Slayer formed in 1981 by guitarists Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King. Known for their distinctive musical traits, involving fast tremolo picking, guitar solos, double bass drumming, and screaming vocals, Slayer quickly gained recognition with their 1986 release Reign in Blood, which has been called “the heaviest album of all time”. The band is credited as one of the “Big Four” thrash metal bands, along with Megadeth, Metallica, and Anthrax.
Criticized by religious groups (which consequently generated album bans, delays, lawsuits and, most importantly, publicity) due to their outspoken lyrics and creative album art, Slayer’s lyrics cover topics such as serial killers, Satanism, religion, warfare and the Holocaust.
Selling over four million albums in the United States alone, since their debut record in 1983, the band has released two live albums, one box set, and ten studio albums. The band has received two Grammy nominations, winning one in 2007 for the song “Eyes of the Insane”, and headlined music festivals worldwide, including Ozzfest and the Download Festival. Roya sat down with legend Kerry King to catch up on their Christ Illusion tour.
Tell me about your 666 tattoo?
King: I got it in June 6th of last year. We were supposed to tour then, but our plans changed, and my buddy Paul Booth who’s a tattoo artist was supposed to come out to the Show in San Diego and do it there, but the show got canceled so I just said, hey why don’t I go out to your place and get tattoos.’ So me, my wife, him, his girl, and his apprentice all got 666’s on that day.
All in the same place?
King: No, all different *laughs*.
What does it signify?
King: Just the day. It was the day The Omen came out, and it comes around once every hundred years; I thought it was pretty cool.
How was it working with Tony Petrossian (Killswitch Engage, Slipknot, Stone Sour) on the Eyes of the Insane music video?
King: I’ve never met him/Never talked to him–It’s just one of those things. He had a treatment, and we all dug the treatment so we just turned him loose. After we saw the first draft we gave a couple suggestions and that was about it.
Tell me a little about that video and your political/religious views related to this video as well as to your new album.
King: The entire video is just shown in the reflection of a soldier’s eyes; so you’re seeing what he sees in war everyday. It’s pretty cool–I thought it was neat idea–very different, especially for us, because we usually do performance based videos.
How is it with Dave Lombardo back in Slayer?
King: It’s awesome. He’s been back with us for five years now, cruising along–Slayer sledge hammer.
How is this tour with Unearth going so far–what have been your favorite cities to play?
King: We’re coming up on NYC. That’s always a good one. I think we did Ottawa. I think for the first time. It’s such a long career and when we hit some place only once or twice I tend to forget, but I don’t think we’ve been to Ottawa before, and that was a really good show. We did three in Hamilton, London, and then Ottawa– Ottawa was the best Canadian show so far. We didn’t do LA. San Diego was good. House of Blues in Vegas is always off the hook.
Did you like playing Salt Lake City?
King: I don’t like that venue. *laughs*
King: It’s just, you know, it’s fucking in the middle of no where. Kind of a dump, but backstage they’ve gone… I don’t know if they’ve gone out of their way, but they’ve finally started dealing with the amenities…making them a little nicer in the backstage area, so that was cool.
What’s it like playing for so many years and still selling out shows?
King: It’s cool, man. If they stopped coming I wouldn’t have a job, right? *laughs*
In your mind, what’s been the progress in the metal scene?
King: I think it’s a good time for metal right now. Because there seems to be a lot of new bands out there right now contributing to what we’ve been contributing to for so long. It takes new bands to get more people interested and revitalize the movement.
How’s married life treating you?
King: Awesome, my wife is going to be in New York, so I’ll see her day after tomorrow–counting down the days!
In the past 5 years, I’ve noticed an increase in your marketing efforts (merch and exposure).. has your wife influenced that?
King: She’s good at that. If I’d never met her, I’d probably would have never done my own t-shirt line. All the endorsements from all of the music people keep me more focused.
What inspired the Christ Illusion cover art (by Larry Carrol)?
King: The album cover… we just told the artist, who we hadn’t worked with in fifteen years… we uncovered that dude and we said to him, “here are the lyrics which we have so far, and go.” I think it’s cool when you can just let an artist be free and go do there thing with out telling them what to do…let them be free, like we are when we make music.
