Slayer: Still Reigning

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There’s a storm brewing. If you identify as a metalhead, you can probably feel it. A new Slayer album, the first since 2009’s World Painted Blood, is looming over the horizon, and it’s time to brace those neck muscles and prepare yourself for a fresh onslaught. But, of course, things are very different this time around.

In the six years since Slayer last released an album, they’ve had to weather a more emotionally gruelling storm, as the untimely death of founder member, songwriting genius and talismanic icon Jeff Hanneman in 2013 whipped the rug from under the legends’ feet and plunged them into a well of uncertainty unlike anything they’d previously experienced. The overwhelming outpouring of grief that bled from the global metal community after Jeff’s passing said it all about his impact on our world and, more pertinently, his significance in Slayer’s birth, evolution and prominence.

Perhaps understandably, many speculated that, without Jeff, Slayer would never be the same. Some even suggested that the band should quit altogether. But this is fuckin’ Slayer: not just one of the greatest bands in our genre’s history, but a fundamental cornerstone of everything that our genre stands for. And now they’re back./o:p

As the thrash legends celebrate the completion of their 11th studio album, we speak to guitarist Kerry King and vocalist/bassist Tom Araya about its birth. Laid down at Henson Studios in Hollywood with producer Terry Date – best known for his work with Pantera – it marked an end to the band’s 23-year recording relationship with Rick Rubin.

It also saw drummer Paul Bostaph back for the first time since 2001’s God Hates Us All, and second guitarist and Exodus legend Gary Holt’s first contributions to the band. A few songs have been sneaked out over the last couple of years – most notably the one-off single, Implode, and new Record Store Day release When The Stillness Comes – but in so many ways, the new album is an unknown quantity./o:p

The good news is that both Kerry and Tom are plainly very fucking excited indeed about what they are about to unleash on our expectant ears. But, more unexpectedly, they’re also coming to terms with the fact that their shared world has been changed beyond allmrecognition. At the time of going to press, and in a further change to the Slayer family, Hammer learned that Tom Araya’s mother had passed away. We would like to offer our condolences to those who knew her.

Is the Slayer of 2015 the same band that we all know and worship? It’s time to find out…/o:p

IT’S BEEN SIX YEARS SINCE THE LAST ALBUM… HAS IT FELT LIKE AN ETERNITY?

KERRY KING: “We’ve just been jumping the hurdles to get there, you know? Every record’s got adversity, for sure, and this one had a bunch we’ve never experienced before. That said, we’ve been sitting on these songs for a long time. We’re at what I call the Metallica/Black Sabbath point, where pretty much we can go out and tour and people would come, and we’d never have to put out a record again. But at some point that becomes not fun. Everybody wants to make new music, I want to play music, so now we finally get to do that.”

TOM ARAYA: “It feels like it’s been a long time, but it just feels strange this time round. I’m excited by it and we’ve put a lot of work into this record, Kerry especially, but it’s just odd. I’m excited but I’m glad it’s fuckin’ over and we’re done with the record. We started in September, so that’s a long process.”

YOU BEGAN WRITING BEFORE JEFF GOT ILL… WHAT WAS YOUR MINDSET WHEN YOU STARTED?

KERRY: “Some of these songs are four years old, for sure. Realistically, I had a game plan early on. I started writing very early on because Jeff got sick in 2010… Right away, I thought, ‘I’m gonna start writing a shitload of stuff!’ I didn’t know what Jeff was gonna contribute, or if Jeff was gonna contribute. As it turns out, I’ve written 90% of it.”

BEFORE YOU STARTED WORKING ON THIS ALBUM IN EARNEST, HOW HAD JEFF’S DEATH AFFECTED YOUR VIEW OF THE FUTURE, FOR YOURSELF AND SLAYER?

