before?
I used to set myself on fire pretty often as a party trick. Once my friends were playing an outdoor festival, and I showed up in the guise of a clown by the name of Stupid the Clown. I did contortions and set myself on fire, and had a buddy of mine smash a cinder block on my stomach with a sledgehammer.
Have you ever met Slayer?
After the carving, they had a four-millionth album sale party at the Magic Castle. They invited me and as many people as I could fit in a car. So, I had a buddy with a Volkswagen van, and we went up. I took a Japanese guy who I'd never met because he lived for Slayer and his parents owned a sushi restaurant. I was told that if I brought him, he would feed me whenever I wanted.
So, we get up there and find out it's free drinks. The plan was to pound a couple beers and then pace ourselves. But I didn't know the Japanese guy had a thing with alcohol where after two beers he was wildly drunk, so we had a grand time. My friend started playing “Green Onions” by Booker T. & the M.G.'s, and me and the Japanese guy started breakdancing and pretty much scared everyone out of the room.
Then I was talking to Tabitha Soren from MTV News, and Tom Araya came up and grabbed the microphone from her. I started telling him about all the sex I'd been having with bag ladies in their shopping carts since I'd gotten the carvings. So, obviously, none of that made it onto MTV. Then I saw Kerry King and kept pestering the girl I brought to have sex with him, and kept telling Kerry to bang my friend, because I thought that was pretty cool. But neither of them were having any of it.
And you haven't seen any of them since?
Do you think you realize how iconic those photos are?
It's been amazing how many people I've met who have actually heard about it. For anybody who knows about Slayer, this can't be too shocking. When you go to Slayer shows, they love the band and go to extremes to enjoy it. I can see how the picture is more iconographic, because it does sum up what Slayer fans are like. But the fact that so many people know about it is kind of shocking. I just had a scalpel taken to me. I didn't have any skill. I'm just the set dressing on top. Most people my age don't go around saying, “Oh man, I need to find that Slayer guy.”
Have people ever noticed your Slayer arms and stopped you?
You can only really see them if you look for them. You'll notice my tattoos now before the scars. I think they should have poured sand or rock salt in them instead of setting them on fire. Something to really fuck it up.