Originally published in Melt Magazine (February 2007)
When Slayer guitarist Kerry King describes his influential band as a modern AC/DC, he makes some very valid points. “AC/DC has always had the same sound. They’ve been making AC/DC records since the beginning of man!” King says from his home in California. “When you hear Slayer’s got a new album coming out, you never say ‘I wonder if it’s going to be good’. You say, ‘I wonder what these songs are going to sound like because I can’t wait to hear them’.”
Slayer’s eighth studio album, Christ Illusion, is one of the strongest releases in the band’s catalog – straight out brutal metal riffs and singer Tom Araya’s trademark screaming. The band’s first new album in five years marks the return of original drummer Dave Lombardo, who left the band in 1990. While the albums that Lombardo didn’t play on were traditional sounding Slayer albums, Lombardo’s return is apparent from the very opening moments of “Flesh Storm,” Christ Illusion’s first track. “Getting back together with Dave was fun. It was cool. It wasn’t weird at all,” King says.
In the midst of a full-on media blitz to promote the upcoming tour, King took a few minutes to talk about the band’s history, his take on Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith, and the Unholy Alliance tour package that Slayer headlined last summer.
Slayer has been together for 25 years. That’s really amazing when you consider that many marriages don’t even last that long.
The cool thing about what we do is that we do go out on tour and record, hell yeah we’re together all the time, but there is that time like the last two months where I haven’t spoken to anybody in the band. So you get to say sane. If that was a routine that I had to do every day for 25 years, I probably couldn’t have done it. It’s like a brother factor. Say you lived the last 25 years, since you were 17, with your four brothers every day, it would never work. So, luckily with my job, we get to take that needed time away from each other where you can just be who you are.
What do you do with your down time?
I’ve got a reptile collection. I got home from the last tour in time for football season so I watched the last part of the season. For this tour, I told them that if we’re not off Super Bowl Sunday, I’m not playing. We ended up in a cool city where I know a lot of people – we’re in Indianapolis for the Super Bowl, so that’s going to be great.
Did you see the OSU/Florida National Championship game?
You’re like my seventh interview. I couldn’t watch it last night so I Tivo’d it. Even though I knew who won, I was upstairs for the first six interviews fast forwarding and watching the good plays and shit.
Well, you probably didn’t see too many good plays on the Ohio State side.
You guys got fucking slaughtered. (laughs)
Yeah, we owned the game for the first 15 seconds.
That was it!
The offensive line didn’t look so good and Troy Smith’s performance wasn’t that of a Heismann Trophy winner.
I’ll tell you what, it’s also not the play of a number one pick. My team’s got the number one pick (LA Raiders) so chances are Troy Smith won’t be on my team unless they fucking trade down.
I’m not sure he was a top 5 pick any way.
I don’t watch a lot of college football, but watching the game, he didn’t look ready for the pros, that’s for sure.
Has Slayer become a machine – record, tour, record, tour?
It’s more like record, tour, tour, tour, tour, tour. Record, tour, tour, tour. We’ve been playing a hell of a lot over the last 10 years. This is what we do. The only thing that changes is do we record or do we tour? We’ve done this long enough to where it’s pretty safe to assume that we can stay busy and can tour whenever we want. But to keep it fresh and interesting, you’ve got to get that new record out with new material once in a while.
Is it still fun?
Oh, absolutely. The playing is. Touring, I think everybody hates touring. Traveling just sucks a big dick. But it’s a means to get to the towns where everybody wants to see us play.
And no matter whether you’re traveling in a station wagon or a tour bus, it’s still the same amount of miles between two cities.
Well, the tour bus makes it easy. We were doing our own Camaro and U-Haul tours which I know a lot of young bands are still doing. Luckily I paid my dues and I don’t have to do that any more but it’s something you’ve got to do. That sucks big time.
Was Christ Illusion supposed to come out on June 6, 2006 (6/6/6)?
Yeah. It was a little bit of record company stuff because we couldn’t get in to record in a timely fashion that would have allowed us to finish it by then. That was the main thing.
Do you ever look back on lyrics you’ve written and think “I predicted this was going to happen”?
I don’t know. I guess I don’t look for the self worth of that. Songs like “War Ensemble”, even though it was written during the Desert Storm period, you can pull it out of context today and it’s meaningful because the United States is always going to be at war. We’re a country that isn’t happy unless we’re fighting someone else. So, as long as you make your war songs general, you’ll remain relevant until the end of time.
Does something like Saddam’s hanging give you lyrical inspiration?
Politics aren’t really my thing. Do I think he should have died? Fuck, I don’t know. You don’t fuck up over there … I don’t even know if that’s a Muslim country … over in that area, they are the kind of people who cut your arm off if you steal something. Kill thousands of people, they are going to kill you. That’s how it works.
Your stuff is no more violent or disturbing than the images you can see on CNN or real news footage you can see on the web.
But since Slayer does it, it gives it a whole different vibe to most people everywhere in the world, especially in America. If this was a news story on CNN, which is about as graphic as we write, it would be interesting and people would get a Pulitzer Prize for it. But if we write it in a Slayer song, it’s devil’s work. I don’t care, but when you think about it, that’s really how it is.
How do you pick bands to join the Unholy Alliance tour package?
We have a list of maybe 10 bands that promoters wanted to be a part of it. We’d throw out the obvious “no’s”, then you’ve got a list of five or six and you have to pick the best three that make the most sense for the tour. Then you’ve got to assume they want to be part of it and that they aren’t busy.
Do you stay current on what’s going on in the metal scene?
When we did the Unholy Alliance tour in the States, I was happy that we were going out with Lamb of God because I knew they had a new product coming out and we had never toured with them. For them being around as long as they had, we were like “Man, it’s got to happen one of these days.” And we finally got that to happen. And we had never played with Children of Bodom, so that was awesome.
I was a hair metal fan in the ‘80s. I remember the first time I heard Slayer, I bought Reign in Blood because I had read about it in some magazine. I was blown away. I was like, “What the hell is this? I don’t get it, but I like it.” What inspired you to play such brutal metal at a time when hair metal ruled the world?
We grew up in LA. None of us really lived in LA, but if you ask me where I’m from, yeah, I’m from LA. We knew the hair metal thing was going and me, Jeff, and Tom didn’t get it. Kind of like when you heard us, you didn’t get it. I wanted to be as far away from whatever they were doing as possible and that just kept feeding to the way we ended up.
Did you ever think when you were starting out that you’d be touring the globe to packed houses?
When you’re a kid, you’re fucking bulletproof and invincible. I think a lot of bands think that for the wrong reasons and they are just setting themselves up to be let down. I think I knew we had something special. But to realistically think that I knew we’d be doing this 25 years later, I’d be like “Fuck Yeah!”. If you were to ask me right now, I’m like “Probably not.”