© Dave Ling - December 2002 - previously published in METAL HAMMER magazine
"When we formed Slayer our goal was to be the heaviest, most ferocious band in the planet," says reclusive drummer Dave Lombardo. "The money, the alcohol and the women… the fame? No, they weren't as important to me as the playing. The other guys may have done it for the chicks or whatever, I just really liked being onstage and playing music."
"At that age, chicks and beer were definitely what motivated me," grins guitarist Kerry King. "No, better make that chicks and pot!"
"Pot's always been there for me, but I just wanted to be in a band," adds quietly spoken Tom Araya. "Kerry called me up and said he'd met a guitarist and drummer and was looking for bassist and singer. They came over, I learned the songs and that was the start of Slayer."
Just a handful of names in any genre will merit use of the term 'legendary', but few could dispute its relevance to Slayer. While other acts sold more records, scaled higher pinnacles of fame or achieved trendiness for five-minute interludes, many of those names are now asking customers whether they'd like fries with that. But Slayer have carved a thriving career from the twin principles of consistency and stripped-down brutality.
"Our first ever gig was atrocious. We were dressed in spandex and we sucked! The spandex thing came from liking the Scorpions"
A mixture of contrasting characters has enabled Slayer to find their current niche. The creative pendulum has swung back and forth during their 21 years together, some members dominating the writing of an album, others the next. With rival bands, fragile egos wouldn't be able to withstand such imbalance, but Slayer seem bound by a unique bond. Their only real glitch has been Dave Lombardo. One of the fastest, intricate and powerful drummers in metal, Dave has always been a very different animal to Tom, Kerry and guitarist Jeff Hanneman – as our opening quote demonstrates. While the band were achieving their commercial breakthrough in the latter half of the 1980s, the other three increasingly ostracized Lombardo. At the root of the problems was Dave's insistence that his wife Theresa travelled with him on the road. On a crucial British tour in 1987, the pair – referred to by the rest of the band as "Ken and Barbie", after the matching toy dolls – even had their own dressing room.
Dave has quit and re-joined Slayer on at least two occasions, his longest time away being a ten-year spell that ended in January when he agreed to help the band out with touring activities, billed as "guest star" instead of band member. Slowly, a fragile peace has been established. Along with musical chemistry, personal bridges have been rebuilt. Nobody outside of Slayer's inner circle has known whether Lombardo would like to remain with the band long-term, or even whether he even considers it a possibility – until now. So stay with us while we examine the past, present and future of this remarkable killing machine.
Formed in the Los Angeles suburb of Huntington Beach, Slayer began like any other fledgling band, working day jobs and playing cover versions. Their earliest shows only included cover versions of the day's metal standards. Judas Priest's 'Genocide' and 'Beyond The Realms Of Death' rubbed shoulders with several tunes from Maiden's 'Number Of The Beast', 'Highway Star' by Deep Purple, 'Sin City' by AC/DC and even UFO's 'Lights Out'. All four remember it as a thrillingly nïave era.
"We'd always play the songs that nobody else played, the harder-edged ones," Lombardo recollects. "It was a cool period in our history."
"Our first ever gig was fucking atrocious," laughs Kerry. "It was a Battle Of The Bands; we were dressed in spandex and we sucked! I think the spandex thing came from liking the Scorpions. But it didn't seem to matter at the time whether it lasted 20 months or 20 years, because eventually people seemed to like it and we kept on getting gigs."
But as Jeff Hanneman reveals, "There was never any master plan for success", and Araya admits that his only real wish was that Slayer would release their own vinyl album. It was Dave Lombardo's decision to integrate a punkier, speedier style into their music that enabled Tom's dream to come true.
"Jeff was listening to a lot of the punk stuff and he turned me on to it," says Dave. "I kind of took it to that next step. I guess what I brought them was the feeling, and the groove."
"At the time, I didn't get the punk thing, but I found Venom and Motörhead instead," admits King. "So we fused all that shit together."
At the time, Araya was studying to be a respiratory therapist, maintaining life support systems, and King admits to working nights. "I was a thief," he says. "I worked in a toy store and a pet store, and I stole them both blind."
"I was a technical draughtsman," adds Dave. "I designed enclosures for generator sets. Until I couldn't hold that job anymore, when we were on the road too much."
