Slayer is coming to town. That's right, Slayer: The band with the pentagram/sword/goat's head logo who, early on, took to satanic posturing to deliver the breakneck, malevolent music now known as speed metal or thrash.
Forming in the L.A. suburb of Huntington Beach, Calif. in 1982, Slayer quickly won over fans of the newly birthed genre with their instrumental prowess and in-your-face attitude. By combining the aspects of Motorhead, Venom and Discharge, Slayer won over legions of fans with its sound. In 1983, the band released Hell Awaits on Metal Blade Records, which featured graphic lyrics (delivered by a howling maniac named Tom Araya, who doubled on bass), backed by the militant, triplet-filled drumming of Dave Lombardo, and bookended by the monster riffage of guitarists Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman. Slayer's raw power and extreme live shows eventually led them to be scooped up by producer and Def Jam label head Rick Rubin.
The band's Def Jam debut, Reign In Blood, is arguably the pinnacle of all speed metal albums. To this day, the band still calls Def Jam/American Recordings home. Obviously, Slayer must have some rapport with Rubin.
"I guess as good [a rapport] as you can with your boss," says guitarist King from a tour stop in London. "They know what to expect and they know they're not going to change a thing."
And Slayer, in 2001, remains largely unchanged; they're still just as angry, violent and antagonistic as the day they began. The recently released God Hates Us All finds the band recapturing the spirit and intensity of Reign In Blood. "We found the formula again," says King, of the new record's sound. "I like a lot of the new songs," he says. "It's hard to pick one but I'll still pick 'Disciple,' because that one comes up, fucking starts the record, and hits you right between the eyes 'til it's done. But the whole record does that."
When talking about Slayer, you need to talk about the dedication of their fans: One overzealous follower carved the name of the band into his forearms. To show their appreciation, Slayer put the photo on the cover of 1994's Divine Intervention.
That's the kind of fans they have. And that's the kind of guys they are.
But King claims their crowd has changed over the years. "It's definitely not what it used to be, intensity-wise," he says. "There's a whole level of new kids coming, and they don't know what that old-school stuff is. You still see the old-schoolers tearing it up in the middle--and maybe some of the new kids that want to be a part of it. But there's a whole new batch of people that just come up to the front and check out what you're about."
It's also why nobody wants to open for Slayer. Their crowds are notoriously hostile, booing the likes of Danzig and Unsane off the stage. While Hatebreed was originally scheduled to open for Slayer on this leg of the tour, the hardcore stalwarts were forced to cancel.
"I wish there was somebody that I knew that was good enough to come do it," King says. "That's why I was stoked that Hatebreed was gonna do it. They're cool; I like them. They pulled out a few days ago. I guess they decided they wanted to do a record instead. So there's nobody available to open. I mean, it's like Slayer and nobody." (At last word, Chimera was slated to replace Hatebreed.)
Is it physically demanding on the head-banging legends to being required to rock with such intensity, night after night?
"I've had two days off and I should get to the gym," says King. "But I've been hung over for two days, so that didn't happen."
At this point, King says he's motivated to keep Slayer going because he's still a fan of their music himself. "It [their music] is as easy and as stripped down as I can get it. ... If we didn't exist, the music world would be especially bland."
He does admit, however, that it's hard to envision himself as an aging metal thrasher. "I just don't think it would translate," he says with a chuckle. "We'll see. I can't imagine a bunch of teenagers going 'Yeah man, that 50-year-old Kerry King really bangs his head good!'"