Still Reigning After All These Years
15 October 2009
Words by Tom Valcanis and live images by Simon Milburn.
Waiting for Slayer founding guitarist Kerry King to arrive at a conference room tucked away in a stately five-star hotel in Melbourne, Australia, a porter knocks on the door. I let him in, setting down two glasses of beer for us to enjoy. During the waiting, I thought to myself. If there was one story Aussie metal community gut-reacted to with incredulity this year, it was the teaming up of one half of America’s “big four” thrash metal bands teaming up for a tour. What seemed even more unbelievable was that they were touring Australia and New Zealand together.
Needless to say, the metal credibility of this marble floored, mahogany lined boardroom shot up a hundred-fold as the thrash superstar sat down next to a black t-shirt clad rock journalist, the stuffy hotel taking on a dark aura of down-to-earth, hard rocking metal - albeit briefly.
As for the tour, for King, he described it simply. “It’s been great.”
“I mean, I’ve been so fuckin’ busy,” he says. “I mean we’ve been so busy we haven’t even been hanging out after the shows. After we’re done, everyone [from Megadeth] has gone. I’ve never toured with them before; I’m not sure about their m.o., but yeah. They’re like ghosts to us,” he laughs.
To the dismay of many fans, Tom Araya, vocalist and bassist of the veteran quartet announced that their new record, World Painted Blood would likely be their third last album before Slayer hung up their boots and rested their necks permanently. King, however protests; “I don’t even know where that came from.”
“Tom must have said something because I keep fielding questions about it. I don’t even know what that means. We don’t sit down and talk about shit like that; I hear stuff from the press, but who knows. It could be three; it could just be this one and the next one. It all depends on how long it takes between records.
“If it takes too long then yeah, the clock’s ticking.”
“I think it stemmed from [previous record] Christ Illusion, because it took us five years to make,” King explains. “I mean, I even said if it takes another five years to make a record it’ll probably be the last one; I mean it’ll be ten years with only two records done. But this one was done in three and the next one will be done in hopefully two or three. I’m having fun, and the live show’s awesome and we’re making up great tunes, kids are coming and having a great fuckin’ time.”
Fans would be too now that they’re touring on the back of their new album which features four different “panels” of a world map on each individual CD, each sold separately. King and the band begrudgingly consented to such packaging due to pressures from American retailers for “exclusive” content, leaving the integrity of the songwriting process intact.
He heaves a sigh. “I know fans are crazy and they’ll go out and buy them all,” he calmly explains, “but I’d be like ‘Oh, I got one, its got all the songs on it, its all I need.’
But a lot of the retailers in America wanted exclusives on songs. Instead of wasting songs in my eyes, Dave [Lombardo, drummer] came up with this idea of why don’t we take [the artwork] and split it into four. I mean, what have we got in America; [alternative/underground store] Hot Topic wants their own version, [electronics retailer] Best Buy wants their own version; you know, I’m not going to waste songs like that.
“I mean if people are buying songs they should be able to buy the collection. I mean there are two left over though and I’m sure they’ll end up on a deluxe edition or a video game or a movie soundtrack somewhere along the line. It was a way of not wasting songs and keeping the retailers happy.”
While it upsets King and the band, it represents an “old way of thinking” on the part of retailers, much like Japan restricting foreign content by demanding bonus material in exchange for a guaranteed release.
“I know, and people used to do that because of not having simultaneous release dates,” he asserts. “I mean, I understood that; but now it’s within a day or two. There is a thing called the internet. We folded to them this time around; we gave them a live track.
That’s fine though; don’t think live tracks are that big a deal any more, especially when you can see us play on YouTube. They should be part of a collection.”
Just as Kerry was about to tuck into a chicken burger and fries to fuel his performance in less than an hour, I ask how he responds to the claim that they were “responsible for the the creation of death metal.”
He puts his sandwich down to answer. “Well, the thing that I am more proud of than that, well, in my history anyway was bringing the metal and the punk crowd together,” he admits before taking a huge bite. “I think we were instrumental in that.”
“I remember if you were at a metal show, there were no punk kids there. We were a kind of band that both ‘factions’ liked. It was trying to get them to co-exist, you know. D.R.I was a big part of that too, and I think that’s important. I mean it might be important to death metal fans and that’s great, but I’m not a huge fan of death metal. It’s just not my thing.”
Even though they’ve been at it for over 25 years, the band are still lambasted by Christian and parent’s groups for “obscene” and “controversial” lyrics – but not as much as Marilyn Manson, who has toned down his image in recent years as King recalls.
“On the last Mayhem Festival, I was hanging with Marilyn (with whom Slayer co-headlined) and we’re chilling and shit and he was telling me that he still has religious people bombarding his entrance.”
Unbelievable, I say.
“I know! That’s what I said! Anyway, he might write an anti-Christian or anti-religion song once in a while, but we’re notorious for it. Maybe they just think we’re ‘untouchable’ now and they just want to fuck with Manson. It’s the weirdest thing.”
Australian fans are more welcoming however, although Kerry confesses that tour promoters only want Slayer once every album, he does enjoy playing here.
“I mean I’d love to come out more often,” he says. He even hates light touring schedules.
“Before we did Mayhem we used to only tour ten weeks, and that sucked. I’d say ‘We’re still popular, let’s go play!’ But then again you don’t want to over-saturate your audience too.”
Kerry King, like many other career metalheads is a “lifer”, he’s still excited by writing, and performing and being locked in the studio for the pure joy of the ride.
“Well, number one, I wouldn’t know what the hell else to do,” he jokes. “It’s cool to be who we are because credibility’s hard to come by in this business. It took a long time to get it and to keep it.
“We’re the kind of band that where if your older siblings or your parents like it, it’s not like you’re the devil, it’s like a brotherhood. It’s even in families, which is really weird; usually if the parents like it, the kids hate it. But in Slayer households, it’s okay. I think still being relevant after all this time is one of our greatest achievements.”
Many say that they’ve changed over the years, but King has a different take on it.
“Nah,” he muses, “I think we’re like the thrash metal version of AC/DC.”
In terms of longevity and impact, they certainly are; and hopefully will be into the future.
Slayer's forthcoming album, World Painted Blood, is out on 30 October, 2009 through Sony Music. For more information on Slayer, check out www.slayer.net.
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