Prologue. This was an interview Ørjan Wremer did in December 2015 with the guitarist of Slayer mr Kerry King. The interview was published in Norway Rock Magazine issue 1/2016.
Slayer – 30 years old and just as angry!
1981 will for some be the year when Norway beat England in football 2-1 at home, and Bjørge Lillelien went bananas into eternity and history books. Others will mention that it was the beginning of the Yuppie era, in that the Conservatives and Kåre Willoch for the first time gained power in the Norwegian Parliament, an earthquake in socialist Norway. In the US, Ronald Reagan becomes the 40th president and MTV airs for the first time with music videos 24 hours a day. For many, perhaps the most important thing that happens is that three new bands are formed; two in California and one in New York. These three bands will together form a new style of music, inspired by English hard rock and punk, thrash was born. Metallica, Anthrax and Slayer have together with Megadeth been described as the big 4 in thrash. With the exception of Megadeth, all were formed in 1981. In 1986, Metallica released “Master Of Puppets”, and Slayer released “Reign In Blood”. Both albums are today considered the pinnacle in thrash, and “Reign In Blood” is perhaps the biggest milestone of all metal albums throughout history. Metallica became bass less and then hyper commercial in the early 90’s, while Slayer continued its uncompromising journey into the deepest darkest hell for the next 30 years. It took over six years from the previous Slayer album “World Painted Blood” to “Repentless”, which was released in September 2015. During these six years, guitarist Jeff Hanneman was bitten by a spider, and he had to undergo several skin grafts on his arm and Slayer brought in substitute Gary Holt from Exodus. In April 2011, Hanneman plays guitar with Slayer for the last time, he barely manages to get through two songs at the end of the set, the last song Hanneman plays with his brothers in Slayer is “Angel Of Death”. It then takes over two years before Jeff Hanneman dies in 2013 of injuries the liver had suffered from excessive alcohol consumption over too many years. Just before this, original member and drummer Dave Lombardo is also fired after an argument over money and contracts, this is the third, and so far the last time Lombardo is out of Slayer. Lombardo was once again replaced by Paul Bostaph who had also played with Holt in Exodus. After 20 years at the record company American Recordings, Slayer signed with Nuclear Blast in 2014, and at the same time the bond with Rick Rubin was broken, a collaboration that began with “Reign In Blood”, and which ended in bitterness. Other bands had bowed and said thank you for less adversity, but not Kerry King and Slayer. Kerry King will forever be the boss of Slayer, he has ruled supreme since the band started in 1981, and is known for saying what he means without censorship. Norway Rock Magazine meets Kerry King before he goes on stage in front of a packed Sentrum Scene in Oslo.
– Has it been hard to stand on the mountain top like Slayer for the last six years?
– You would think so, especially after what happened from the previous album to this one. I was very ready to get people to shut the fuck up. We had plenty of time to work on the record. I started working focused right after Jeff was bitten by the spider, I worked more or less for four years with the record, maybe not every day, but almost all the time. I spent a lot of time on tour to change songs, make them better in my opinion, and writing lyrics on tour is also important to me.
– Is this a new chapter for Slayer?
– I have heard we’re now Slayer 2.0. I do not get offended when people say this. Both Tom and I feel that if one of us disappears from the band, it is over. When we still have me writing a lot of the music, and the voice that is Tom, then people will hear that “Repentless” works and that Slayer still delivers a product that the fans want.
– Many, including Tom Araya, expressed doubts after Jeff’s death in 2013, whether Slayer could continue, and that Gary Holt might not be accepted by the fans.
– I do not really understand that with Gary, because he had already played with us for 2 years. And he fits in as well with Slayer as Brian Johnson did with AC / DC. He was my first choice, and I’m glad I did not have to look any further. I know Tom had to get his head in the right place, he had to find out if he enjoyed touring and being in Slayer. That the fans still liked what we were doing, and that the pieces still fit together. It took him a while to figure this out. I had no problems with this process, I have no itching that needs to be scratched, if I make music it will sound like Slayer. If I had not made music with Slayer, it would still have sounded like Slayer, only with another vocalist. Therefore, it was natural to write more music for Slayer.
– Were you surprised that “Repentless” became as big a commercial success as it was?
