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Songs about God and Satan Ė Part 1: An Interview with Slayer's Kerry King

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Monday, April 24, 2006 @ 8:35 PM


"Thatís just what we do. Some

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Slayer really needs no formal introduction. They have been the embodiment of uncompromising thrash metal brutality, rage and genuine evil for 25 years ó a band justifiably feared by parents, church officials and moral purists everywhere. And with their rampaging 1986 masterpiece Reign In Blood, perhaps the most vicious 28 minutes ever caught on tape, they set a standard no one else has been able to touch.

And unlike nearly all of their early-era contemporaries ó from Metallica and Anthrax to Megadeth and Exodus ó Slayer never strayed from their signature style and sound, which continues to influence other bands to this day: no rap-metal shenanigans, no frigginí horn sections and no bowing to mainstream convention. They may not have sold as many records as some, but Slayerís integrity has never been in question.

Today, Slayer remain one of the consummate and most formidable live acts in any form of music. Up-and-coming underground bands ó from Machine Head and Testament way back when to Arch Enemy and Mastadon ó look at playing with Slayer as a rite of passage. Survive a Slayer tour ó and the derisive "Slay-er! Slay-er! Slay-er!" chant from the bandís always ravenous, unforgiving audience ó and you can survive anything.

With prodigal drummer Dave Lombardo back in the fold, the original Slayer line-up that debuted with 1983ís Show No Mercy with frontman/bassist Tom Araya and guitar tandem Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman are now finishing up work on their first studio album together since 1990ís Seasons In The Abyss and preparing to headline the first Unholy Alliance Tour of the U.S., which kicks off, fittingly, on 6/6/06 in San Diego.

On the phone from said studio, the typically terse King spoke about what it was like to work with the enigmatic Lombardo again, what can be expected from the new album and whether God really does hate us all.

KNAC.COM: I read this morning that youíd just finished the actual recording?

KING: Pretty much. Weíre probably 70-75 percent done. Most of the basic recordingís been finished, we just have to put the leads done, work out some of the lyrics and vocals and probably do a little fix-it work. Weíve done all the heavy lifting, I guess you could say.

KNAC.COM: Howís it gone so far?

KING: Pretty good. We usually come in pretty well prepared, and we know what we wanna do, which is make a Slayer album! So thereís not a lot of sitting around trying to figure out what the fuckí going on. We usually go in and just hammer it out. By the time itís mixed, weíll probably be looking about a two months on the studio, which is pretty quick in this day and age.

KNAC.COM: As opposed to Metallica, whoís probably going to be taking up a lot of [producer and label head] Rick Rubinís time over the next year or two.

KING: Thatís just a waste of time, (laughs). I donít know why anybody does that. I donít know how much of that kinda shit Rubin will put up with, but guess weíll see.

KNAC.COM: If that psychiatrist enters the picture again ...

KING: (Laughs) Thatís what rehearsals are for. You work out your shit there ó at least thatís what we do. Youíre already paying that monthly rent, why try to work it out in the studio when youíre paying by the day. They probably donít have to worry about shit like that, as many albums as they sell, but we do. Rubinís worked with some pretty "unique" personalities [Johnny Cash, Beastie Boys, Slipknot, Neil Diamond] over the years, so Iím sure heís up to the challenge, but heís probably gonna have his hands full with them.

KNAC.COM: Have you seen much of Rubin this time, has he had much to do with this album?

KING: I havenít seen Rick this entire time, and I donít expect to.

KNAC.COM: If heís going to be credited as "executive producer," what does that actually?

KING: For him it means, "I own the record company" (laughs). Itís been pretty much just us and Josh [Abraham], whoís really producing the album.

KNAC.COM: How have things gone with him?

KING: It sounds really good. Josh says itís one of the best sounding albumís heís ever done. At the end of the day thatís probably 75 percent what we bring into the studio and the other 25 percent is how he and the engineer get it from where itís making noise to where it sounds like Slayer. And that takes a lot of skill and technique as well. But weíre not trying anything fruity, it sounds like a damn Slayer record (laughs).

KNAC.COM: That was my next question. As far as the Slayer pantheon goes, would you say itís more like a God Hates Us All/Seasons kind of record or a South Of Heaven/Diabulos record?

KING: I think itís definitely got more God Hates flavor to it. But I said before we even started recording what I thought it was going to sound like, which was a mix between God Hates and Seasons, because this is the first time Daveís recorded with us since Seasons. And thatís probably right about where it is.

KNAC.COM: Whatís the big difference between recording with Paul [Bostaph] on drums and recording with Dave?

KING: With Dave, he was the one who was there in the beginning, he created this with us. And now that heís back, itís really cool. Heís still really into the music. It flows really good and when he goes into the recording you never know what heís gonna play. Weíll hear it and weíll be like "well goddamn! Daveís making shit up again" (Laughs).

KNAC.COM: Has his work with Apocalyptica and, especially, Fantomas had an effect, do you think?

KING: Probably, because heís dabbled in some things that we havenít. So it might bring a different flavor to something by him doing his own thing. It was probably in our best interest that we parted ways when we did, I know it was because we were ready to kill him at that time (laughs). Now that heís back everyone is over all the issues we had back then and itís the same band down the line. Weíve all grown up.

