It was in the autumn of 1986 that Slayer released their third album, Reign In Blood.
Just three years previously the LA quartet – whose line-up then starred guitarists Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King, drummer Dave Lombardo and bassist/vocalist Tom Araya – had unveiled their debut disc, the lightweight, cack-handed and thoroughly unconvincing Show No Mercy. Slayer, at this point, were the laughing stock of the nascent thrash metal scene.
While an improvement in form on 1985’s Hell Awaits would redress this balance, a band such as Anthrax’s Scott Ian’s Stormtroopers Of Death side-project still felt justified in writing a song about Slayer and calling it Douche Crew. Its lyrics, in case you were wondering, were unequivocal: ‘Wearing all their douchy clothes/They like to watch each other pose/You’re all the same/So fucking lame/We’ll shove your spikes right up your holes’.
Come 1986 though, no one was laughing or poking fun any more. The distance between Hell Awaits and Reign In Blood was vast – almost as if the music was made by a different band, from a different time. Listen to Slayer’s third album now and it still sounds feral, as if you need shots just to put the thing into the CD player. From the unnecessarily unpleasant Angel Of Death to the punishing Raining Blood, the sound here is taut, tortured, wired… aggressive and unrelenting. The tone is violent by design, the band infamous by reputation. There is no other album that could have made the top of Metal Hammer’s 20th anniversary metal list. To celebrate, we caught up with Kerry King, Slayer’s self-professed “metal kid”, and Dave Lombardo, metal’s drummer par excellence, to find out their thoughts on Reign In Blood and what they felt in 2006, we could expect from Slayer.
WE’RE APPROACHING THE 20TH ANNIVERSARY OF REIGN IN BLOOD. HOW WERE SLAYER DIFFERENT AFTER THE ALBUM WAS RECORDED, TO HOW THEY WERE BEFORE IT ALL STARTED?
Kerry King: “We were probably not that different at all, to be honest with you. At the time, Reign In Blood was nothing special. I know that sounds crazy to say, but it wasn’t. We looked at it as being just another album. When we got it done, we still thought of it in that way – as just being our next record. We knew we liked it, we knew we thought the songs were strong, but we didn’t quite know what we had on our hands. But it was cool and it was a progression – we tried some new things on that album. For one thing, it was the first time we’d taken all the reverb and all the fucking shit out of Tom’s vocals. That made the record sound really different to anything we’d done before. Which makes me think… who’s to say that if we’d done that on Hell Awaits that people might be talking about that album like they talk about Reign In Blood? But the truth is we just liked what we were doing. We didn’t think that in 20 years time it would be viewed as being the best metal record of all time. At the end of the day, it was just our next record.”
REIGN IN BLOOD APPEARED ON DEF JAM, WHICH WAS A HIP-HOP LABEL. THIS SEEMED LIKE REVOLUTIONARY STUFF.
Dave Lombardo: “What you have to realise is that when we made Reign In Blood we were young. We were really young. For one thing, we all lived at home with our parents. We were just kids, man. I remember Rick Rubin [producer and Def Jam co-owner] flew over from New York, which was where he lived at the time, and stayed with me. This is before we’d even recorded the album. So I knew from the fact that he was willing to do that that he was into us and I knew thought that was really cool. I thought that anyone willing to go to those lengths must be for real.”
Kerry King: “There’s no doubt about it, Rick was a Slayer fan. He wore a Slayer shirt in the Beastie Boys video [Fight For Your Right (To Party)], for one thing. We thought that the fact that he was willing to do that was just fantastic. It was a good thing.”
IT WAS A SURPRISE TO A LOT OF PEOPLE THAT REIGN IN BLOOD EMERGED ON A HIP-HOP LABEL. BUT ON THE OTHER HAND, IT SEEMED TO MAKE SENSE – SLAYER HAD A LOT MORE IN COMMON WITH, SAY, PUBLIC ENEMY THAN THEY DID WITH THE SCORPIONS.
Dave Lombardo: “Exactly! That’s exactly how I saw it. Slayer were the new breed, we were different to what had come before. In the same way, Public Enemy were also the new breed. We were both bands that received a lot of negative press and we were both bands that frightened a lot of people. We were accused of stirring up a lot of violence and they were accused of being part of that whole gang thing. So there were definitely parallels there that wouldn’t have existed between us and some older more traditional metal acts.”
WHEN YOU LOOK BACK AT REIGN IN BLOOD AND HOW YOUNG YOU WERE WHEN YOU RECORDED IT, DOES IT SEEM LIKE YOU WERE QUITE PRECOCIOUS?
Kerry King: “Totally. We were still finding out things about the world, we were still finding out things about our band, about ourselves. I think the album was a moment in time. It was the same time that Master Of Puppets came out as well. So I think you can say that 1986 was definitely a good year for metal. But as far as what people thought of the album at the time, I definitely noticed that peoples’ reaction to it was different to how it had been for our other albums. But we’re not the kind of band that looks for admiration. That’s not our thing at all. If people give us too much praise then we just tend to go, ‘No, no no… let’s talk about something else!’”