– I was surprised, of course, at the success of «Repentless». Fewer and fewer albums are sold for each passing year, and the fact that our fans made the album top of the album charts shows that we still have a product that fans want. I had never thought this would happen. We were number 1 in Germany, and we were on stage in Germany when this was announced, and it was super cool. Nuclear Blast (Slayers record company) was all over the place celebrating. We came in at number 4 in the US, which is also the highest we have ever been on the album charts.
– Slayer has finally made a good music video for the song “Repentless”, you have not made many videos over the years?
– We have not done many, the last one we did was a fucking joke, a real piece of shit. We should have made the “Repentless” video 20 years ago. Now we have people who would like to help us, for free, just to be a part of Slayer. It was amazing to see so many people that I have admired being in the video. Danny Trejo who is a fucking legend and BJ McDonnell who directed and so on. We’ll probably make another video from “Repentless”, but I can’t say which song yet. It will be good!
– You are known for not putting anything in between when writing texts, the world is currently in a period where both religion and the environment threaten to wipe out our civilization. Is religion or the environment the biggest threat?
– Behind both of these problems is one thing, man, the virus. Maybe my next album will be called “The Virus”? The song “Implode” from “Repentless” touches on some of these things, I wrote the song after reading National Geographic, I read this much the same with football magazines. I read an article about fracking, about how they get oil with a technology that totally destroys the environment for everyone who lives in the areas where this is going on. Places that are not known for earthquakes, maybe they have had two in 100 years, now have 200 in six years. There’s a reason for all this, and that’s the humans of this planet. People who mess with the planet, in ways they shouldn’t. I do not get many ideas for songs from the news, but more from magazines and books that sneak into my cerebral cortex. And then I make songs from those impulses.
– What was it like working with producer Terry Date on “Repentless”?
– Fantastic! I had never met Terry, which seems strange since I knew his name from all the work he did with Pantera. The guys in Pantera are good friends of mine, but I had never met Terry before we sat down together to make plans for a new record. When his name came up, I knew he could make good metal music since he had made exactly that with Pantera. I’m not a producer nerd, but I knew he was good, even though it had been a long time since he had made my type of music. I did not know he had done Soundgarden and all the other bands. We had not made a record in six years, and I had not heard his name along with anything heavy in recent years. I think Terry made Slayer better, and Slayer made Terry better, no doubt.
– And he’s done Sir Mix-A-Lot!
– Wow, I did not know. It’s crazy, was it “Baby got back”? Hahaha, I’ll give him stick for that one! (By the way, it was “Swass” from 1988, Sir Mix-A-Lot’s debut album, without “Baby Got Back”).
– Slayer is perhaps best known as a band without much compromise, which has stuck to its genre without any particular changes in style or content for the past 35 years. The exception is perhaps “Diabolus In Musica” from 1998 where Slayer dabbled with nu metal. How have you managed to keep up the steam with uncompromising thrash over a period as long as 35 years?
– I’m not sure. I have an insanely high standard of what I expect from myself and everyone else around me. “Repentless” could have been a failure, but we did not allow it to happen through hard work. I was pretty sure that the record was as good as it could be, and when we released it, this was confirmed by the masses who bought the record. I’m a music fan myself, I’m lucky to have met most of my heroes. Some are friends, but I’m still a fan of their work, but if they release a bad record, the fan in me would still wish the band had released a better record. I think about it when I make a record myself, I do not want to disappoint myself or my fans with a bad product.
– Why do you think that fewer and fewer people buy complete albums, and instead only buy fragments of albums?
– Many bands nowadays do not make complete albums, they release twelve songs, and maybe only three of these you will listen to more than a couple of times. I could play all the Slayer songs live, I would never say that this song I cannot play from the Slayer catalog. Of course, we cannot do this, because there is so much of our history and our songs that might have alienated many of our fans. Unless in 10 years someone asks ‘Hey, can you not play the whole “Repentless” at a concert?’, I could probably do that, I like “Repentless” so much that I do not see any problem or challenges if this should appear sometime in the future. I liked “World Painted Blood” too, but I like “Repentless” even better.
– In 1990, the two biggest thrash bands in the world each made their own album. Slayer released “Seasons In The Abyss”, produced by Rick Rubin, which sold gold in both the United States and England. Billboard had the record in 40th place, and everyone should be happy. Had it not been for the fact that a couple of months earlier Metallica and Bob Rock released “The Black Album” a record that was to become a mastodon and a mill wheel in the years that followed for Metallica. Have you ever wished it was Slayer, not Metallica, who made “The Black Album”?