Wait, so you hadn’t seen Carrol in fifteen years?
King:No, didn’t know if he was still doing art of any kind.
What album did he do before?
King:He did Rain, South, and Seasons.
And so what inspired you to try and get in touch with him again?
King:Because the last one he worked on with us was the last one Dave played on. So when Dave came back, I thought I’d be really cool if we uncovered the guy that did the last cover that Dave was on.
And how do you think this album compares to God Hates Us All?
King:I like it better. I like both of those two. I think they’re the two best records we’ve done since Seasons of the Abyss. So when God Hates came out, that was my favorite one we’d done in a long time. Then when Christ Illusion came out… I think it’s more complete than God Hates… I think it’s just a better record. We did ten songs, which is very old school, as opposed to doing, you know, whatever’s popular — thirteen, fourteen, filling up a disc with stuff you’re not as comfortable with. So we went into this one knowing that we were only going to ten or eleven songs, and I think we really streamlined the hell out of them.
And Carrol didn’t have the album name when he was doing the artwork?
How did you come up with the name Christ Illusion?
King: Well, we had to call it something, and Tom suggested that. It was a line from the song Cult.’ That was the one that was out already, so it kind of linked in reference to the EP we put out, and it worked well with the art itself, I think.
Does it signify anything going on right now politically or religiously?
King: Not really. As far as an album title goes, it was just something that was in our songs already. It’s not like we had to make something up… It already existed.
Is Christ Illusion an overt outcry to shake people into realizing that organized religion is a legalized form of mind control (as is TV)?
King: For me it is. But I know that Tom and Dave both are religious people. Just goes to show you that grown people can be in the same band and have very different views.
How many guitars do you take on tour with you?
King: I think there might be ten. But I don’t play them all. Some are back ups. In any given set… I’m playing six right now.
And why do you switch it up?
King: Different tuning for one thing, because during out set we play three separate tunings. A lot of times if we play a set, I’ll switch because I just want to make sure to stay in tune.
Rick Rubin (who has been with Slayer since the 80s) is credited as executive producer of Christ Illusion. How is it having him on your team? How has he helped you through the years?
King: I didn’t even see him on this record. Executive producer means “guy on the record label.” And what he does for us is listen to our mix and throw in some suggestions when we are essentially done with it. He has an idea of what he thinks it should sound like–it might be something minuscule like “turn up the snare drum just at three minutes ten seconds into the song”, or “just for this one hit”… quirky shit, you know.
Please clarify this long term misconception that Slayer is a bunch of Nazi fascists.
King: I can say anything you want, but… *laughs* I haven’t joined the Hitler youth in any recent times, so nothing’s different… just Scott hating king.
Has your family been supportive of your career?
King: Yeah, my dad was stoked on the Grammy. I didn’t really care, but I knew that my dad would, because it gave him something to be proud of.
Were you inspired in any way by the hardcore movement–did you see American Hardcore?
King: I don’t think I saw that. But Jeff was totally into hardcore around the first album. And it took me a while to get into it, because I was into singers, and I didn’t understand the punk screaming thing for a long time. So at that time I was all into Dickinson and Halford–real singers. But once I figured out that it was the angst part of it that made it cool, then I put the two together.
I heard you’ve had some intense fans, like the guy who had ‘Slayer’ carved into his back that you had in one of your EP covers a while back. Have you met up with any recent fans that have made you step back and smirk?
King: Not at dramatic as that. You see the cool back tattoo or something that people put big pieces of art on themselves of my band. That’s kind of cool. But that one guy, I think he was in Sacramento and his buddy did it with a broken beer bottle. *laughs*
I hear you love horror movies. What’s your favorite one of all times? Do you plan to produce a horror movie in the future?
King: No, I don’t have the vision or the patience to do anything like that. That’s a hard question – favorite horror movie of all times. There are tons of good ones – Silence of the Lambs, Seven, Exorcist 3, all kinds of good shit.