TOM: “I think that was something I thought about, because of how it affected me emotionally. I thought, ‘We can’t continue!’ and that was more about emotion and loss and sorrow and sadness. That was my first response. You go through a gamut of emotions. Me and Kerry sat down at the end of one of the tours, in the middle of summer, and we talked. I shared with him how I felt and how things were for me and where I was, where I was at. We talked and talked and talked and then we talked some more later on. I wanted to know where he was at, and I let him know how I was about what’d been happening. We gave each other a big hug and said, ‘OK, let’s do this next record’ and we just got going. It’s about the band. Slayer was a big thing for Jeff, and so I’m looking at it in that sense. It was his baby, too. And we hope we’ve done Slayer and him justice.”/o:p

WERE THERE ANY MOMENTS WHEN IT FELT LIKE TOO BIG A STEP, TO CARRY ON WITHOUT YOUR CLOSE FRIEND AND WRITING PARTNER?

KERRY: “That was the hardest part, because Jeff and I have written every note of music that Slayer’s ever played. That was the biggest hurdle and the biggest odd part. But other than the finality of Jeff passing away, which was horrible, no other aspect of making a Slayer record has changed.”

THIS IS WHAT JEFF WOULD’VE WANTED, THOUGH, SURELY?

TOM: “Oh yeah, I would like to think so. Jeff would want us to continue. I’d think that if something were to happen to someone else in the band, whoever it was would feel the same way. Just get on and do it. There’s no need to cry about it.”

**HOW DO YOU RESPOND TO SUGGESTIONS THAT THIS ISN’T REALLY SLAYER ANYMORE? **

TOM: “In the past, the fans have always known what to expect. But now they don’t know what to expect. We’ve tried to reassure them that they’re going to get Slayer… and that’s what they’re getting! The way social media is, it’s all instant, so the response will be immediate this time. It’ll be interesting to see what the first, initial reactions are. That all adds to the emotions I’m feeling this time round.”

KERRY: “I don’t pay attention to anything on the internet. I don’t have any social media, because of that stupid horseshit. It’s just people spouting off. If those people could hear this new record and say, ‘Man, it’s horseshit!’ then I’d be stunned. I’m very excited.”

WAS GARY HOLT ALWAYS THE OBVIOUS CHOICE TO REPLACE JEFF?

KERRY: “Today, still, he’s just a slam-dunk. He was my first choice and luckily I’ve been able to use my first choice since day one. For me, also, he’s from my own era. He’s been doing this for the exact same time that we have. It’s one of the best fits in music history. It’s like Brian Johnson joining AC/DC. It’s a slam-dunk replacement and you don’t get those very often.”

TOM: “Gary’s a friend, a friend of Jeff’s, so I thought I could handle that, but I couldn’t have handled anybody else. Gary was into it, he knew what was going on and he wanted to help in any way he could, so Gary made Slayer a comfortable place to be. Having Paul [Bostaph, Slayer drummer for two previous periods] back in the band was a comforting feeling, too. Having Paul and Gary made everything a little easier to handle.”/o:p

MOVING ON FROM RICK RUBIN WAS A BIG STEP FOR YOU GUYS. HOW DID YOU DECIDE UPON TERRY DATE AS PRODUCER FOR THIS RECORD?

KERRY: “There’s certainly no formula to do this right. This time we found Terry, which I was very excited about. For this record it was really important to have a great producer – not necessarily someone that’s riding a wave of awesomeness, but that has had some moments of brilliance in the past. I think Terry Date brings something to this record, from the old Pantera days, from Soundgarden… this guy’s done many great records and he was wonderful to work with.”

TOM: “Terry’s all about performance and letting you do what you do and then telling you if it sucks or not! Ha ha ha! He’s a really sweet guy. We got along great. Personally, I require a lot of interaction and feedback. I really liked working with him. Out of everybody we’ve worked with in the past, I’ll communicate with him after the fact. I regard him as a friend, for sure.”

HAS TERRY HAD A BIG INFLUENCE ON THE WAY THE RECORD’S TURNED OUT?

KERRY: “I let a producer produce. I don’t get in his way. I don’t want his job. I could never be a producer because I don’t have the fuckin’ patience for it. Like anybody, if I’m working with a producer I’ve got to trust him and I’ve got to respect him, because essentially he’s telling me to do something over and over that I thought was fine! I have that with Terry. We bet on the Super Bowl and he owes me dinner now! Ha ha ha!”