The turning point came in 1983, when Slayer were approached by Metal Blade Records and their track 'Aggressive Perfector' appeared on the third volume of the label's 'Metal Massacre' compilation series. By the end of that year, Slayer had spent a week and $1,400 recording a full-length album called 'Show No Mercy'.
"We'd listened to the first two 'Metal Massacre' records, and we knew we could do something better than that shit," states Tom dismissively. "So we purposely wrote something heavier, faster and more extreme. 'Aggressive Perfector' became the blueprint of Slayer to come."
"Dave Mustaine was a prick, is a prick and always will be a prick"
Kerry King Metal Blade handed the novice, penniless quartet a list of dates and despatched them on their first tour across America… in Tom's car! A couple of years later, with their second album 'Hell Awaits' and the 'Haunting The Chapel' EP having fanned the flames of a growing reputation, a similar experience occurred during their first European outing.
"We were so young and idiotic, but we had no fear," recalls Tom proudly. "We got on a plane and landed in London, expecting to be met with a tour bus. But we had to drive ourselves and navigate, and being the oldest I had to sign the van rental form!"
The trek included a now legendary sold-out show at London's Marquee Club. Attended by a mixture of metalheads, punks and assorted drunken freaks, Slayer were astounded to be spat at by their excited audience. Recoils King: "Nottingham Rock City was even worse. You got those globules on the frets, but you couldn't stop playing. I felt sorry for Tom, who was a sitting target. He was covered in loogies."
To make matters worse, although 'Show No Mercy' and 'Hell Awaits' had quickly sold 60,000 and 100,00 copies respectively, Slayer were still treated as a joke by the press. Bristles Jeff: "We liked our music and we didn't give a fuck what some asshole reviewer said. It just didn't fucking matter."
The spandex and make-up image of their early years were soon outgrown, a leather, studs and crucifix-fixated look suiting emerging material like 'The Antichrist' and 'Hell Awaits'. To top it all, King began to wear hand-made wristbands that sported three-inch spikes. A widely published photo of the day saw the foursome leering over a scantily-clad woman that Hanneman later married, sporting menacing facial grimaces and looking, as Lombardo now agrees, "pretty silly." But, as he points out, "maybe in 15 Limp Bizkits and Korns will look at themselves and say the same thing."
In 1985, a year before their big breakthrough, Kerry took a temporary leave to fill in with Megadeth, ex-Metallica guitarist Dave Mustaine's newly formed outfit. But when it came to making a choice between Slayer or Megadeth, he had no doubts.
"I played some shows with them, but Dave's not happy unless everyone around him is miserable," he points out. "I don't even remember whether he wanted me to stay… but Mustaine was a prick, is a prick and always will be a prick – and I'm sure I'm not the only one who thinks that."
Slayer's self-confidence was vindicated the following year. Produced by Rick Rubin, maverick owner of hip-hop label Def Jam, 'Reign In Blood' remains not only their best album to date, but a cornerstone in the development of extreme music. Rubin has since worked with artists like System Of A Down and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but in 1986 a collaboration with a band like Slayer was deemed impossible. At the time, however, the band themselves didn't comprehend the magnitude of their creation.
"It was ahead of its time and we thought it sounded great, but we've never been a band to analyse things too deeply," says Tom. Jeff agrees: "To us it was a masterpiece, but we didn't know whether anyone else would agree… and we didn't even fucking care!"
Lombardo even suggests that it was Rubin's name that helped them to be taken seriously. He says: "How could the press disrespect a band that somebody that well respected was working with? The only reason they turned their heads around was because of Rick. They wouldn't have given a shit if we were still on our own and making the same records."
Have Slayer ever considered what might have happened if they'd not crossed paths with Rick Rubin?
"That's a good question, I've never thought about that before," Kerry ponders. "Rick took the reverb out of our sound and made us into what we wanted to be, but don't forget that they were a bunch of great songs."
"Honestly, we might still be doing the Metal Blade thing," considers Tom. "We'd probably still be taking things day by day, which is what we still do now."
"What did you want 'Angel Of Death' to say, 'Ooooh, Mengele was a very, very bad man?'"