– I love “The Black Album” by Metallica, it’s a superheavy record. They get a lot of pepper for that record, and it’s not the record they should get pepper for, you can pick out almost all albums after that record, and then it’s justified with shit throwing all over those albums. We could never have done a “Black Album”, I think I would be bored, and I do not think I could have written twelve heavy songs, I need to break things up with thrash and punk. There would be too many aspects to the way Slayer does things that I would have missed. The first song I wrote for “Repentless”, not what is the first song now, I deliberately did not do it as fast as the other songs. And that song did not end up on the record in the end. Maybe it ends up on the next album, we already have 6-7 songs ready for the next album. If we do not change those songs, then they are done. We have never been so forward in relation to a new record. If I manage to stay focused, keep writing songs, and if Tom feels like it, it will not take six years, but maybe only two or three years before a new Slayer album arrives. I would like to give people a good right / left fist in a short time, something we have not done in a long time. Six years between albums is way too long.
– Age is beginning to apply to many of our generation’s big metal bands. You have turned 50 yourself, and Kirk Hammett of Metallica has said that he will continue until he is 70 years old. How do you see the future, and your own age, in a band that is not exactly known for being cast in stone on stage?
– If I can, then I would definitely love to be able to stand on stage when I’m 70 and play Slayer songs. When I see my heroes today, and they do not do as good a show as they did 20 years ago, I start thinking about my own musical mortality. A Slayer show has always been something not to be missed, an event. With Black Sabbath, you know that Tony Iommi will be in the same place as usual, without moving as much. And that’s fine, because that’s what he’s always done. It is no different than 35 years ago. If our concerts stop being something you cannot miss, if I stop moving, then it is not the same. Tom has stopped moving so much, but it happened after the operation he had in 2010 (Tom Araya had a titanium plate operated on his neck after years of headbanging and windmills, so he can no longer do this). Gary, Paul and I are now moving a little extra, since Tom has become more stationary in recent years. When the time comes that I’m not as good as I could have been, if I think this could have been better, is it still an event? Then I would think about it, and maybe said that enough is enough. It’s probably selfish to think that way, because the fans will probably want us on stage anyway. It may be that we cannot headbang for 2 hours. A few years ago I had problems with my balance, and Tom had a new operation, then I actually had some of the best concert experiences I have ever had. Probably because I did not throw my head and body in all possible directions, it made my guitar playing more accurate. I would argue that Tom plays better bass and sings better than he has in many years, precisely because he is a little more stationary than before. If I had to stop headbanging, I would have been a little desperate, just as Tom was when he was back on stage after his operation. It took him a while to get the groove back. He had to reinvent himself in a way.
– This year it is 30 years since “Reign In Blood” came out, an album that still stands as a milestone for the whole metal world. 1986 was a crown year for the metal, do you think that something like this will ever happen again? Do you think there will be as many new bands and classic albums at once as there were in the 80’s, and that any will be as big as many of them became?
– What I have noticed, I do not follow other music genres much, but my opinion is that we lack guitar heroes, there are no new heroes. When I started, it was dozens, Blackmore, Schenker, Iommi and so on in my early teens. Then came Priest, Eddie Van Halen and Randy Rhoads of course. Before I started with my own music, there was something to strive for, you wanted to be like your heroes. There are so many bands now, and I’m not against roadies, there are so many bands now that look like a bunch of roadies on stage. There are no vibes, no identities, no faces, no stars sticking out in the crowd. And I think the music industry needs stars. Fewer people learn to play instruments, they are not inspired to learn, no stars leading the way. I’m still inspired by my friends, Zakk Wylde. I can look at and him and realize that I have to get better at my own guitar playing, he makes me have to stretch to get better, and that’s good. We were at a festival in South America, and I do not want to say which band was above us on the poster, but we sat backstage and watched the video transmission of the concert. I looked at him who played guitar, and I thought “I will never be like him”, they were the most androgynous, meaningless, guitar-playing anonymous fools. I just do not understand. I do not understand that anyone likes such bands, they give me nothing.
– What about bands like Ghost?
– I’m famous for talking about Ghost, so here you have to remember to quote me correctly, because no one ever does. At least Ghost has something about them, they have an image that I love. Musically, I’m not their biggest fan, but they’re cool as hell. I’ve said a million times, Ghost are buddies, they’re some of the nicest people you can meet. The image of the singer is something that takes your breath away, when you see pictures of them you think that this band must be cool. My old heroes Sherman and Denner from Mercyful Fate, they never became stars, but they had an image and they could play well, those records are still my favorites to this day.