HOW DID YOU FEEL WHEN THE STUDIO WAS BOOKED AND YOU WENT IN FOR THE FIRST TIME? DID IT FEEL WEIRD TO BE THERE WITHOUT JEFF?

KERRY: “Not really, because to tell you the truth he was in there randomly anyway. I don’t say that to disrespect him. That’s just the way Jeff was. He knew I’d do his stuff justice, so he wouldn’t be there a lot.”

TOM: “It was weird for me, yeah. It was just strange. It was awkward, it was weird, it was different, knowing that here we are and we’ve been doing this for so fuckin’ long, and Jeff was a notable absence. His presence was missed; it was gone. At times it felt like he was there. I kept expecting him to walk through the door and start giving his opinion, his two cents.” /o:p

TOM, KERRY HAS BEEN QUOTED AS SAYING THAT LOSING JEFF HIT YOU HARDER THAN IT HIT HIM… IS THAT TRUE?

TOM: “I think that’s fair. Yes, it did. I was always reaching out to Jeff, especially in the last year. At one point he just stopped responding. But then I got a call saying he was back in hospital. I think that’s why it affected me more, because I was trying to start up a line of communication, so he wouldn’t just disappear. Right up until the very last day, I was sending texts. I sent a text and didn’t get a reply, and then the very next day I got the phone call.”

KERRY: “I think I was arriving at rehearsal when I heard that Jeff had died. I remember I walked in and told Paul. There’s a song on the record called Chasing Death. I’m getting to that age where you lose friends whether you expect to or not. There are people you know who need help and people you don’t realise need help, and they die in their sleep and it’s like, ‘Fuck, man, that sucks’, you know?”

DID LOSING JEFF HAVE ANY IMPACT ON THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN YOU GUYS AND EX-DRUMMER DAVE LOMBARDO?

KERRY: “Nah. That’s why I’ve never spoken about it in the press. All of the horseshit that’s been said about me and Tom or whatever… for me not to respond to something, you’ve got to know that it’s pretty asinine.”

TOM: “I hate to say it, but it wasn’t the first time he’d put us in that position. In the end, he waited until we got on a plane to Australia [in February 2013, to play Soundwave], and then he’s on the internet, laying it all out for the world to see, when it was nobody’s business but ours. We found out about it 16 hours after the fact. That should give you an idea of the personality involved. If it wasn’t deliberate, it certainly came across that way.”

IS THAT DOOR CLOSED FOREVER?

KERRY: “I would imagine. I’ve learned a lot… ha ha ha! I learn something new every day, let me tell you. But I never say never, because I thought that door had slammed shut the first time. But is it shut today? Yeah, that lock’s on there pretty good.”/o:p

PAUL BOSTAPH RETURNING MUST’VE BEEN AN EASY TRANSITION…

KERRY: “I’ve never told this story before… you know, when Dave threw his toys out of the pram, we were on a flight to Australia so we couldn’t respond. The first text I got when we landed was from Paul Bostaph, saying something about whether we needed his service and he was available… and I thought it was a joke, because he’d quit my band twice. Really? Are you serious? Ha ha! But here we are. If Paul hadn’t quit the band twice, he’d be a 20-year member today.”

TOM: “Paul left the band twice, but he didn’t ever put us in a crunch situation. He was a gentleman about it. He made it clear that he’d finish his obligations. He let us know in advance, so that was cool. That’s why it was so easy for me to accept him. He came back and he’s happy to be back. He’s a former member and that’s the best thing about it. It wasn’t some other guy.”

WHEN YOU BEGAN RECORDING, DID YOU HAVE A STRONG IDEA OF WHICH MATERIAL YOU WERE GOING TO USE?

KERRY: “Probably 80% of it, because some of it wasn’t done. It’s great stuff, for sure. I can’t wait for people to hear it.”