KNAC.COM: For a while there the drummer situation was like Spinal Tap.

KING: Yeah, except no one died (laughs). It did seem like that, because Dave left and came back, then left again. The Paul left and came back. But at least we had the stability of having two major drummers, instead of 15. Jon [Dette] was only on board for a little while before Paul came back and Tony [Scaglione] wasnít there for very long before Lombardo came back the first time.

KNAC.COM: The main songwriting duties seem to slingshot back and forth between you and Jeff. Is this more of a Jeff album, or a Kerry album?

KING: I think I did most of Divine, Jeff did most of Diabulos, I did most of God Hates and I think I did most of this one, too. But Tom and Jeff definitely wrote for this one too, just like with the others that I wrote the majority for.

KNAC.COM: How does that work, is it whoever comes up with the most stuff or the best stuff or is it just who is more inspired to write?

KING: Thatís probably it. Itís not who comes up with the most or the best because we pretty much write for the record. Thereís no extra songs this time. Iíve got ideas I havenít finished and Jeff and Tom have some ideas they havenít finished, but when we get one we feel is done, we just present it and start learning it. If a riff donít fly it gets taken out before anyone gets too attached to it (laughs).

Me and Jeff have been doing this for a long time and if he says that riffís not gonna be happening, nine times out of 10 weíll change it by the end of the week. Or if I think itís really gonna be cool, Iíll like wait, wait, wait, Iíve got some lyrics that really go with it, just bear me out, and usually he comes around. That happened a lot on the last album. So there is a lot of back and forth no matter whoís actually putting the songs together.

KNAC.COM: How many songs will be on the new album?

KING: As far as I know, thereís gonna be 11, because thatís how many we wrote. And thatís worldwide. Usually we have a couple leftover for the foreign markets, but this time I donít think weíre going to do anything extra, even cover songs, because weíve already torn down the drums, weíve changed studios, weíre working on stitching everything together, so weíd be hard pressed to do anything else.

KNAC.COM: Is there anything thatís dramatically different this time? Or, like you said before, does it just "sound like a Slayer record?

KING: Thatís pretty much it. Different ideas, different riffs, but the meatís still what you think of when you think of Slayer.

KNAC.COM: How about lyrically?

KING: Itís pretty much saying the same thing in a different way (laughs). Thatís just what we do. Some people would say a song or two sound like equals to "Disciple." Songs about God and Satan. Thatís what we write about.

I think probably the coolest angle is one Jeff did, Iím not sure if Tom helped him or not, but it was Jeffís idea, itís a song called "Jihad." Itís more from the other side, the other perspective, not our perspective, of whatís behind this war weíre in now. You see it through the eyes of "the enemy" and what they might be thinking.

KNAC.COM: Steve Earle did something like that about the American kid [John Walker Lindh] who joined the Taliban and was captured in Afghanistan, trying to see things through his eyes, and he got no end of shit for it.

KING: Iím sure we will, too. But itís just one song and itís the only one that really has to do with anything like that. No. 1, we donít want to dwell on it because every band on the planet already has. And No. 2, every other band on the planet came from a certain perspective and we had to come up with a different one, otherwise whatís the different. Weíre Slayer, we have to be different. So we said our piece and moved on.

Itís not like weíre trying to promote the other sideís perspective in the war, or their ideology, or whatever you want to call it, but Iím sure some people will see it that way.

KNAC.COM: Kinda like what happened with "Angel of Death" where people were branding you Nazi sympathizers.

KING: Yeah, that was blown out proportion. People thinking they know what it says without really reading it. And that will happen with every record for everybody, because people like to take an opinion without being informed about anything. Itís easier to just shoot your mouth off because the more noise you make the less basis in fact your argument has to be because people are too dumb to recognize the difference.

KNAC.COM: God Hates Us All came out on Sept. 11, 2001. What was your take on that, tragic irony or proof of the albumís title?

KING: My take on it was, "I told you so!" If there was ever any doubt, how could there be now. Everyone has tragedy and that was our first bit of tragedy on that scale in many, many years. If itís God, if itís Buddha, whoever the masses have as the basis of their faith, everybody has tragedy. If God is all knowing, if God is all good, then why doesnít God stop stuff like that?

KNAC.COM: Still, some of the lyrics, especially in "Disciple," "New Faith" and "God Send Death" are so eeriely prophetic, when you read Ďem now itís spooky.

KING: A lot of that kind of shit was going on before Sept. 11, obviously just nothing of scale. Fundamentalism, extremism, fanaticism, whatever you want to call it was on the rise all over the place, here too, and there were bombings and shit happening everywhere in the name of God, or Allah, or whatever deity people choose to bow down to. My point was religion, God, is the worldís great divider. It preaches love and peace, but it splits people up and sets them against each other, and I reject it all. Like I was saying then, "I got my own philosophy," which is to hate everyone equally.

When youíve got all these fanatics lining up in this corner and that thinking theyíre right and everyone else is wrong, somethingís gonna go down. Unfortunately for us, it went down here [on Sept. 11]. And I doubt weíve seen the last of it.