– This year it is 35 years since Slayer originated as a band. What is the biggest difference between Slayer today and 35 years ago?
– Heck, I have not thought about that, I knew that “Reign In Blood” was 30 years old, but not that the band was 35. The biggest change is without a doubt the record industry. We were brilliantly happy the moment we could afford a tour bus and hotel room, then life was good. We have been at that level since 1986. It’s harder to tour these days, because we’ve been doing this for 35 years now, and you do not get younger. I’m more sore in my body now after a show than when I was 25, but that’s the way it is. I use the stage as a gym, I also occasionally train with elastic bands with resistance, when I have time. I try not to do this too close to the start of the concert. If I’m not trying to get some sleep then maybe I’m trying myself in the gym at the hotel, but I’m probably only managed that once so far on this tour. An hour and a half on stage almost every night is quite demanding.
– What are Slayer’s biggest challenges for the future?
– I do not know. We have answered our critics. The challenge is to keep up the intensity, make a couple of three more records, it depends on how Tom feels after this tour is over. I have no other agenda than to do this, to be in Slayer, and do as good a job as possible. I hope, as I said, that we can still be allowed to release 2-3 more albums before we might say thank you. It’s hard to say, I can only speak for myself, but I’m ready to headbang until I’m 60, hahaha!
First published in Norway Rock Magazine # 1/2016
Friday, December 4, 2015, Slayer live at Sentrum Scene, Oslo, Norway.
What do you expect before going to a Slayer concert? One expects a concert with 4-5 songs from the new album, a sledgehammer in the forehead for good measure and all the good songs about blood, gore, serial killers and general mischief. What do you get? 4-5 songs from the new album «Repentless», a sledgehammer in the forehead for almost 2 hours and all the good songs about blood, gore, serial killers, and general mischief. No big surprises in other words. A packed Sentrum Scene in Oslo is not looking for surprises, they are out on a Friday night to see what will forever be the best and most uncompromising metal band in world history. From the intro tape that is “Delusions of Savior” to “Repentless” and “Postmortem”, Slayer shows that they not only know how standards are met, they were the ones who designed standard, built it, put it in its place and showed everyone else how it should be used for all time to come. The mix of audiences is proof that Slayer has now been doing this for 35 years, there are 18-year-olds who go bananas, to 50-year-olds who go bananas as far as their bodies hold up in a moshpit you do not see so often at Sentrum Scene. Slayer are also not young anymore, but they still show a joy and intensity that bands half their age could learn a lot from. Santa Claus himself, Tom Araya, shows that he is the boss just by standing on the stage alone, smiling, and the audience goes off the hook. Gary Holt and Paul Bostaph have replaced original members, but they are now natural parts of the machinery that is Slayer. Holt works tirelessly on the left side of stage, and he has added a lot of energy to Slayer. Kerry King is, as always, the solid steady headbanging right side of the stage, the chieftain of thrash metal.
The last part of the concert is a pure “hit parade” with immortal classics such as “Seasons In the Abyss”, “Hell Awaits”, “Dead Skin Mask”, “World Painted Blood”, “South Of Heaven”, “Raining Blood” and which always ends that epic of songs «Angel Of Death». The song that defines an entire genre of music. Slayer always delivers the goods. The day they do not, Slayer will say thank you, the fans will bow deeply, and a chapter of the world’s music history will be over. Until then, all you have to do is enjoy yourself with the good guys in Slayer, and welcome the sledgehammer to the forehead with a smile every single time. 6/6
Coda: This was to be the last time I saw Slayer live; a little more than 2 years later in January 2018 it was announced that Slayer would embark on a final world tour that would end in their home town of Los Angeles on November 30th 2019. Slayer was wrapping up their career. They did not release any new albums before they said their final farewell, despite of Kerry Kings optimism in December 2015. Like he said in the interview, he did not want to continue if Tom Araya wanted to stop. And Tom wanted to stop due to neck issues, and the toll of touring the world. I missed the last concert in Norway due to circumstances, and I was sad to see the most influential and non-compromising metal bands in the history of the world say, “thank you and good night fuckers!” for the last time and lay down their instruments. They will reign forever supreme!