An Interview with Kerry King, Founder, Lead Guitarist, and All-Around Headbanger
by David Lee Beowulf
Slayer, certainly not the most controversial band in heavy metal (though maybe they should be), have released a new album, God Hates Us All, and along with it, they're on tour for the next several months. I call attention to the potential for controversy because Slayer, by their music alone, has grasped the attention of, oh, lets just call them "concerned parents organizations." Regarding their music, Slayer is certainly one of the top ten most important, and best heavy metal bands in the history of metal. They've earned their spot through releasing excellent albums, their longevity, endurance (as a band), and their dedication to exceptional showmanship.
Friday, 16 November 2001, Slayer graced the stage of Roseland Ballroom in New York City, a 3,000+ venue where I caught the show. Now I've seen Slayer numerous times over the years, and I mostly I can report that they play a solid hour-long or more set (their set at Ozzfest a couple of years ago was shorter, but no less brutal). They're there to play and bang their heads. The audience is their to hear Slayer, and in the words of bassist/frontman Tom Araya last week, "to do what you're going to do." This was during an unplanned break in the set, mind you. This is the second unplanned break I've witnessed at a Slayer show. The first is recorded on their double-live album, Decade Of Aggression. I can honestly say I thought I was going to get killed at that show, it being the Clash of the Titans tour date in Lakeland, Florida (Alice In Chains opened and were promptly booed off the stage; Slayer come on next, then half the crowd left, then came Anthrax - still with Joey and Dan, then Megadeth). I thought I was going to get killed because I saw people in the pit (where I was, with the Druid) go down and not get picked up. Everyone knows that when you're playing metal buck-buck people will hit the floor, sure, but it's an unwritten commandment that you pick up your fallen comrade, no? Apparently no one had ever hipped the folks in Lakeland to this... Anyway, the band sees this happen and breaks the set (I think it's on the first disc, between "The Anti-Christ" and "War Ensemble"), and Tom Araya says, "hey, we're here to help each other out, if you see someone go down, help him up" or something like that (I don't feel like putting the album on just now, so I'm doing it from memory - dude, I was there!).
So let's skip up ten years later to last Friday. There's a problem: there's something seriously wrong with the sound. It's terrible! I mean, there's crackling feedback coming out of the main speakers, you can't hear the singing, it's all fuzzy! In short, right away, the sound sucked. It sucked so much that after two and half songs the band stopped because the crowds chants of "bullshit! Bullshit!" drowned out the music!
I figured there would be a riot, I really did. That's twice I thought I'd get killed at a Slayer show. So OK, the band realized that something was seriously wrong and stopped. The lights, however, didn't go up. Apparently, according to Tom Araya, some "dumbfuck" threw a beer on the sound console. But, and here's where my helmet is off to the band's show acumen, Tom said "be patient, we're not going anywhere. We're going to get this fixed and we'll play the show." Not bad. Everyone waited, something like forty minutes - aieee! - and yep, the band came out and played a raging set including such timely hits as "Chemical Warfare," "Show No Mercy," "Die By the Sword," "War Ensemble," "God Send Death," "Hear Comes the Pain," "Mandatory Suicide," and the Slayer staples "Hell Awaits," "South Of Heaven," and "Angel Of Death." The show was sold out, of course, and the floor was a living, moshing organism. In short, an excellent show. Bravo.
Slayer's music is fast, yet some of the songs hint at the old school metal blues of Black Sabbath, melodic yet brutal, extreme yet you can distinguish the instruments from a wall of metal noise. This is perhaps why Slayer genuinely appeals across the broad spectrum of metal fans, from lovers of power metal to the most extreme, brutal hardcore metal there is. (In past interviews, the band has cited Paul Revere and the Raiders as an influence, so... - he told me and the Druid this, really!)
On the non-musical side of things, Slayer has "survived" being mentioned, albeit less prominently than W.A.S.P., in Tipper Gore's book Raising PG Kids in and X-Rated Society. They've also survived a tour "expose" by disgraced radio "evangelist" Bob Larson, who wrote extensively about Slayer in his book Satanism. Their album titles include Hell Awaits, South Of Heaven, and Haunting The Chapel. There's a theme somewhere amongst those titles, eh? I don't think, however, that I've heard of Slayer confronting their detractors has this cost them popularity, as there's no such thing as bad press? I don't think so at all, their albums sell and they pack the houses, as they have since the early-1980's. They're as loyal to their fans as their fans are to them. Besides, they got a spot on the Jon Stewart Show on TV several years ago...
I spoke with founder and lead guitarist Kerry King, a man with a long history in metal, on Monday the twelfth of November, a few hours after an airplane exploded twenty miles east of me and rained death once again on New York City. Years ago, Kerry King could be seen in the better metal mags wearing spiked leather, sporting a thick mane of headbanging hair, along with thick rings of black greasepaint under each eye. These days, that head shines and the armor has been replaced by thick cables of muscle, sleeved in tattoos. The band's undergone one member replacement, drummer Dave Lombardo left to pursue a career in classical music, allowing Paul Bostaph - ex-Forbidden- to take over (he's excellent). Guitarist Jeff Hanneman still wears his hair in a shocking platinum mane, and let me say this: Slayer owns in-sync headbanging. It's worth the price of admission just to see a choreographed Slayer performance!
What made you decide to cut your hair?
'Coz I show my 'tats off a lot better!
Excellent answer! Do you still don the original Slayer armor? That is, the leather, spikes, and other aggressive clothing?
It's pretty gaudy!
Is it harder to play with it on?
I still bring out the nails sometimes... I only wear 'em for like one song 'coz we play a whole lot harder stuff than we did back then. It's not easy!
