Slayer's Tom Araya

Bassist/singer Tom Araya has fronted speed-metal group Slayer for nearly 20 years.

Araya was born June 6, 1961, in Chile. He formed Slayer with guitarists Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman and drummer Dave Lombardo as a heavy-metal cover band in Los Angeles in 1982.

The band's first album appearance came a year later with the track "Aggressive Perfector" on Metal Blade Records' Metal Massacre III compilation. The foursome quickly garnered a reputation for pummeling metal riffs and menacing, satanic lyrics.

Slayer's debut LP, Show No Mercy (1983), showcased the band's aggressive speed metal on such cuts as "The Antichrist," "Black Magic" and "Evil Has No Boundaries." The band began whipping fans into a frenzy during concerts, sometimes with costly results. Property destruction in 1988 at New York's Felt Forum made headlines.

Hell Awaits (1985) was a concept album about torture that made the band infamous in the music industry and boosted its fanbase. For their next record, the band signed with Rick Rubin's Def Jam Records. On Reign in Blood (1986), Rubin added a sonic clarity to the band's typically muddled production. Still, there was controversy over the album's graphic lyrics. The track "Angel of Death" (RealAudio excerpt) was about infamous Nazi surgeon Joseph Mengele, who performed bizarre experiments on Jewish prisoners.

When Columbia Records, Def Jam's distributor, refused to release the album, the ensuing publicity generated yet more interest in Slayer. The critically acclaimed album was picked up by Geffen Records and became the group's first to make the Billboard 200 albums chart.

The band's next record, South of Heaven, began its exploration of less extreme subject matter, while the title cut of Seasons in the Abyss (1990) became a favorite of MTV's "Headbangers Ball." (Sonicnet.com's parent company, Viacom, also owns MTV.)

By the time 1994's Divine Intervention was released, Slayer were recognized as key players in the heavy-metal sphere. Divine Intervention was critically and commercially hailed, peaking at #8 in the U.S., where it reached gold status, and hitting #15 in the UK.

The band's punk-infused Undisputed Attitude (1996) consisted mostly of covers. Diabolus in Musica, featuring "Love to Hate" (RealAudio excerpt) and the Araya co-written "Desire," followed in 1998. The band is now touring Europe.

Other birthdays Tuesday: Gary U.S. Bonds, 61; Laudir DeOliveira (Chicago), 60; Chris Isaak, 44; Dee C. Lee (Style Council), 39; and Clarence White (Byrds), 1944–1973.