THE EUROPEAN RELEASE FOR THE ALBUM WAS DELAYED BY SOMETHING LIKE SIX MONTHS BECAUSE OF THE CONTROVERSY SURROUNDING THE SONG ANGEL OF DEATH. NOW THAT YOU’RE 20 YEARS OLDER, CAN YOU SEE WHY PEOPLE MIGHT HAVE BEEN UPSET BY THAT SONG?
Kerry King: “Oh sure! Yeah, of course I can. But at the same time I think people should see our point of view as well. I can turn around and say that those same people [ who took offence] should be mad at documentary makers for showing what happened in World War II. Because to me they’re doing exactly the same thing that we did.”
I DON’T THINK SO. I THINK THAT ANGEL OF DEATH GLORIFIES ITS SUBJECT IN A WAY THAT A DOCUMENTARY DOESN’T. IT’S A BIT, YOU KNOW, GRIZZLY.
Kerry King: “Yeah, certainly. But then Slayer is definitely the kind of band to do that kind of thing.”
METAL HAMMER BELIEVES REIGN IN BLOOD IS THE BEST METAL ALBUM OF THE LAST 20 YEARS. CAN YOU THINK OF A BETTER ONE?
Kerry King: [Laughs] “Well, I’m partial so I’ll have to say no! It’s hard to say which one’s the best. It’s hard even for me to say what’s the best record of the last 20 years. I could probably give you 10. But if I had to pick out a record of the past 20 years that I think is a really good album, I’d say the first Machine Head record [Burn My Eyes, 1994]. I think that’s a really strong record. I like the first Slipknot album as well. But it’s real difficult to say what’s the best album of the past 20 years.”
DO YOU EVER THINK THAT REIGN IN BLOOD CASTS TOO LONG A SHADOW OVER YOUR BAND? THAT IT’S SOMETHING THAT SLAYER WILL NEVER QUITE ESCAPE FROM?
Kerry King: “Only in the sense that people keep bringing it up, but we’re happy to talk about it. It’s not something that I spend my nights thinking about but I understand that it meant – and still means – a lot to a great number of people.”
WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU LISTENED TO THE ALBUM?
Kerry King: “Probably when we played the whole thing [in concert] back in 2004. I had to re-learn the songs! Actually, that’s probably not true, I’ve probably listened to bits of it since then. But I do think it’s cool. It still sounds great. It’s anxious sounding and I think that’s one of the hardest things to record, that anxious vibe. By that I mean that it sounds like it’s ready to derail at any second. I think that’s probably Dave’s [Lombardo] input, and I think that the new album has that thing going on in it as well. That feeling to me – and I’m in the centre, keeping the whole thing together.”
YOU RELEASED THE CHRIST ILLUSION ALBUM IN 2006, AND IT WAS YOUR FIRST SINCE GOD HATES US ALL WHICH CAME OUT FIVE YEARS AGO. THIS, BY MY RECKONING, MAKES YOU A BUNCH OF LAZY BASTARDS.
Kerry King: “Hey, that’s not my fault! I don’t think it’s fair to lay that at my door”
IT KIND OF IS, KERRY. YOU ARE IN THE BAND, AFTER ALL.
Kerry King: “You need to put it in perspective. We get way more tour offers than we ever had in the past 10 years. So every time we fire up to go on tour, all the new songs are placed on the back burner. Plus, every time we put out a new record, our label [American Recordings] is always having distribution problems.
“I know that’s the excuse I always give, but it is true. At least this time when we put the record out that won’t be the case. But for this record we’ve been ready to go in the studio since before Christmas. It’s the first record that we have begged to record. Usually you have to beg us to go and record an album but with this one we’ve been ready for a while. We’ve really wanted to make a new album and for some reason Rick Rubin just wouldn’t pull the trigger on it. But we’re set now.”
**IS A NEW SLAYER ALBUM SOMETHING TO BE EXCITED ABOUT, OR ARE YOU A BAND WHOSE TIME HAS PASSED? **
Kerry King: “A new Slayer album is definitely something to be excited about! People should fucking shit when they hear it. I think that we’re the kind of band who people are always ready to write off. I think half the kids are going to be saying, ‘I can’t wait to hear this new album, it’s going to fucking rule.’ And I think that there are people who think that we’re going to be like Metallica and write shitty records for the rest of our lives. But we’re not going to be like that. The new album is as good as anything we’ve done and I cannot wait for people to be able to hear it.”
CAN YOU GIVE PEOPLE SOME IDEA OF WHAT THEY CAN EXPECT FROM A NEW ALBUM?
Kerry King: “They can expect a killer fucking record. They can expect a Slayer record that’s as good as we can be. I’ve said this before, but you can think of Slayer as being the thrash metal AC/DC. We’re the kind of band who you know what we’re going to put out and that’s why you like us. Everyone wants to know what the new record will sound like and I would say that it sounds like a cross between Seasons In The Abyss and God Hates Us All. It’s a combination of those two.”