Jeff Hanneman 'Angel Of Death', the opening track from 'Reign In Blood' was penned by Hanneman about infamous Auschwitz doctor Joseph Mengele. It caused considerable controversy, even causing Def Jam's UK distributor to pass on issuing the album here (London Records later picked it up). 'Angel Of Death' was one of several war-themed songs written by Hanneman, whose own father had fought at Normandy, and whose band-mates Araya and Lombardo were of Cuban and Chilean extraction. The song included the line "Sickening ways to achieve the holocaust", but because it did not condemn Mengele, Slayer were branded Nazis.
"What did you want it to say, 'Ooooh, he was a very, very bad man?' – that's not what Slayer is about," Jeff protests sarcastically, to the amusement of the others. "That song was true, but we're a band that just tell stories. I have no regrets. You watch a documentary about Mengele on TV and who complains? We were on tour, I bought a book about him and realised what a sick fuck he was. So I wrote a song, that's the way this band often works."
During the 'Reign In Blood' tour, Lombardo quit Slayer for the first time. He was briefly replaced by TJ Scaglione of Whiplash, but eventually returned. Dave's now unwilling to go into detail, commenting: "There were a lot of problems for me, and I wasn't happy." So Slayer followed 'Reign In Blood' with the slower, yet equally crushing 'South Of Heaven' in 1988.
"That was the only premeditated record we've ever done," admits Kerry. "Going into it we knew we had to do something that nobody would expect." The album's single 'Mandatory Suicide' sported artwork featuring a teenager who'd hung himself in his bedroom. It stirred up further headlines, but again Slayer are utterly unrepentant.
"We're not answerable to anyone for anything," says Kerry, sounding slightly irritated. "If I stab you in the throat I'll take responsibility for that, but…"
But what if your sleeve tipped somebody considering the idea of suicide over the edge?
"Man, they were already fucked up to begin with," he says dismissively. "Sometimes people kill each other – and themselves – for no reason."
Over the years, Slayer have had what they laughingly term "discussions" with those who've chosen to picket their shows, but mostly one-sided ones. Araya once sat down to talk at length with an evangelist that he refuses to name, but came away frustrated that while he was sometimes willing to take on boards the preacher's opinions, it wasn't unanimous. The strangest thing is that the bassist has a foot in both camps. A man of strong Christian beliefs, he's nevertheless happy to stand on stage and sing songs like 'Evil Has No Boundaries'.
"I believe in God," says Tom quietly. "Kerry's written most of our Satanic lyrics, but I've never been asked to sing anything I've been uncomfortable with."
Likewise, the difference between Tom onstage and off is staggering. Mild-mannered and polite in person, he's introduced Slayer songs with references to performing oral sex on female corpses ("Every time I eat them out, I can feel the maggots crunching in my teeth").
"I'm a laid-back guy, that stage persona is just a part of me," he responds. "It's like a switch that goes on and off. We could sit here and I could freak you with discussions about some sick, fucked-up shit – but we don't have to."
Araya, who'd read a book on the serial killer Ed Gein, turned it into the standout song 'Dead Skin Mask' on Slayer's next album, 1990's 'Seasons In The Abyss'. It was to be the last studio album to feature Dave Lombardo, who quit – seemingly for good – two years later. When asked why, he now responds: "I don't want to touch that question. I only want to talk about positive things."
"We didn't like Dave's wife being around. She'd even sit next to him on the drum riser and if she wanted to screw with his head she could do that"
Kerry King"At the time, it was a relief for me – probably for all of us," reveals Kerry. "Dave's performances were going downhill, yet now he's playing better than he was 12 years ago – he's kicking ass. But at that point, something had to be done. Yeah, we didn't like his wife being around, but looking back it was all about performance. The two things were related because she would fuck up his playing; she'd even sit next to him on the drum riser and if she wanted to screw with his head she could do that. And we couldn't afford to fuck up at that level."
Paul Bostaph, Lombardo's replacement, had enormous shoes to fill, but the ex-Forbidden skinsman did a good job on 1994's 'Divine Intervention', an album that many feel was the natural successor to 'Reign In Blood'. It even made the US Top Ten – despite a sleeve that featured a fan carving the band's name into his arm. And when Bostaph bailed, he was replaced by ex-Testament man John Dette for 'Undisputed Attitude', an album comprising mainly of punk rock covers.
