By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
The howl came up suddenly through the floor. It was the sound of Tom Araya, shouting again with bottomless rage and horror from the downstairs control room at the Pass Studios in L.A. Even guitarist Kerry King, in the second-floor lounge, was startled enough to laugh, his shaved skull covered in leering, demonic tattoos: “Jesus Christ, he’s loud!” It was the fifth week of recording a new Slayer album, and King had just arrived to overdub additional layers of intense thrash guitar for an untitled song. Lyrics were still being written, ideas hashed out, but things were already going well. “I hope he’s that loud the whole record!”
It was late March, and King glanced over at the Jägermeister machine purring nearby, an ongoing benefit of having the liquor company as a sometime tour sponsor. It would help to fuel his work tonight, a definitive melding of heavy metal and hard-core punk. That is the Slayer tradition, and the new album that would come out of these sessions, World Painted Blood, would only be a refinement of long-standing formula, never a departure. Over the decades, Slayer has become a primal metal resource, as central to the insatiable headbanging subculture as Black Sabbath or Judas Priest; a band built for speed and terror, with images of pentagrams and German helmets splashed with blood, or songs decrying religion and the horrific flesh fetishes of madman Ed Gein. It is theater to some, very real to others — at least, as symbols of infinite rebellion against taste and the status quo.
Unlike their ’80s thrash contemporaries in Metallica, they do not evolve. No ballads, no strings. Slayer is something closer to Motörhead or even the Ramones, gloriously unchanging touchstones of rock and attitude, passed from brother to brother, father to child. A threat to some, a family tradition to others. “You’d be surprised how many fucking diapers I’ve signed,” says King.
The new album should not disappoint. Guitarists and songwriters King and Jeff Hanneman rip through 11 tracks of speed and aggression, occasionally slowing for a brooding passage in the Sabbath vein (“Beauty Through Disorder” and “Human Strain”). Drummer Dave Lombardo pounds a thunderous beat at a supernatural pace, and Araya sings/shouts/sneers more tales of serial murder and psychosis, state oppression, snuff films and endless war over oil (“Americon”).
On the panicked “Hate Worldwide” (with lyrics by King), Araya roars: “I’m a godless heretic, not a God-fearing lunatic/That’s why it’s become my obsession, to treat God like an infection.” And the disturbed “Psychopathy Red” (lyrics by Hanneman) is barbaric horror fantasy in excess: “It’s your time to die ... All alone, my prey intimidated/Feed my lust for fear ... Your screams fill my soul.”
This was once the stuff of congressional hearings. Now it’s available at Hot Topic — where Slayer made an appearance a few weeks back. But the ’80s were a long time ago. “My manager said to me: ‘The world doesn’t shock as easy as it used to. What are you going to do to shock them?’ I don’t really know if it’s about that anymore,” King says. “What you could get away with back then, and where society was, is so different from where society is today. It’s so much more tolerant. Do I really want to push being edgy, with the ramification of it being goofy? Or do I just want to do what we’re good at, and press the boundaries of what we’ve done, and stay true to the formula?”
The thrash-metal formula was largely birthed in Southern California, ignited in the early ’80s by the speedy, genre-shaping quartet of Slayer, Metallica, Megadeth and New York City’s Anthrax. They were hated, laughed at, feared, ignored, while the metal mainstream pushed the prettier Poison and Bon Jovi, filling hours of MTV with good times and showbiz — and little to remember the morning after. Slayer instead built a committed grassroots following that would last decades, from hometown clubs in Orange County to road trips via U-Haul and Araya’s Camaro. They played to disaffected crowds fueled by the same feelings of intensity, rage, madness. The mosh pits erupted like prison riots.
Just like Metallica (who relocated to the Bay Area), Slayer picked up its two-guitar metal assault from the examples of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. As a young fan and guitarist, King also spent many nights at the Fabulous Forum up in the loge seats with a pair of binoculars, closely observing the flash players of the moment, studying Eddie Van Halen or Randy Rhoads, and learning from these modern masters of speed. King began accompanying Hanneman and Lombardo to hard-core punk shows by Minor Threat and the Adolescents. “We fed off of that aggression,” Lombardo recalls.