DID YOU USE ANY OF JEFF’S MATERIAL IN THE END?

KERRY: “Yeah, Tom re-sang Piano Wire and that one’s on the record. Piano Wire was done for the last record but we never used it. Paul redid the drums, too, but other than that we just updated it a bit.

TOM: “I don’t know why Piano Wire wasn’t on the last record, because it’s really fuckin’ good! But it was Jeff’s song. We jammed it back out with Paul. Paul came in and nailed it. He changed some of the tempo changes and that changed the whole song. But you’ll know when you hear it… it’s a Jeff song. It was one of the first songs we worked out for World Painted Blood, almost half a year before we hit the studio to make that record. But it’s very reassuring to have Jeff’s song on there. It’s a good way to say farewell.”/o:p

AND IS THAT THE LAST OF JEFF’S STUFF?

KERRY: “There’s another one that we re-recorded that’ll be on the next record. That doesn’t have a title yet and we didn’t put vocals on it yet. So there’s a Jeff song on the next record. And then we’ll run out of his stuff. We thought it was a good idea to have one on this record and one on the next, rather than two on this one. It’s good to keep addressing that.”

TOM: “The question is, how long do we keep that up? There are songs, there is music. Jeff was a songwriter. That’s what he did. I had the privilege of listening to a whole hard drive of all his creativity, and there’s a lot of stuff there. But he’s not here and he can’t sit there and say, ‘No, I don’t like this song.’ Even though they sound great, there’s a reason why they didn’t come out, let’s put it that way.

“But there are two things that he actually put together, in the final days before he passed. If we went in the studio as Slayer, I think they would come out the way he would want them to. They would be Slayerized… ha ha ha! But I really want to find his original recordings of them, so we can use his performances from the demos. If we can, it would be awesome. It’s the magic of digital. People do duets with dead people now! Tupac made an appearance at a concert as a hologram, right? So with that digital magic, it’s possible. We’ll see if it makes it onto the next record.”

WHAT ELSE CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE NEW ALBUM?

TOM: “It’s Slayer! Ha ha ha! That’s the best compliment I can give it. You’re going to like it. The kids are gonna like it. It’s what they want. I don’t think they’re gonna be disappointed. It’s got some really intense shit in it.”

KERRY: “There’s a couple of songs that are going to be on it that the fans might know. Atrocity Vendor was released in the States on the B-side of some single [a limited vinyl edition of World Painted Blood], so now it’s ‘Atrocity Vendor 2015’. It’s completely re-recorded. It’s got new leads, new vocals, Paul playing drums… it’s pretty cool. There’s a brand new version of Implode on there. The version of When The Stillness Comes is brand new compared to the single that’s coming out.”/o:p

WHEN THE STILLNESS COMES SOUNDS LIKE SOMETHING JEFF MIGHT HAVE WRITTEN. WAS THAT THE AIM?

KERRY: “That one came out surprisingly good. If you know our history, I never did the clean or spooky stuff. That was always Jeff. It was the one thing musically that was just his. I’d do the crazy, punky fast stuff and he’d do the moody stuff. So When The Stillness Comes was my first attempt and it gave me goosebumps. I thought, ‘This is pretty fuckin’ good!’.”

ANY OTHER SONGTITLES OR DETAILS YOU CAN GIVE AWAY AT THIS STAGE?

KERRY: “The first song is called Repentless and that one’s pretty much… I call it the Hannemanthem! I wrote that for Jeff. Oh dude, it’s fast as fuck. You don’t know what the fuck’s coming! Ha ha! A song called Vices is on there somewhere – it’s super heavy. It’ll pummel you in the face. Take Control’s another fast one. Cast The First Stone’s another heavy one. There’s 12 songs on it, one being the intro, one being Implode, one being Atrocity Vendor and one being When The Stillness Comes, but every version of those songs you may have heard before is different, so I think that’s cool, but I also wanted them to be part of a collection. I like the finality of songs belonging on a record. It’s probably about 40 or 45 minutes, maybe less. We did God Hates Us All and we put every song we had at the time on the record because that was the trendy thing to do, but as soon as we did that I vowed never to do it again. I grew up with 10-song albums.”/o:p

IS THERE ANYTHING ON THE ALBUM THAT WILL SURPRISE PEOPLE?

