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Josh Rothstein
Slayer: Dave Lombardo, left, Jeff Hanneman, Tom Araya and Kerry King

Five years ago, the members of Slayer, a pioneer among thrash-metal bands, were notified that their song "Disciple" was nominated for a Grammy Award for best metal performance.

Last August, the band found out that its new song "Eyes of the Insane" has been nominated for another Grammy in the same category.

Lightning can strike twice.

"It's pretty cool if you ask me," bassist/vocalist Tom Araya said by phone from his home in Texas. "For us to have two Grammy noms consecutively is great."

Araya said he felt he was compelled to write the song "Eyes of the Insane." "I just remembering seeing an article in a magazine about a soldier in Iraq who committed suicide four days before he came home. I bought the magazine and read it on the plane during a tour a few years ago. I got to the hotel and read it again. And all that night I couldn't sleep. So I started writing things down.

"Guitarist Jeff Hanneman (who trades leads with the band's other guitarist Kerry King) was reading a book about World War II vets coming home with eyes that looked as if they had gone insane. That's where I got the song's title."

Slayer has always been a band to connect with its fans. Last November, it was on a European tour and was asked to visit the 52nd Services Squadron on a military base in Germany. "It was cool," said Araya. "There were families, or fathers with children, or mothers with children and couples and civilians who we met. We toured the base and were involved in a drill. They were so appreciative of us and we of them. It was amazing to have this little piece of America in Germany."

The new album, titled "Christ Illusion," also marks the return of original drummer Dave Lombardo, who left in 1995. "Dave told us that he was available to help us out on a tour we were doing," said Araya. "He was like a fill-in drummer. Then he found out that we were planning to make a new album and he was available.

"It was pretty much a no-brainer once we thought about it," said Araya with a laugh. "So that's how he wormed his way back into the band."

Not only was Lombardo back in the fold, but artist Larry Carroll, who designed the album covers of Slayer's classic "Reign in Blood," "South of Heaven" and "Seasons in the Abyss" was called upon to design the new album cover.

True to Slayer form, the cover is gritty and grizzly, causing the city of Fullerton, Calif., to pull photos off of bus-bench ads.

But, as Araya said, Slayer has always been plagued with controversy. Band members have been accused of satanism, racism and enticing fans to violence and suicide. But they've said they are not satanists, racist or riot-mongers, although the lyrics to some of their songs do explicitly depict war, terrorism and serial killings.

For the record, King, Hanneman and Lombardo are atheists and Araya was raised Catholic. And both Araya and Lombardo are of Hispanic descent.

"What people say about us doesn't bother us," said Araya. "I mean it's a free country. People can say anything they want about us — as long as they aren't beating me with a baseball bat or shooting at us. We just make music that we like to make. If they don't like it, they don't have to play it."

BUZ McGRATH, the guitarist for the band Unearth, said it's a dream come true for his band to be on this tour with Slayer.

"I never thought this would happen," McGrath said by phone from Boston, Mass. "I can check this off the 'to-do' list."

Unearth — composed of McGrath, vocalist Trevor Phipps, guitarist Ken Susi, bassist John "Slo" Maggard and drummer Mike Justian — has gained fans in the Slayer camp. After releasing two studio albums and an extended-play and a compilation, the band co-headlined last year's Ozzfest and worked with producer Terry Date on a new album, "III: In the Eyes of Fire."

"Terry worked on the Pantera albums," said McGrath. "And if someone told me that I'd be working with Terry Date, I would have thought they were on crack."

McGrath said he was looking forward to the tour with Slayer, regardless of the stories he has heard about opening for Slayer. "The band is so cool. They asked us to be on the tour. I know Slayer fans have a reputation of showing their disdain for opening bands, but it's good to know we have Slayer in our corner.

"We'll just go out and play as hard as we can. That's one of the rewards of doing what I'm doing. We get to play onstage. And we get to see fans get into the aggression and enjoy our music."

If you go

What: Slayer, Unearth

Where: The Great Saltair, 12408 W. Salt Air Drive

When: Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.

How much: $32.50

Phone: 467-8499 or 800-888-8499

E-mail: [email protected]