YOU COURTED CONTROVERSY ON CHRIST ILLUSION WITH A SONG TITLED JIHAD. THE LYRICS ARE ABOUT A SUICIDE BOMBER ABOARD ONE OF THE FLIGHTS THAT CRASHED INTO THE WORLD TRADE CENTER. THAT SOUNDS LIKE FUN…
Kerry King: “Yeah, doesn’t it? That song actually came about because when we were on tour people would constantly be asking us if we planned to write a song about September 11? And I would always say, ‘No, we’re never going to do that. Every band on the fucking planet will do that, which is why we won’t.’ But Jeff [Hanneman] had this title in his head for a couple of years now and it just wouldn’t go away. So when Jeff had the idea of writing it from the terrorist’s perspective I was like, ‘Wow, that’s cool. I’m on board for that. I would have never thought of tackling it that way, but that sounds great.’ I was concerned as to how he would pull it off, but he pulled it off really well.”
**WHEN SLAYER RECORD A SONG LIKE JIHAD OR ANGEL OF DEATH, DO YOU ACTUALLY WELCOME THE CONTROVERSY YOU KNOW IS GOING TO COME YOUR WAY? **
Kerry King: “Yeah, but I think that someone needs to do it. And I don’t know who would talk about these things if we didn’t do it. I think opinions need to be aired, whether we agree with it or not. Whether Jeff nails the lyric or not, it is right that he should at least try to do so.”
**IF YOU OFFENDED SOMEONE WHO LOST A LOVED ONE IN THE SEPTEMBER 11TH SPECTACULAR, WOULD IT BOTHER YOU? **
Kerry King: “I don’t think that’s going to happen. And if it did happen then it would simply be for the fact that we did it, not for what the song says. And I don’t agree with that. That’s the kind of shit we got for Angel Of Death. People were giving us shit without actually listening to the song properly and understanding what it was we were saying. We got so much shit from people saying we were Nazi sympathisers and that we were praising the war. We never did anything like that.”
SINCE YOU BROUGHT UP THE NAZI SYMPATHISER THING, HERE’S A RUMOUR I HEARD: JEFF HANNEMAN HAD A SWASTIKA PAINTED ON THE BACK OF ONE OF HIS GUITARS. IS THAT TRUE?
Kerry King: “I don’t think so, no. Certainly not to my knowledge he hadn’t.”
THERE ARE CERTAIN BANDS, LIKE BLACK SABBATH OR IRON MAIDEN, WHO BECOME ABOUT THE NAME MORE THAN THE MUSIC THEY’RE MAKING AT THE MOMENT. THEY BECOME A FRANCHISE. DO YOU THINK THAT MIGHT HAPPEN TO SLAYER?
Kerry King: “I guess it might, but that’s not something we can control. All we can do is to keep making music and to make that music as relevant as we can, and to keep ourselves as relevant as we can be. We don’t rest on our past, we keep looking forward and we keep striving to improve ourselves. That’s what keeps it interesting for me. I would hate to be one of those nostalgia acts who just keep trotting out their old songs and who don’t even have any new songs to play. We’re not like that.”
Dave Lombardo: “I do understand that there are certain songs that people want to hear. We’ve never had any hits, but you know what I mean, right? They want to hear Raining Blood, they want to hear South Of Heaven and War Ensemble and Angel Of Death. And they’d feel cheated if they didn’t hear those songs. And I understand that. I’d feel cheated if I were them and I’d paid my money and I didn’t get to hear those songs. But that doesn’t mean that Slayer is a band that just exists to play those songs. We’re not a nostalgia act. We’ve worked our asses off on this new record and that’s where the challenge is now. To make music that’s as good and as strong as the old material. To make music that can stand tall with the stuff on Reign In Blood.”
**WHY IS IT THAT DESPITE YOU HAVING RELEASED ONLY FOUR STUDIO ALBUMS IN THE PAST 15 YEARS – ONE OF THOSE BEING LARGELY AN ALBUM OF PUNK COVERS – PEOPLE HAVEN’T FORGOTTEN ABOUT SLAYER? **
Kerry King: “I think it’s because we’re good. I honestly think that’s it. Mediocre bands come and go, but we’re still here. And we are a really good live band, I think that’s what’s kept us on top for so long. People come to see us and the word of mouth just spreads. I don’t know, there seems to be this aura about Slayer and I definitely think our live performances have something to do with that.”
**IF SOMEONE HAD TOLD YOU AS YOU WERE GETTING READY TO RELEASE REIGN IN BLOOD THAT IN 30 YEARS TIME YOU’D NOT ONLY STILL BE TALKING ABOUT THAT ALBUM, BUT SLAYER WOULD STILL BE GRACING THE COVER OF METAL HAMMER, WOULD YOU HAVE BELIEVED THEM? **
Kerry King: “It depends if I had my arrogant head on or not! If I had my normal head on I would probably have said that you were out of your mind, that there was no way we’d still be doing this when we were in our 40s. But if I had my cocky head on I would have said, ‘Sure, Slayer’ll be around forever!’”
Dave Lombardo: “I don’t know if I would have believed you. I always wondered what I’d be doing when I was 40 years of age, and, look, I’m still doing this! I guess that’s pretty cool though, isn’t it?”
This was first published in Metal Hammer issue 159.