Slayer has been part of scenes like this before: thrashing guitars at high noon, facing a crowd of shaved heads and tattooed limbs as fans push violently forward, while security struggles (and fails) to shove them back. But here, the walls are lined with barbed wire and smoke fills the air, and men dressed in prison orange erupt to the frantic shouts of singer Tom Araya: “Arrogance, violence, world in disarray/Dealing with insanity every fuckin’ day!”
The guards are soon overwhelmed and flee, leaving prisoners to stomp and swirl around the band as it again plays a new song called “Repentless” — the title track of Slayer’s new album, due September 11th — in the yard for a large camera crew. It’s day two of a music-video shoot at the Sybil Brand Institute in Los Angeles, the old women’s jail where members of the Manson Family once resided, closed as an active jail since 1997 due to earthquake damage. The infamous hilltop facility is now frequently used as a prison location by filmmakers.
The forthcoming “Repentless” video will be an elaborate collision of heavy metal and violence directed by horror fanatic BJ McDonnell. “I’m probably the most excited I’ve been for a video that we’ve ever done,” says guitarist Kerry King, sporting a long, braided beard and wearing a black “Slayer Nation” T-shirt.
If today’s shoot is focused mainly on capturing Slayer’s performance amid a prison riot, the day before was all about carnage. With a cast that includes Danny Trejo (of Machete), Derek Mears (Friday the 13th) and Tony Moran (the original Halloween), gallons of blood and multiple severed body parts were spilled as prisoners went to war on guards and each other.
“What’s being filmed here is a story of something that becomes violent,” says drummer Paul Bostaph. “There’s no way to do it PG. It’s got to be done as close to reality as possible.”
Sitting by a row of windows in the jail’s empty visitor center is Araya, gray-bearded like Methuselah, wearing black and with long brown hair down his back. “We’re telling the story that we’ve always told about society and how humans treat each other,” he says. “It can get pretty violent. It can get pretty stupid. But that’s OK. That’s human nature.”
During multiple takes throughout the day, Slayer stand with their stacks of Marshall amps as a huge camera crane swings above. During one take, the director throws the devil’s horns in genuine excitement. “We had a burning building and barbed wire and Slayer. It was killer,” McDonnell says. “We love horror movies and we played for that and made it really gnarly and violent.”
Evidence of yesterday’s splatter mayhem could still be found scattered around the makeup and special-effects department inside the jail offices. Preparing to demonstrate one of his effects, Tony Gardener pours fake blood into a large syringe and says, “You can’t have a prison riot without a lot of blood. With BJ, ‘a lot of blood’ means a lot of blood, and with Slayer, it means a lot of blood.”