When you say "harder stuff," what do you mean? I want to talk about the new album, but just in general, you're saying "harder stuff" meaning: is what you're putting out now harder than what you did ten years ago or fifteen years ago?
There are more intricacies, maybe. We open with "Disciple," and I wouldn't want to really wear the nails for that song!
I considered the new album, God Hates Us All, a more primitive Slayer, a lot harder, a lot more slamming than "Angel Of Death" kind of Slayer, a totally different kind of Slayer sound. More industrial, like a Slayer album that was recorded in side a steel mill, or inspiration came from the steel making industry.
Cool! We just went in the studio and went for it!
How long did it take and what did it take for you to put together the new record?
We worked on it off and on for probably a couple of years because we'd start and then a tour would come up that we'd have to do. Then we'd work on it again, then we'd have a soundtrack [Dracula 2000, the song "Bloodline" is on the new album] we'd have to do. Then we'd work on it and tour again.
It has been a long time since a new Slayer studio album came out...
Actually, it's quicker than the gap between the last one! [Diabolis In Musica] It was three years, but...
Well, that's long for Slayer fans.
Yeah, but they have no idea how much we toured.
But then again, a Slayer album is not something that should be thrown together in haste.
I think there's a big quality issue. It'd be easier to put out records quicker, but we're really particular about the music we put out.
How much of the writing did you yourself do, lyrics and music?
Quite a bit.
OK, then, please elaborate on the title of the new album, God Hates Us All.
We didn't really have a title in the beginning. Pantera were in town when we were recording, this was before we toured with them last summer, and if they're anywhere near me I'll go check them out; they're really good friends of mine. I played the songs for Pantera, and they were like, "man, God Hates Us All would be a great shirt!" And I was like, "that would be a great title for the record!" It's the first chorus of the first real song on the album ["Disciple"], so it fell together really well.
Did you have any spiritual convictions regarding the title?
No. I think it's the kind of title that people can make what they want of it. From anyone saying, "ahh, my mom died today, I got in a car wreck, God really fuckin' hates me today." People can apply it to everyday life.
Do you think that it's an appropriate Slayer-type title?
I think it's an awesome traditional Slayer-type title!
Do you run into any trouble at all with stores as far as selling your records is concerned?
I don't know. I don't concern myself with that because, ideally, that's what the management is for. But if we're too heavy for Wal-Mart, then they'll be for sale down the street somewhere else.
It's definitely an intro...
It's an intro for the record, an intro for us live, we haven't done one that's supposed to be an intro like that for a while.
For some reason, I think I remember you opening with "Raining Blood" or "Hell Awaits."
Really? That goes way back. We have two or three songs that we fall back on, like after we've toured the whole country, and actually when we come through a second time, we'll mix up the set list and that's when the old ones start being played first.
How do the fans normally respond to a new Slayer album?
Slayer fans are so fanatical that by the time they come and see the show, they're just as familiar with the new songs as they are with the old ones. It's pretty wild. They know the words already!
Do you feel sorry for the bands that open for Slayer?
You know, our fans are very particular and if they're not down with it they will let an opening act know right away.
Do you yourself have anything to do with selecting the bands that open for you?
Not this time. Though we have in the past. The last one we hand-picked was Sick Of It All, but before that it was Machine Head.
Those are fine bands to tour with Slayer! I saw you with the Unsane and Barkmarket were opening. Those guys are good sports, but as you said, Slayer fans are really particular. I was thinking of writing an extreme metal song called "Opening For Slayer." It goes like this: (ahem!) "One-two-three four, Slayer! Slayer! Slayer!"
Speaking of songs, let's go through some of the songs on God Hates Us All. Like "God Send Death," "Cast Down," "Exile..." I, and this is just me, see a Biblical story line somewhere in there..
Jeff wrote "God Send Death" about this creature that's killed in the past, it's a real elaborate story that I'll screw up! "Disciple" is written around when you're born you're one of God's children and as you grow and see the world as it really is, especially as it has been this past two months, it's not all roses, it's not all "hey, you're my neighbor, this is fun." Later the person will say they didn't ask to be God's disciple, didn't ask to be born.
What about "Seven Faces"?
I took a spin on the movie Seven. How the seven deadly sins manifest themselves in everyone.
Have you ever written a love song?
How about a ballad?
We did "Spill The Blood," that's about the closest we'll ever get to a ballad!
Past events have affected Slayer how?
We were supposed to fly out to Europe the day of the attacks, so it set back out tour by ten days. And our tour got bumped a bit. The Pantera guys were supposed to be on it with us, but they canceled. People were really stoked that we eventually went, though.
You can't keep Slayer down! How about what's going on today, with the plane crash?
I think that's coincidence. It went down a minute after it took off... It sucks to be American Airlines right now. It's too bad, I really liked that airline!
How about the song, "Payback"?
I'm trying to get the rest of the band to learn it before the show Friday. It will really hit home here! I wrote it generally about revenge on anyone who's ever duped you, your enemies. It could be personal, it could be global.
How rehearsed is your stage show? If I didn't know better, I'd wager that you practice the headbanging, snarling, etc.
Musically it's very rehearsed. When you hear a break, it's on: you hear silence in the room. The visual part of the show is as important as listening to the music, too.
Let's face it, Slayer kicks everyone's ass. These up and coming bands that attain popularity quickly either owe a lot of Slayer or are not as good as Slayer. Let's see more Slayer. Your thoughts?
We're looking to do a video on our next day off. We're looking to get something new out. Tour goes to the middle of December, then we pick up in January, hitting some of the states that we missed, so we'll be in the States for a while. The tour has been going great so far!
Slayer will be on tour throughout the remainder of their existence, I'm sure. Catch 'em this time around!