With their forthcoming tenth studio album World Painted Blood, and world tour landing in Australia this month, Slayer are grinding harder than ever. Frontman Tom Araya gave many an opinion to utter fanboy James Cotterell, on the eve of their controversial run of shows . The results are as follows…
Slayer are revered, intimidating and fucking amazing. They have set the standards for some 28 years, virtually producing a template for modern death metal, thrash, punk, grind and hardcore, which has been flogged by countless bands ever since. Slayer did all this with an unbridled speed, aggression and attitude that few bands have ever matched. In the studio there have been patchy periods, but the band hit their zenith of form on 2007’s Christ Illusion and the to be released in November World Painted Blood.
What is unusual is not the fact that Slayer are putting out a record in 2009, but the fact that record companies nowadays treat upcoming releases (and their security) as though they were on par with America’s nuclear attaché – instead of a CD sampler, I’ve been sent some weird embedded ‘eCard’ thing. I thought only 40 year olds used this shit for online Christmas cards. Loading it up, my speakers are immediately hurting from the urgency and harsh attack of the eponymous opener and Unit 2:31. About half an hour later I’ve got a telephone glued to the side of my head with none other than Slayer’s bassist/frontman and general shred lord Tom Araya on the other end.
Although I’ve heard the man has the mouth for a good yarn, I’m still not sure what to expect. Araya sounds calm but he’s easily excitable and he grizzles his way through his answers with his trademark gravel-throat. At the end of his responses there was often a huge hearty bellow or chuckle coming my way.
On first impression, and the second, and the third, World Painted Blood is utterly brilliant. It’s the Slayer we know and love – no bullshit intrusions from nu-metal, pianos or shlocky radio tunes (like their counterparts have done). It is pure brutality, and something Araya is more than eager to talk up. “It’s an amazing record – and I’ve been telling everybody that. We’ve always been here, and I guess we’re just pumping iron now!”
Produced by Greg Fidelman (Metallica, The Gossip, Slipknot), the affair resonates as clearly as a Slayer racket can. Sonically, the record packs far less gloss, poor execution and studio augmentation than Death Magnetic ever did. Araya sees the disparity as timing, above all else. “On our record Greg started with us from the get go, but on [Metallica’s] Death Magnetic he came in afterwards. He did a really good job – he really got that out of us. Everyday we’d come in and he kept referencing Slayer, and that’s what he got from us – more Slayer!”
After having their early career practically built, sampled out (see Beastie Boys, Run DMC etc) and carried by label honcho (American/Columbia/Def Jam) and producer extraordinaire Rick Rubin, it would be interesting to see how involved he is with the current Slayer. It seems not as close as I’d hoped – I guess he’s too busy hanging out eating vegan food, washing his beard and dancing with chicks in million dollar rap videos.
“I think Jeff [Hanneman, guitarist] is the only one that talks to Rick. At one point we’d communicate with him, and then after Seasons [in the Abyss] we just kind of stopped. We did Divine Intervention, and then after that he’s just been ‘executive producer’; which basically means when the record’s finished someone will send him the CD and then he’ll say whether he likes it or not.”
As Slayer hit the country this week for a slew of arena dates co-headlined by Megadeth, the music presses went hot with the gossip that Slayer is utterly sick of Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine and his antics. Tensions have been high and so they have been for a very long time, claims Araya, noting guitarist Kerry King’s overly vocal distaste for the controversial Mustaine. But business is business he says. “People always claim that Slayer has said ‘this is the last time we’ll tour with them’ each time it happens. We originally toured with Megadeth on the Clash of the Titans [the 1991 billing of Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax and Alice in Chains(!)] so we’ve known him a while. Kerry [King, guitarist] can say what he wants, but whatever, it’s business. It’s good business – kids want to see that pairing on a stage. The shows are all selling out – that says a lot!”
With the debatable “big four” of thrash metal still milling around in their varying states (however faded – see Anthrax – or bloated – see Metallica), would it be possible for such a tour to happen again? “I don’t know. It’s been mentioned recently, and I don’t know what your opinion is about the ‘Four’… Is there a ‘Four’ any more?” As the seasoned forefather is laying down such biblical ontology, he suddenly turns it back onto me (we agree there may be a ‘Three’, but certainly no ‘Four’). “Well”, Araya continues, “The ‘four’ that we’re talking about… When we put together Clash of the Titans – we asked Metallica if they wanted to do that, and they said no. So then it become Alice in Chains. Testament was on the US tour and Suicidal Tendencies were on the European leg. So there probably never was a ‘Four’ in the first place.”
Opening acts brave enough to don their kit before a Slayer audience often just won’t make it through the night. Opening up for Slayer will either make or break a band – look at Mastodon and then perhaps, Static X, as good examples. With each baptism of fire the band’s audience is capable of providing, it is often an ample test of patience, skill and guts that will get the opening act off that stage alive. I can tell Araya is all too ready to endorse this kind of rowdy behaviour.
“We’ve toured with a lot of bands – like when we were doing tours for South of Heaven and Seasons [In the Abyss] with some groups who are just no longer around. There was a band that [Rick] Rubin had signed – Mindfunk or something; they toured with us once and that was it – never to be heard of again! Sometimes I’ll get sent records if it’s a band we may bring onto the tour, and I just don’t listen to them at all! If you’re willing to come out with us and take the abuse, I’m fine with it – you’re cool, that’s all I need to know!”
On their impending Australian jaunt, Slayer will also perform the classic Reign in Blood in its entirety (all 27 minutes of it!) after an hour-long set boasting the plethora of classics they’ve amounted over their career. Is it hard to match that same intensity of a recording that warped minds the world over 23 years later on a stage in 2009? “After our usual set, we come out and blow out what we usually do. I’m sure you’ve seen when it rains blood at a Slayer show before! [check out the band’s DVD Reign In Blood: Still Reigning and you’ll know what I mean] We’ll take some time to rehearse it all, but it’ll come back real quick.”
In your eyes has there ever been a band that has matched Slayer’s intensity and adrenaline, and perhaps upstage you? “Honestly, that’s a tough call. I’m trying to think who’s out there that’s heavy enough to come across as pounding. The closest would be Slipknot – that would be the closest… and I’m being generous!… and I’m being kind!” After a moment’s pause, Araya readjusts to a more comfortable fit. “However… I forgot Motorhead! I’ve seen them play lots of times – they’re just so fucking loud. I think I’ll have to take that back and give the title to Motorhead. Now that I think about it, Lemmy’s pretty fucking loud and in your face, almost as much as me!”
If you’ve already filled your diary with plans this week – lose them. If Slayer have no plans, neither do you! Just consider the following as good advice.
“The only time we ever went out of our way to do something was when we wrote what I consider to be the first Slayer song. And that was because we listened to the Metal Massacre [released through Metallica’s first label Metal Blade] compilation albums, and Brian Slagel [founder] asked us to make a track for the next one. Listening to all the early benchmark metal records all we thought was ‘man we can make something heavier than this’. That’s what we decided we were going to do from then on – be the heaviest and the fastest band in the world.”
Slayer play the Hordern Pavilion with Megadeth this Thursday, October 8. Their own solo show is on October 15 at the Big Top, Luna Park. World Painted Blood drops November 2nd.