KNAC.COM: Comforting thought. Going back to "Jihad," is war a prevailing theme on the new album?

KING: To a certain extent. Tom wrote one about the after effects of war called "Eyes of the Insane." Iíve written one that at the moment is called "Flesh Storm." It starts out being about if youíre a soldier and what itís like to be in the midst of war, but then it changes to the mediaís perception of it and how the media sensationalizes everything. Itís kind of cool how it worked out.

KNAC.COM: How about some of the other material?

KING: I have one called "Supremist." Jeff did one called "Black Serenade." Thereís another one called "Consfearacy." Then thereís, letís see, "Cult," "Catalyst," "Catatonic" ó a lot of one-word titles (laughs). Thatís just about all of them. Itís a pretty good mix of fast, brutal stuff and slower, moodier stuff. Itís pretty intense.

KNAC.COM: This year is the 20th anniversary of Reign In Blood. You did a few "Raining Blood" shows on your last tour two years ago, will you do anything more, or is the celebration over?

KING: I would imagine we did it and itís time to move on, but never say never. I know Japan never saw it, South America and Australia never saw it. So you never know.

We only did a few of those shows. There was the one in Maine for the DVD, which was a one-off that was done a certain way that we didnít do when we did those shows on the Jagermeister tour. On the video, it was a different effect where we were literally doused by a bucket right before "Raining Blood," whereas during the tour it was more of a sprinkler system toward the end of the set, and the liquid had to be diluted so it was make through the system. It was better for us too, because that stuff on the DVD was thick like tar and really sticky. My guitar didnít like it, that was the last time I played it. Right after that, I gave it to the Hard Rock Cafe.

KNAC.COM: When you were recording the "classic" that Reign In Blood would become, did it feel any different than any of your other albums. Was there a certain magic there, or was it like any other Slayer album?

KING: Yeah, it was the same we feel every time. I wish there was more to it than that, I know it sounds boring. But thatís just how we work. With that one, that was the best songs we had. They were the 10, which is why it was so short. At that time, Rick told us if we had 10 songs we had an album, so thatís what we had.

It could be the same thing with this record. These are the songs, the best of the ideas we had. If this record, for some reason, turns into that, 20 years from now you can look back at this and hear us saying, "yeah, itís just the next record, dude." Thatís all there is to it.

KNAC.COM: That album seems to grow more revered as time goes on, itís quite a phenomenon.

KING: Itís fine by me, it means we must have done something good. I donít spend much of my life dissecting what people think about this or that, but it is pretty cool that something you did that long ago is still making such an impact. So good for us (laughs).

KNAC.COM: "Raining Blood" even ended up on a South Park episode a little while ago.

KING: Yeah. That was pretty funny. And Iím glad to know Matt and Trey are fans because I think their show is brilliant. Itís too bad the networkís been pussying out on them lately [with the Scientology and Prophet Muhammed episodes]. But it was good to see the song being put to good use, if we can horrify some hippies weíve done our job.

KNAC.COM: Like you were saying before, youíve been doing this quite awhile. Have you thought about how much longer you might want to carry this on, or will we be seeing your version of the Rolling Stones "Steel Wheels" tour when you guys are 60?

KING: I hope not. I donít see how this music would translate that late in the game because it is a workout. I donít want to come out on some reunion gig where weíre all lethargic and canít even headbang. Thatís part of seeing the show, not just listening to it, not just the lights and the backdrop, but the energy we all deliver on the stage. Thatís probably going to have the most bearing on when the band hangs it up, that or if for some reason it becomes unfun, and Iím hoping it stays fun forever.

It just depends how long everyone wants to do it. Weíve got this record pretty much in the bag, I could see us doing one more or maybe two at least. It kind of depends on the cycle, because we havenít done a record in five years. I donít want to do that again. Iíd like to have another in three, if we can pull it off. But if we keep getting offered tours, it might take that long.

For us, when we go on tour, we drop any new stuff weíre doing to concentrate on the live show. And the types of tours weíve been doing have been frequent enough, but sporadic enough that is becomes difficult to get much done on new material. Weíre always coming up with ideas, I have a lot of ideas that are left over from this record, but we really need to stop completely from touring to be able to work them into songs.

KNAC.COM: Do you have anything special planned for your Unholy Alliance tour? Is it going to be a big production because itís playing bigger places?

KING: Weíre trying to figure all that out now. Weíve been so focused on the record that we havenít talked that much about the tour. So I donít know what weíre going to do, but it starts in two months, so weíre gonna have to throw something together pretty quick (laughs).

KNAC.COM: You could always do a Gwar take on your Reign In Blood shows and spray the audience with blood instead of you, or something.

KING: You know, someone already brought that up (laughs). But the problem with anything like that is you always get some clown whoíll complain about his faggoty T-shirt getting messed up, and the less we have to deal with lawyers the better. We get in enough trouble as it is.

In Part 2, frontman Tom Araya offers his take on Slayerís latest chapter, how many chapters he thinks Slayer has left to write and how sometimes the band really does do it for the money. Read it here


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