‘Slayer Is Damn American’ – A Marine Explains the Military’s Love for Slayer
By Richard Bienstock
“We try to give our audience of a little bit of home,” says Angel Orozco of the American Forces Network, the radio and television network that broadcasts to U.S. soldiers, wherever they are stationed. “And for some people, home is a mosh pit.” Which is why Orozco, a former enlisted Marine who has been with AFN since 2009, makes sure a hefty dose of his favorite band, Slayer, is part of the listening regimen for military men and women tuning in around the globe.
“We entertain the troops that are serving overseas,” he explains. “We’re in 170-plus countries, and all the ships at sea can get American Forces radio services. And we have a number of radio services, with stations ranging from pop and classic hits to classic rock and talk radio. Right now, our alternative station is the channel I use to create more ‘edgy’ music specials.”
Those edgy music specials include productions such as an exclusive interview with Slayer’s Kerry King, who in 2010 chatted with Orozco while he spun the band’s then-new album, World Painted Blood, in full. “Kerry came into our studios in Riverside [California] and talked with me for a couple hours, and we were able to broadcast that to our troops overseas,” Orozco recalls. “It was such a great experience because I wanted to repay everything that Slayer had done for me, and also maybe introduce young troops to the band the same way I had been introduced to them decades earlier when I first joined the military."
Orozco wasn’t familiar with the band, prior to enlisting in the service in the early '90s. “I’m a Mexican-American guy from Whittier, California,” he says. “Back when I was growing up it was a lot of Chicanos listening to their parents’ oldies music. That’s what I knew.”
But then he joined the military. “I came into this huge melting pot of people. I was stationed in Okinawa [Japan] and I had a roommate, somebody I had never met before. It was 1992, and Seasons in the Abyss hadn’t come out too much before. And my roommate’s alarm clock music was ‘War Ensemble.’” Orozco laughs. “I would hear that every morning. That’s how I got introduced to Slayer.”
But in the military, Slayer is more than just morning music. “When you’re in the Marine Corps there’s a lot of energy. And weekends in the barracks will get pretty rowdy and pretty loud, especially after a Slayer album just drops.” And the Slayer love extended far beyond his barracks. “It felt like everywhere I went I would run into all these Slayer-loving Marines. The band was pretty much the soundtrack to my time in the Corps.”
Soon after Orozco began working for American Forces Radio, he landed the interview with King. In addition to getting to meet one of his heroes, he was also impressed by the guitarist’s connection to the military, as well as his knowledge of what Slayer’s music means to armed servicemen and women.
“He talked about how, at shows, all these military guys would come up to him and tell him how Slayer has gotten them through tough times,” Orozco recalls of King. “There’s a lot of mental stress in the military. Times are crazy, and almost all these servicemen and women have been in combat zones. So for them to be able to have Slayer’s music as a release from all of it, I know Kerry was taken aback to hear that and was really appreciative that people would share their stories with him.”
As for what he believes to be Slayer’s appeal to military men and women, beyond the obvious intensity of the music? “Slayer is damn American,” Orozco says. “These guys, they’re kind of us.” There’s also the fact that the band doesn’t shy away from writing about war and the plight of soldiers, whether it’s the aforementioned “War Ensemble” or something like “Eyes of the Insane,” from 2006’s Christ Illusion. “Slayer makes that connection,” Orozco says. “It’s like it’s hand-written for us. And I think that goes a long way when somebody can speak on your level and from that human-nature side of reality. Life isn’t about Maybachs and diamond rings for military people. These are young men and women who are just starting their lives and have thrust themselves into the defense of this country. And for a band like Slayer to support that and try to relate to what they’re going through…it’s an amazing thing that hits at the core of U.S. military men and women.”
It’s also something that connects with new generations of servicemen and women. “I find that Slayer is just as popular with the military youth now as when I was in the Marines twenty-one years ago,” Orozco says. “There are some bands that just don’t go away—even if they retire. I know the type of people that join the military, and ten and twenty years from now, they’ll be jamming out to Slayer in the barracks, even if they aren’t born yet. It’s just part of the DNA of young warfighters to go toward music that fires them up. And that’s exactly what Slayer did for me and my friends. So I’m trying to make sure people still have that outlet. As long as I’m at AFN I’m going to work to keep people informed and entertained by Slayer.”
As for Orozco himself, he’s been to multiple Slayer shows at this point and has big plans for their final tour. “I’m still in contact with fifty of my former Marines, and we’re planning to go to shows all over,” he says. “There’s a connection between us all that just sticks. For any of us, when we hear a particular Slayer song, we go, ‘Oh, man, this reminds me of the time when I was serving over here or over there…’"
Finally, does he have a favorite Slayer song?
He laughs. “Of course I do: ‘Angel of Death.’ I mean, my name is Angel Orozco. So how cool is that?”
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