An Interview with Slayer: Staying Strong

LEFT TO RIGHT:  Tom Araya, Gary Holt, Paul Bostaph, Kerry King
LEFT TO RIGHT: Tom Araya, Gary Holt, Paul Bostaph, Kerry King

Few names carry more weight in metal music than Slayer. Joining Anthrax, Metallica, and Megadeth to comprise the Big Four, the band surrounds themselves with titans of hard rock and metal. Although giants in the game, Kerry King and crew have also been operating with a heavy heart in recent years. After the loss of guitarist Jeff Hanneman and the departure of drummer Dave Lombardo, the band has seen a reformation of their lineup. King has been joined on stage with guitarist and friend Gary Holt of Exodus, while Paul Bostaph comes back to the band on drums.

In September, Slayer will be releasing the long-awaited follow-up to 2009’s World Painted Blood. The highly anticipated album, Repentless, will be out on CD, vinyl, and in a deluxe edition that weighs in at seven pounds. This LP also marks the debut for Holt as he performed leads to round out the guitar attack.

I recently had the opportunity to chat with King. The Slayer guitarist discussed the adversities the band has had to face, as well as their current tour cycle with King Diamond, Hellyeah, and others on the Rockstar Mayhem Festival tour. He shared insight into how the record was made and what led to the decision of Holt contributing leads in the studio. He also touched upon the band’s current setlist and what keeps him listening as a music fan. Check out what Kerry had to say below:

Did you feel there was a different kind of pressure writing wise for Repentless?

Not really, because at the time that I started, Jeff was still with us. At that particular time, I think it was early 2011, he was just undergoing the illness. I had no idea if he was going to contribute one song, 10 songs, or none. I just took it upon myself to begin writing. If Jeff came in with 10 or so cuts, I would have had a bunch of extra material that we could use toward another Slayer record.

There is no doubt that you guys have been through a lot in recent years. How difficult was it to get things going on this one and to get into the studio to finish everything up?

We have had a lot of adversities to deal with since World Painted Blood. Six years is the biggest gap between records for us as a band. The gap between God Hates Us All and World Painted Blood was five years. And that one was because we were touring all of the time. With losing both, a guitar tech and Jeff, we had a lot on our minds. Once we were able to regain focus on making music, it was just a matter of doing it.

And you had an old friend in drummer Paul Bostaph to help you out with this one.

Yeah, it was awesome. I love working with Paul. If he didn’t quit the band twice, he would have been here the entire time. It was never a personal thing with him. For whatever reason, he felt like he had to leave, and so he did. Whenever we played in the area, I would make sure he would have tickets to get to the show and come hang out with us.

Thats great. So you guys picked up right where you left off?

Absolutely, yeah.

Gary Holt from Exodus has been playing with you guys for a bit now. What ultimately led to the decision of him solely working on leads for this album?

I thought long and hard about what I wanted Gary’s participation to be on this record. Looking at this from a fan’s perspective, I decided that maybe it would make the most sense if he had just participated in the leads. Maybe I overthought it, I don’t know, but that is where we ended up. You can’t have a two-guitar attack without two guitars.

Was he in the studio for a majority of the time or did he pop in and out?

He was actually in the studio with us for about two days (laughs). He got in, nailed his parts, and then went home. We really cherish our downtime, simply because we have so little of it. That being said, Gary lives about eight hours north of us, so we understood that he went home.

Do you have any thoughts about him joining the band full-time or writing the next one with you guys?

I haven’t discussed that at all with Tom [Araya] or Gary. But I am completely open to that idea.

I saw there was a bit of confusion in terms of a track on the record with music from Jeff.

Yeah, Jeff’s song on the record is “Piano Wire.” We worked on that one at the end of the recording sessions for the last album. The lyrics were never fully polished up, so that is why it didn’t come out at that time. We kept my guitar parts this go around, had Paul play the drums to it, and Tom sang it over. If we do another record, we have another one of Jeff’s tracks recorded; we just need to put lyrics to it. And we actually have about six to eight songs from this session like that. So we are more ahead of the game than we have ever been in our career.

Shifting gears a bit, I wanted to quickly touch upon the deluxe edition of Repentless.

Oh man, that thing is massive. I was doing some press in Germany and got to see the first one. It is as cool as you think it is (laughs).

Do you think its necessary for bands to offer more special editions and packages in order to sell their physical releases?

To me, it keeps things interesting. We all know that people aren’t buying music like they used to. If you give them any sort of incentive or collectability, it definitely helps a lot.

And giving the fans this sense of ownership over your music really adds a connection with the band.

What’s great about Slayer is that I feel like it is more than just a band. It spans different generations. Some fans may have been with us for eight years, while others for 30 years.

And how does that play into your setlist creation in terms of catering to new and veteran fans of the band?

Well, the thing about the Mayhem tour is that I am used to playing for an hour and a half or an hour and 15 minutes. And when you make a record, it gets harder and harder. So there are songs that you have to play and then there are songs that you want to play.

And are you previewing any of the new songs on this tour?

Yeah, we are playing three of them right now. We open with one of them and then we play the other two more toward the middle of the set.

And what led to the decision of starting your shows with a new track?

We just think that it is time. We have opened with “World Painted Blood” a million times and we can only go back to “Disciple” and “Hell Awaits” so many times. I am sure we will revisit that later on in this tour cycle.

Youre on the road with a lot of great bands right now. Who has impressed you the most?

On this tour, King Diamond is absolutely killing it. I am blown away at how good he sounds.

Are there any other bands that have recently left you with a strong impression?

There is just so much stuff out there and I would say that for the most part, a lot of it fails the two-song test. If I get through two songs on a record and I don’t like it, I move on. A friend at Nuclear Blast actually gave me the latest Decapitated album. I listened to the whole thing and it never made it to the trash, so it must be alright (laughs).

So opening a LP with two strong tracks is the way to go?

Yeah, I would say so. If you aren’t putting your best material in the beginning of the record, I guess I will never hear it (laughs).

Slayer will play at the Susquehanna Bank Center in Camden, NJ on July 17, the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ on July 21, and the Nikon At Jones Beach Theater in Wantagh, NY on July 26. Repentless is slated for release on Sept. 11. For future tour dates and information, head over to