Interview with Tom Araya of Slayer: Worldwide Carnage

American fans have been salivating for a Slayer tour since World Painted Blood, the world’s most iconic thrash band’s most recent album, arrived in early November of last year. A tour named “American Carnage” with Megadeth and Testament was scheduled—historic, given Megadeth and Slayer hadn’t toured together in almost two decades—but a back injury sidelined bassist/singer Tom Araya, and the tour was postponed.

Since, Araya required back surgery and recovered, and the band has done a few European festivals, including the Sonisphere festival appearances in Greece, where for the first time, the Big Four American thrash bands—Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax—performed at the same show.

Leave it to Europe to put that show on.

But American fans were still waiting for Slayer and Megadeth to perform, and the American Carnage tour has finally come around, with August dates including Testament and one date in October with Anthrax. The headliners will be performing their 1990 opuses, Seasons In The Abyss and Rust In Peace, respectively, yet another historical nod to the year of the first Clash Of The Titans tour.

As the interview below with Araya happened during his recovery, we didn’t have an opportunity to talk about the reunion show or the upcoming reissues of their out-of-print concert DVDs—War At The Warfield and Still Reigning and the previously VHS-only Live Intrusion. We mostly talked about the album.

And boy was there a lot to say.

When World Painted Blood came out, it hadn’t been recalled in a sovereign country, and I didn’t see a lot of religious groups freaked out about it. There was no outrage.

No, no. Obviously, they didn’t find anything about it offensive (laughs). Yeah, maybe they haven’t sat down and read the lyrics yet. No one has found it offensive, so to me, that’s the reason why. They haven’t found anything to nitpick.

I guess ‘Jihad’ is what sent them on fire for Christ Illusion.

But even that didn’t set anybody on fire. Not as much as ‘Angel Of Death’ did. ‘Angel Of Death’ set everybody on fire. ‘Jihad,’ nobody. You may have noticed it or seen it because you’re on the journalist side, but on my side, my opinion, no one gave a stink about that song. And I thought it would, and it didn’t. From my perspective, nobody gave a shit about that song. To me, I thought that was kind of odd, but that’s okay. This album did fine. (laughs).

From what I can ascertain, it was the first Slayer record that you by and large wrote in the studio. Did that change the dynamic of the writing process and the end result?

I think that’s one of the reasons it came out very much like the records that we did with Rick Rubin, the three records. Those records were kind of written that way. Even though the material didn’t [entirely] come together in the studio, like on South and Seasons, we went in with material done and songs weren’t written yet, but they musically worked together.

Those three records, stuff would come up and come together in the studio. It was after Seasons that a lot of the songs came into the studio already done, and everything changed after Seasons. But this record, I think it’s one of the reasons why it has the same quality to it as those other three records. We had some songs and then other songs came together in the studio, which is kind of how it used to be done. But this time the songs literally came together in the studio, where before we had music, but no lyrics. We would have music and some structure, but not complete. This time, Kerry [King] said, ‘Hey, I’ve got a new song.’ We’d listen to it, we’d learn it, and we’d play it. Which was the same with Jeff [Hanneman]. Jeff would come in with all his stuff on a disc. Everything. ‘Here’s my song.’ And then we’d learn it and we’d play it.

This one, out of all of them, the majority of the songs came together in the studio. That allows for everyone to speak and to voice not necessarily an opinion, but to voice what they hear in the song and what the song means to them. And I think Greg [Fidelman] would sit there and listen to what anybody had to say about a song and then take that in and compare to his mental notes. And then you have that album that you’re listening to, which is a great album (laughs). I think that’s what it is. A lot of everything saying ‘I really like this, I really like that.’ He took all those things and kept all those things in the songs that everybody liked. And he was able to get that out of us. I think he did a great job.

The album is very balanced from song to song, and it’s really very representative of Slayer as a whole.

I have to agree. When it was coming together in the studio, it felt good the entire time. As everything was coming together, it felt really cool. I was like, ‘Wow, this is awesome.’ It kept getting better and better. There was nothing disappointing about it as we recorded it. I guess it has a lot to do with Greg, how he was. He made it fun to be there. He was excited to be there so it made you excited, kind of. I think it added to the mood in the studio.

Would you say it’s the most fun that you’ve had putting together a record in a long time?

Yeah. You were literally working with someone who really liked what he was doing, and [someone who] tried to get the best out of you. Everything you did was great. It didn’t really matter what you did, it was great, and we can always make it greater, better. There were no downsides to anything. It would be ‘This sounds great.’ And you would come up with something else, and it would be ‘Oh, this sounds better. Let’s go with this.’ It’s how people approach things I guess. And he approaches it with a very optimistic view.

Was that markedly different from Josh [Abraham] or Matt [Hyde] for the last two records?

Oh yeah. Very different from the last two records that we’ve done. Very different from everything up until when Rubin left (laughs). Yeah. Those albums in between there, like on Divine and Diabolus, the studio records aside from Undisputed, those were left to us. Believe it or not, Divine Intervention was kind of left to us. We dealt with three or four people who worked with us on that album, as far as producing that album, and each process that recording was fucked up (laughs).

But Divine and all the records after Divine up to Christ Illusion, we fended for ourselves, with Rubin just making sure that everything was cool and that we were happy. We put a lot of production into those albums as a band. I know we had people working with us who were producers, but we had a big part in that, because we were left to ourselves.

Once we got into Christ Illusion, it’s when us as a unit—with Dave [Lombardo] being back in the band—it changed how we work as a unit. It was just a change of attitude. And that change of attitude wasn’t great enough [then] to reflect on that album as it did on this new album. That change of attitude came with Greg, and I think that had a big part in how the recording process went with this album.

The fact that we booked studio time with him not even having material (laughs). We did three songs with him and we really liked working with him, and he said, listen, I’m going to be booking to some studio time soon, so let’s book some time. And we booked a date, and when that date came, we had maybe five songs at the most. So he sat in and worked on new material as [Kerry and Jeff] were working on new songs that they had, new ideas.

He was there from the very beginning of the whole process, which is what Rubin used to do. Rubin wanted to hear tapes of stuff and wanted to hear things as they progressed. Or he would come chill out and hang, or we would take it to him, have him listen to it and see what he thought. Greg was a little more involved, and I think that made a big difference in what we were doing and how we were writing and creating. Which brought it back to the Rubin days, which was really cool.