"The 'Divine Intervention' record had a horrible muddy mix, but Bostaph and Lombardo were both gods," enthuses King. "I've not seen every drummer in the world, but those are the two best dudes I've seen. And John Dette ripped as a drummer; he can play anybody else's shit to a tee, but making up his own stuff… that wasn't so happening."
Many fans regard 'Undisputed Attitude' as perhaps the one moment when Slayer lost the plot. The band disagree.
"I love that record – it rules!" Kerry objects. "Tom's spitting shit out at top speed, it's bad-ass and it's where we came from." And Jeff protests: "Of all our albums, that's the one I play the most – probably because we don't do those songs live. But it's awesome."
With his experimental project The Truth About Seafood finally purged from his system, Bostaph rejoined Slayer for 1998's 'Diabolus In Musica' and the current 'God Hates Us All' before quitting last Christmas, citing an arm injury. The band share my confusion with the fact that Bostaph suddenly seems well enough to have joined Systematic.
"I was stunned when Paul said he was leaving, he I were the band's bar-rats," comments Kerry. "He told us four days before the end of a tour, and he only had a few weeks before another tour was due to begin. It's a little weird, but if he left Slayer for the reason he said he did – that he was worried about tendonitis affecting his career as a drummer… well, Systematic is nowhere near as demanding a gig. Personally, I think he could've got treatment and continued to play with us."
Hanneman reveals that as soon as he put down the phone on the call about Bostaph's departure, one word crept into his head: Lombardo.
"You did?" responds an astonished Kerry. "I'd seen Dave playing with Testament, and it wasn't that good. But when Rick (Sales, manager) suggested it, I wasn't opposed to the idea, as long as he came in and kicked ass."
Though extremely satisfied at the way things are proceeding, Kerry, Tom and Jeff remain evasive about the possibility of Dave remaining with Slayer.
"We'll review the situation at the end of our American tour," comments Tom. "Are we aware that it's what the fans want? Of course."
"I had no problem with opening for Slipknot because I knew they had one great record in them, and that the second one would be even tougher for them"
Tom Araya How far would you bend over backwards to keep Dave with Slayer?
Kerry (exploding with laughter): "That's a question I'm not touching! As people, we're cool again. It's possible he'll stay… and it's not impossible."
Tom: "It's all down to Dave. He knew us then and he knows us now."
Slayer have outlived numerous musical fads and in 2002 find themselves cast in the mould of their heroes Motörhead. Traditionally stuck in the middle of the bill at events like the Ozzfest, they appeal to the young and old alike and have a habit of wiping the stage with most of the bands that follow them. After 21 years in the business, reliable old Slayer have reportedly collected just five Gold albums, but insist they're happy with their place in life.
"Actually, I think it's just four," Kerry corrects me. Okay, so how do Slayer feel when a band like Slipknot comes along, sells a million right off the bat, and they end up supporting them?
"I had no problem with opening for Slipknot because I knew they had one great record in them, and that the second one would be even tougher for them," offers Tom graciously.
"If there's a third one, it'll be called 'Make Or Break' – but it won't break us," guffaws Jeff, unleashing a particularly noxious fart. "No, if we have to go on earlier than we think we should, that's our chance to go and drink beer and enjoy Ozzy. We don't sit around and complain, or even think about it."
Hanneman and King experimented with new tunings and even a seven-string guitar on 'God Hates Us All', but they're still accused of repeating the same album. Yeah, you guessed it… they don't give a fuck.
"Why would we try to be like Korn?" retorts King. "Why would anybody who likes metal want to play that stuff? It fucking sucks."
It's also overlooked that Slayer collaborated with Ice-T on the track 'Disorder' for the 'Judgement Night' soundtrack in 1993, an album that teamed up such unlikely bedfellows as Cypress Hill and Pearl Jam, and Run DMC and Living Colour.
"You know why that is?" says Tom proudly. "It's because there was no rap on that song – the only song on that album, and the best song."
Have they seen anybody that might someday take the flame from them? There's a lot of embarrassed shuffling, so I mention Hatebreed, who Kerry has praised in the past.
"They're cool, but they're more one-dimensional than us," he laughs.
Next up for Slayer is a live DVD and possibly even a career-encompassing boxed set. Speaking of which: if they could go back and change anything, would they do so?
