No more headbanging for mortal Slayer frontman

Courtesy PhotoTom Araya

Courtesy PhotoTom Araya

Unsurprisingly, a new study has concluded that thrashing your skull in time to an average 145-beats-per-minute speed-metal song can potentially cause serious neck and head injuries, even whiplash or stroke.
Slayer frontman Tom Araya already received the bulletin, loud and clear.

“Headbanging is dangerous,” says the fearsome-voiced singer, who recently had to cancel dates to undergo emergency treatments for neck and back problems.

“It was all from the same thing — the posture that I took playing my bass onstage, leaning forward and putting a lot of pressure and weight to the front. All from 30 years of being in the same position, headbanging.”

Sure, it looked cool. The members of Slayer — who headline the Mayhem Festival at Shoreline Amphitheatre today — have furiously been whipping their hair back and forth, from their definitive 1986 masterpiece “Reign in Blood” to their equally-frenetic latest “World Painted Blood.” Their 10th outing features Araya’s trademark splatter-punk lyrics in “Snuff,” “Hate Worldwide” and “Public Display
of Dismemberment.”

But the Chilean-born artist is a family man now, and his health is of prime importance. “There’s a life expectancy, but it’s up to you to decide how long you want to live,” he says.

Pain is a great motivator. First came gall bladder surgery in 2006. Then, on a 2009 tour of Japan, Araya’s bandmates noticed him repeatedly rubbing his left elbow.

“My index, middle finger and thumb were all numb, and when doctors looked at the MRI they told me I had a pinched nerve in my neck, and they had to go in and space out my vertebrae again,” he says. They also informed him that the disc was abnormally protruding to the left, due to the neck-twisting pinwheels he had performed while leaning to the right.

After a second bulging lower-back disc, this patient is serious about his recovery. He no longer headbangs, and his brother has rigged a special weightlifter’s support belt for concerts: “It sits on my hips, and the bass sits right in front of me on a little hook, so there’s no weight on my shoulders,” he says. “And it helps to keep my lower back arched, which is the proper position for your spine.”

Slayer already has the music for nine new songs, and Araya — who pens lyrics last — says they will be more politically-oriented, reflecting today’s global financial meltdowns. “Unless I come across a really cool serial killer and write about him. Or her,” he says.

Araya, 51, hopes Slayer fans won’t miss his old hazardous antics. But you can’t play chess with Death forever. “I never once thought that I was immortal,” he says. “So you get older, become wiser and you just adapt.”

Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival
With Slayer, Slipknot, Motorhead, Anthrax, Asking Alexandria, As I Lay Dying, The Devil Wears Prada, White Chapel and High on Fire
Where: Shoreline Amphitheatre, 1 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View
When: 1:30 p.m. Sunday   Tickets: $31.50 to $69
Contact: (800) 745-3000, (650) 967-3000, www.livenation.com

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