TOM: “I think the surprise is that, aside from one song, Kerry put together all the music on this record. Kerry’s big on tempo and fast fuckin’ riffs, so the surprise is gonna be when they hear that he does have a slow side to him. People will be like, ‘Oh, Kerry wrote this?’ Ha ha ha! We’ve played the record to a few people and the reaction was big eyes and shit-eating grins! That’s when you know you’re heading in the right direction. Ha ha ha!”

KERRY: “I think, realistically, the surprise is going to be that we succeeded. People just expect you to fail. Any ounce of adversity and they don’t expect you get out of it. ‘They can’t write a good record after this… it ain’t gonna happen!’ But we did. Whether people shut up when they hear it or not, I’m satisfied already because I know this is a great fuckin’ record!”

YOU’VE BEEN TOGETHER AS A BAND FOR 35 YEARS NOW… HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH TOM?

KERRY: “How do you stay in any situation for over 30 years? You can count the bands on two hands, probably. We’re in very elite company. And I think about that sometimes, because how the fuck did we do that? But I can’t explain it. Now, in a sense, from the original lineup it’s just me and Tom. I look at him in a different way and I’m sure he looks at me in a different way, because now it’s about keeping each other happy, making sure we’re both stoked about everything moving forward. Essentially he’s my brother now. If he wasn’t before, he is now. I need to keep my brother happy to keep this machine going, and I think Tom’s in a good place right now.”

TOM: “Yeah, losing Jeff has brought us together somewhat. We’ve had to open up a line of communication. Kerry’s very black and white. I’m not a black and white person, but that’s Kerry. We’ve had to talk and that’s not been the case in the past. I talked to Jeff a lot. I could pick up the phone and call him and we’d talk, but that’s not been the norm with me and Kerry. But with everything that’s been going on, we’ve had to open up a dialogue to make sure we can communicate our thoughts to each other without pissing each other off! Ha ha!”/o:p

HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE IN SLAYER IN 2015?

KERRY: “I’m on top of the world now. My work’s done. It feels good, man. It’s good to be in Slayerland these days, because now we get to go out and play this stuff to people. We’ve never finished a record and had so much material waiting for the next record, so we’re in a wonderful place. It’s a good time, considering that we haven’t had a new record in six years. You know damn well it’s not gonna be another six years before the next one, and that’s a good feeling.”/o:p

TOM: “That’s a really deep question. How does it feel? It’s not one of those things you really think about. But being in Slayer for 35 years? It’s an amazing thing to be a part of this. It’s great and it’s sad too. After 35 years, the thing that Kerry and I share is our devotion and our sacrifice. We’ve sacrificed a lot to get where we’re at, and Jeff’s included in that. It’s the same with Gary. He’s been doing this a long time and he’s made the same sacrifice and had the same dedication. It’s a common bond we share with a lot of musicians out there. We made a huge sacrifice to do what we do, and it was all for Slayer, you know what I mean?”

WHEN THE STILLNESS COMES IS AVAILABLE NOW. SLAYER’S NEW ALBUM WILL BE RELEASED LATER THIS YEAR/o:p

THE HIGHS AND LOWS OF SLAYER’S DIFFICULT LAST SIX YEARS…

NOV 2009World Painted Blood is released – the last album by Slayer’s classic lineup.

JAN 2010 – The band cancel tour dates as Tom has surgery on his neck and back.

JUN 2010 – Slayer perform as part of The Big 4 for the first time ever at the Polish Sonisphere.

FEB 2011 – At the Grammys, Slayer are nominated for Best Metal Performance, but lose to Maiden.

FEB 2011 – Jeff is diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis after being bitten by a spider. Gary Holt and Pat O’Brien fill in for him on Slayer’s tour dates.

