Welcome Back: Slayer

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One of metal’s most reliably bellicose collectives, Slayer have endured a tumultuous couple of years since the passing, in May 2013, of founding guitarist Jeff Hanneman.

Indeed, there was speculation that the LA group might disband, bringing the curtain down upon a three decades-old career which has defined thrash metal. The promised release of the quartet’s eleventh album, Repentless, has put paid to such talk.Recorded with Terry Date (Pantera/Soundgarden), the 12-track set is the band’s first album since 2009’s World Painted Blood, and guitarist Kerry King says that his band have been “blown away” by the “giddy” reactions of those who’ve heard advance copies.

In the wake of Jeff ’s death, did you envisage Slayer bowing out?

Obviously there was some talk, but I still want to make music, and if I’m still making music I want it to be on a Slayer record, so that’s pretty straightforward for me. I’m very proud of how Repentless turned out. The anticipation around it motivated us to dig deep.

Jeff’s replacement, Gary Holt, is one of thrash metal’s most distinctive guitarists, but he doesn’t contribute to songwriting. Did you think his input might alter Slayer’s musical DNA?

Well, I was thinking about it more from a fan perspective, because metal fans are very loyal and Slayer fans are a step above that. I was thinking back to when I was a metal fan in my teens and how I would feel about this band moving forward, and to me the right thing seemed to be to go on just as things were. Gary does some solos, so when we play live it won’t feel like he’s just playing cover versions, but I think people have a clearly defined idea of what Slayer sound like at this point.

Some Slayer fans were upset when you referred to Jeff as “worm food”.

I meant no disrespect, but that’s just a fact. And the context of that quote was me talking about the unity that’s in the band right now. I mean, I’m aware that there’s a section of metal fans out there who’ll think that without Jeff the new record isn’t Slayer, and so I want to shut them up.

Did Jeff’s death bring you and [frontman] Tom Araya close together?

A little bit. Because now there’s only the two of us that have been here since day one, so it’s important for us to look out for one another and ensure that, alongside Gary and Paul [Bostaph, Slayer drummer], both of us are still having a good time with this. I feel like we’re firing on all cylinders right now. We’re out on the Mayhem tour in the US, and it’s going great… even if one of the promoters [Kevin Lyman] has been spouting off.

Didn’t he say that metal bands are getting “grey, bald and fat”?

Yeah, the only thing I can think of is that he woke up, looked in the mirror and described himself.

You’re back in the UK in November with Anthrax.

The Anthrax boys are old, old friends, so that’s going to be incredibly fun. I know fans of the band are going to be beside themselves when they hear the new record, so touring it is going to be a riot.

Repentless is out on September 11 via Nuclear Blast

Classic Rock 214: News & Regulars