Thrash metal musicians are not always the most social of animals. The guys in Anthrax do tend to get along with other bands, but Slayer, Megadeth and Metallica have famously traded insults across the decades over slights big and small. That all came to an end last year in Europe, during their first-ever tour as the “Big 4” thrash originators.
Even the tattooed, rock-hard exterior of Slayer guitarist Kerry King seemed to soften during the seven-date tour with his rival shredders, and he spent several dates watching Metallica's set from behind Lars Ulrich's drumkit. Now their unexpected collaboration arrives as the Big 4 Festival on Saturday at Empire Polo Field in Indio, where Slayer will unleash a loud-fast mix of metal tunes dating back to the '80s and up through 2009's World Painted Blood album. (But he won't be recreating his wildman solo from the Beastie Boys' 1987 hit “No Sleep Till Brooklyn.”)
In an exclusive interview, King tells the LA Weekly about the rise of thrash, remembers seeing Dave Mustaine shred for the first time, and explains why Slayer will never be bigger than they are now:
That's a gigantic venue to fill in Indio. How are these four metal bands able to fill it?
Metallica is pretty huge on their own. The historic-ness of it – four of the biggest metal bands to come out of the U.S. getting together. The media named us the Big 4 so long ago, it's been every fan's pipe dream.
How were the “Big 4” shows in Europe last year?
I thought it was going to be something cool for the fans, but I went in thinking it was just going to be another show, you know, who cares – everybody's going to be segregated in their worlds. But it was a lot more fun than I expected. I was onstage watching Metallica at least three of the seven shows, if not four times.
Had you spent much time around Metallica before this?
No. We just ran in different circles. We never toured with Metallica – other than onetime at the Woodstock [club] before we even had a record out, or just a random festival.
What was the Woodstock like?
That's where we came to power. Metallica would have too if they had not moved to the Bay. I saw Metallica there before we played with them, when Dave Mustaine was in the band. I was blown away at the band in general, but Mustaine because he was really fucking good.
Did he play differently than other people?
I was amazed at the things he was playing without even looking at his fingers. I look at my fingers today. Thirty years ago he was ripping these kick-ass leads without even looking.
What do you think of the changes the bands have gone through over the last 30 years?
We were lucky because we didn't have to change at all. In the other bands, they just became different entities. We all started out as this crazy metal beast, and from that birth we all grew four heads that are very different.
Slayer is the only band with its original lineup intact.
I don't know about the L.A. show. I don't think Jeff's coming back for that.
What is the latest news with [guitarist] Jeff Hanneman?
He's trying his ass off. He's been talking about playing that show, but I just don't see how physically he'd be able to do that. I'm just being realistic. He came to the last rehearsal and surprised everybody. I was blown away that he was even out of the house. That was after his first or second skin graft to fix the huge opening he had. He was totally out of gas because he hadn't left the house much. He was cold because his immune system was all fucked up. We haven't talked since then. I get updates through management. He's doing whatever the doctors tell him to do.
Did the thrash acts share any fans with glam bands in the '80s?
It wouldn't surprise me if eventually. What we were doing – and Metallica and Megadeth – was more street. That's how those things pan out. I knew there was going to be a big wave of people getting into metal again when Disturbed and Godsmack started getting big. These people get tired of this and look for the next thing. And even though we're not the next thing, we're the next level of rage, so to speak.
Didn't thrash fade back a bit during the grunge era?
Grunge was definitely a fad, as nu-metal was. There are still grunge bands that are awesome. It's really cool that Soundgarden's playing. I'd like to hear what they come up with. Pearl Jam still plays. Nu-metal was more of a traditional fad where it just came and went.
Outside the Long Beach last time, there were a couple Christian protesters. Do you still get a lot of that?
I think it was bigger before. Now I think people are more tolerant of different people's views and opinions. The funny thing about protesters is, you never see atheists or Satanists protest anything. They're comfortable in their beliefs. It's only Christians that are so uncomfortable with how they feel, they're not happy unless everyone believes what they believe.
This has been a busy two years for Slayer.
I think this is as big as we're ever going to get. Because we play such an extreme form of metal that we're selling — there's only so may people who will be into it. It will always keep regenerating itself because it's very street and kids can really relate to it, but I don't think we'll ever achieve Metallica size.
There aren't a lot of acts or tours than can fill a stadium these days, but it seems likely that the Big 4 could easily do a stadium tour.
It's totally die-hard. They are very dedicated fans, the metal heads. That's why we try to take care of them.
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