APR 2011 – Jeff plays his last gig with Slayer, joining them for the encore in Indio, California. “I’m the happiest man in the world,” he says after the show.

NOV 2011 – Dave Lombardo tweets that the band have begun to write new music.

MAY 2012 – Slayer play Reign In Blood in full at the All Tomorrow’s Parties’ I’ll Be Your Mirror festival at London’s Alexandra Palace.

JUL 2012 - Kerry King reveals two songtitles for the band’s upcoming 11th album, Implode and Chasing Death.

AUG 2012 – Kerry confirms that Slayer have ‘hijacked’ producer Greg Fidelman to work on the album.

FEB 2013 – Lombardo departs Slayer on the eve of the band’s dates at Soundwave, following a pay dispute. John Dette fills in for the shows.

MAY 2013 – The metal world mourns a legendary figure, as Jeff Hanneman passes away from liver failure, aged 49.

MAY 2013 – Paul Bostaph is officially confirmed as the band’s new drummer.

AUG 2013 – Slayer finally headline a UK festival for the first time, closing the Sunday night of Bloodstock.

OCT 2013 – Tom reveals that Jeff had sent him material he’d been working on before his death and that some of it may feature on the next Slayer album.

JAN 2014 – The band announce a North American headline tour alongside Suicidal Tendencies and Exodus, to kick off in June.

APR 2014 – Slayer premier Implode – their first new material in five years.

OCT 2014 – Plans are announced to release When The Stillness Comes via Scion AV, an “in-house record label and lifestyle marketing division” of Toyota’s Scion brand. The release date is confirmed for Record Store Day on April 18.

MAR 2015 – Slayer complete their new studio album./o:p

SLAYER’S MANAGER, RICK SALES, OPENS UP ABOUT JEFF’S DEATH.

HOW HARD HAVE THE LAST FEW YEARS BEEN FOR THE BAND, AND HOW DO YOU THINK THEY’VE HANDLED IT?

“Jeff had been having a hard time since the spider bite. He spent a lot of time in hospital and had a few surgeries and skin grafts. The process was long and exhaustive for him. We all thought he was doing much better. We had seen him a few times of course and we all had telephone calls with him about new material and recording. I’d just been to visit him about two weeks before he passed. He had all his recording gear set up and was working on new material. The guys and I were obviously devastated when he passed. It took us all some time for his passing to sink in. Everyone handles grief in their own way. Of course we all miss him, but everyone is moving forward in a positive way.”

DID YOU EVER HAVE ANY DOUBT THAT SLAYER WOULD CONTINUE AFTER JEFF’S PASSING?

“They definitely thought long and hard about whether to continue, and decided that although it would be hard without Jeff, they were going to go one step at a time. It’s now nearly two years later. The band is more unified than ever and the new album release and tour plans already extend through all of 2016 with stops all over the globe.”

**HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE NEW RECORD? SHOULD FANS BE GETTING EXCITED? **

“Of course I love all the Slayer albums, and have my favourites, as do all Slayer fans. This new album is brutal and will truly surprise and not disappoint. I have heard songs I believe will become Slayer classics!”/o:p

KERRY’S FIRST SLOW SONG CRAWLS STRAIGHT UNDER THE SKIN.

WHEN THE STILLNESS COMES/BLACK MAGIC (LIVE) [NUCLEAR BLAST]

Released exclusively for Record Store Day, the new Slayer single gives a tantalising glimpse of what the band have been up to in the studio. An entirely different version of a song that’ll appear in more refined form on the album, When The Stillness Comes is a classic, creepy Slayer anthem, vaguely redolent of past cuts like Dead Skin Mask and Spill The Blood, but somehow nastier, more haunting. Written by Kerry, who admits in this feature that it was his first attempt to write a slow, Jeff-style song, WTSC confirms that Jeff ’s absence has not lessened the legends’ power or their ability to unnerve and unsettle. A rampaging live take on early gem Black Magic, recorded at Wacken in August 2014, completes the picture. Visit Recordstoreday.co.uk to find out where you can grab a copy! [8]/o:p