"Just one thing," beams Tom. "I'd carry a video camera with me at all times!"
"This is the first interview I've done in a lo-o-o-ong time," says Dave Lombardo. "I kinda get discouraged by interviews, I just don't like doing them."
Very few people really know where the media-shy Dave's head's at in 2002. Famously reunited with Slayer after the sudden departure of Paul Bostaph, Lombardo has been touring with the band again since January. Slayer and their organisation have tried to make things real easy for the sticksman – no in-stores, no signings and no interviews… except this one!
After leaving the band in 1992, Lombardo admits he didn't really follow Slayer's fortunes. He says: "I didn't really have to, word of what they were doing came to me. I heard the first record they did without me ('Divine Intervention') and then the punk one ('Undisputed Attitude'). I didn't actually purchase them, but people brought them by."
So were there moments when you regretted the decision?
"No," insists Lombardo. "Everything happens for a reason and I've accepted that. But things have turned full circle and it's better now."
Musically or personality-wise?
"Both, I guess. I feel I'm playing better now than I was ten years ago. I never expected to come back to Slayer, but people around me that I've respected kept saying, 'Dude, they'll call again one day'. And it's all going well. That hour and a half on stage is the most important event of the day, we put 200 per cent into it. Some of our personalities have changed and some stayed the same. But there's a definite good vibe, a sense of respect towards each other. We've matured and that helps immensely."
So when are you due to discuss whether you'll remain with Slayer?
"It's not a matter of staying or going, it's about organising our time," he cagily replies. "I also play with other groups. Slayer will be having some time off, so I'm gonna work on another Fantomas album (with singer Mike Patton). When that's done, I could work with Slayer again."
You're saying that you envisage remaining with Slayer where schedules permit?
"Everything's cool and I'm optimistic that issues can be resolved," concludes Dave. "We're playing this day by day and tour by tour. And, yeah, I'd like to keep it going."
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO KERRY KING!
"It's ironic that Ozzy can play for the Queen, but not show up for two Ozzfests."
KERRY ON OZZY OSBOURNE
"Have you seen his hair? Now he's trying to be Phil Anselmo. I've never slagged Machine Head – the band. We considered them sacred because we took them out on their first tour. But I've not liked anything they've done since the first album. So if Flynn interprets that as me saying, 'You suck and so does everything you're about', well… sorry."
KERRY ON ROBB FLYNN
"It was the most Spïnal Tap thing I ever saw. They've got three guitar players onstage and you can't hear any of them until one does a lead. There's something seriously wrong with that."
KERRY ON THE REFORMED IRON MAIDEN
"I don't know whether they were doing a raindance at the Ozzfest, but I think I heard them doing a chant that would give them some credibility."
KERRY ON CRADLE OF FILTH
"You know why he turned the gig (with us) down? His mom wouldn't let him play in Slayer!"
KERRY ON SOULFLY'S JOE NUNEZ
"Musically they're pretty happening, but not that entertaining to watch. I need to be entertained, anybody can play fucking guitar."
KERRY ON IN FLAMES
"I hate to see them fail because they're my heroes, but the songwriting on their last two records just sucked a big dick."
KERRY ON JUDAS PRIEST
"Interviewers come to me and ask me questions because they want a fucking opinion – and I've got one."
KERRY ON KERRY
The official Slayer website
P.S. Dave says...
Trying to tell the true story of Slayer was never going to be easy. Okay, guitarist Kerry King is notorious for expressing his opinions - loudly and in a forthright manner. However, the multiple departures of drummer Dave Lombardo lie at the root of the band's tale. Given that Dave had returned to Slayer, and that band-mates and fans alike were all praying he'd remain, was there leeway for the truth? In the end, everything went fine. I met King, Tom Araya and Jeff Hanneman in their hotel the night before a gig at London's Astoria. My chat with Lombardo took place a few days later. The terrible threesome proceeded to get extraordinarily wasted. Their hotel had something that may have been called an 'honesty bar' (or somesuch). It was unsupervised; you drank what you liked and wrote it in all down in a handy little book. Kerry King probably had two halves of shandy down on his bill - but he was drinking for America, England, Guatemala, Lithuania - you name it. (9th November, 2004)
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