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Entry Level: Karl Willetts’s Traded Slayer Tapes

Picture by Vivien Varga
Picture by Vivien Varga

Entry Level is a new series where musicians re-examine the records that piqued their interests in heavy and loud music as children and young adults.

It is hard to pick one specific album — we are talking over 30 years ago here, and the memories are distant and dust-laden. However, I think it would be safe to say there have been a few defining moments of musical inspiration throughout my life, and it would be fitting at this point to pay tribute to the one and only mighty Slayer.

Just last week, Slayer announced that they would be splitting up — a justified decision. In my opinion, the band was never the same after Dave Lombardo left and Jeff Hanneman passed away. But, not to dwell on that, I would like to cast my mind back to 1986, when I was 20 years old. This was the year when Reign in Blood was unleashed upon mankind.

Up to this point, I was firmly entrenched within the UK hardcore/Anarcho punk crustcore scene, listening and being inspired by the bands that regularly played at the legendary Mermaid and the Digbeth Civic Hall, not too far from where I lived. Bands such as Crass, Discharge, Antisect, Amebix, and Axegrinder played regularly, most often with local stalwarts of the scene and Napalm Death supporting them. This was the music I loved — it was my music, and the music through which I developed my own sense of identity. This music belonged to me. It was new, it was different; it was mine.

It was around this time that the tape-trading scene was developing through meeting people at gigs and exchanging addresses and sharing a common interest in music. The magazines that developed as a result of the emerging scene also played a very important part in its growth, and through the process of tape trading with friends and reading magazines, you became aware of other styles of music that were emerging around the world.

It was an exciting time to live in, pre-Internet, pre-social media – you went and found the bands that you liked and they found you!

I had heard bands like Black Sabbath — coming from Birmingham, it’s hard not to! — and had always liked the heaviness of their sound, but I never really considered myself a fan of Heavy Metal — never really understood or got into the likes of Judas Priest or Iron Maiden — it just all sounded a little too pompous and pretentious… but I was aware of a new breed of aggressive-sounding metal introduced to me when I heard Venom for the first time, around this time. It was around this time that I heard the early Metallica demos from 1982.

My sphere of musical taste was beginning to grow wider.

So it was at this point I discovered a whole new world of music from across the globe that played with the same aggressive spirit and ethos as the music that I loved but with a distinctly different sound – the sound of Metal. I heard of bands from mainland Europe (we here in the UK area small island!) such as Hellhammer, along with bands from across the pond such as Anthrax and Metallica… and, of course, Slayer.

October 1986: I didn’t really have many records at that stage of my life – just a huge pile of cassette tapes traded and recorded off my friend’s records. So I decided it was time to start a collection.

I didn’t have much money either being unemployed and kind of unemployable… so I saved up some cash and put it with some money I had received for my 20th birthday and went into Birmingham to the legendary independent record store Reddington’s Rare Records to see what they had.

Slayer had just that week released the album Reign in Blood. I had heard the first two albums already, so I decided to buy all three: Show No Mercy, Hell Awaits and Reign in Blood.

I clearly remember the eager anticipation on the bus ride home looking at the album covers – I ran from the bus stop back to my home and proceeded to listen to the three albums (in order, of course) over and over again for the rest of that weekend, month, year! This was a defining moment in my sense of being – this was something new something radically different – this was to be my path my choice of music — a path which inadvertently has led me to who I am today, has helped me through the difficult times of my life (especially when my father died in 1987), and helped me celebrate the good times.

This music has provided the soundtrack to my life, and for that I am eternally grateful.

Karl Willetts currently fronts death metal supergroup Memoriam, previously handling vocal duties for the legendary Bolt Thrower. Memoriam’s upcoming album The Silent Vigil is out March 23rd on Nuclear Blast.

Follow Memoriam on Facebook and Bandcamp.

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