Slayer's Kerry King Talks Messing Up Guitar Solos, the New Metallica, and Playing with the Beastie Boys

Categories: Q&A
slayer-8-30.jpg
Mark Seliger
Slayer, with Kerry King at far right
Los Angeles thrash-metal juggernaut Slayer has been kicking ass so ferociously for so long that the word "fucking" has practically been appended to the front of the band's name. Raising the metal bar for brutality and blasphemy over the course of nearly three decades, Slayer stands as one of the most influential heavy outfits this side of Black Sabbath. Fans had a scare earlier this year when bassist/singer Tom Araya was forced to undergo back surgery to address headbanging-induced spinal issues, but the group has since brought its fearsome live show back on the road. 

All Shook Down spoke with founding guitarist and songwriter Kerry King about the summer's European "Big Four" shows with fellow thrash pioneers Metallica, Megadeth, and Anthrax, playing with the Beastie Boys, and performing the band's classic album Seasons in the Abyss in its entirety on the current American Carnage tour. The tour, featuring Slayer, Megadeth and Testament, comes to the Cow Palace tomorrow (Tuesday, August 31) at 7 p.m.

After the initial break for Tom Araya's surgery and recovery, the band has had a pretty hefty touring schedule. Has the change in how he can physically perform altered how the band functions onstage? 

Kerry King: Not at all. We don't really interact [onstage]. We've never really interacted. We're a four-man show, but we're four individuals. Me and Jeff [Hanneman] don't go standing in front of each other and play guitar to each other. I always thought that was kind of goofy. We're just the individual entities we've always been.

And your music is pretty squirrely, so there's not a lot of room for theatrics while you're performing... 

Well, yeah, when you take into consideration the stuff we're attempting to play that's just rhythms, there's no acrobatics [laughs].

No guitars behind the head? 

Nah. I'll leave that to Alex [Skolnick, Testament's guitar player]. He does it pretty good.

A couple of songs from
Seasons in the Abyss have been standards in your live set since the album came out. Going back to it 20 years later to rehearse for this tour, did you have any revelations about the album? 

You know what my funny revelation was? That I was playing the solo to "Dead Skin Mask" wrong for like eight years. I went back and checked ... Because when that came out, I'd just gotten done working with my original guitar teacher again. So for him to make some extra money, I said "Dude, you should do the songbook for this and I can give you the riffs just how I wrote them." And most of the leads are pretty much in the ballpark. So I just glanced at one for amusement and I'm like "Fuck!" I was playing it a fret wrong one way or the other. I was like, "You dick!" [laughs].

Are there things you decided there were certain things on Season in the Abyss you just wouldn't worry about replicating live, like the dueling vocals on "Temptation?" 

Kerry King: If I could sing and play, I could have attempted back-up, but I can't do that. That's pretty much why we never played that this entire time. "Temptation" was never played until this tour. When we worked on it, [one vocal] was supposed to be the answer track. That [another vocal] was supposed to be the main one. The whole reason it came out on the record like that was because it was a mistake. When Rick Rubin went in, he played back the two together. Because Tom sang the first version thinking that's where it went. I'm like 'No, no, no. It goes here.' Which is the answer track. So, that being the stronger, I told him I thought it would be best off if he sang that one, because it was written for the riff. If you sang it the other way it wouldn't make as much sense. That's how that weird one came up. 

Slayer has never really fallen off in my opinion, but new album World Painted Blood easily stands with some of your best work.

I'd like to play that one top to bottom. Some people have done their new records. It is mostly -- I think -- self indulgent. I don't want to name names.

I saw that Iron Maiden tour. I know exactly what you're talking about. 

Thank you [laughs]. But people like this record and I think it's relevant. I think people would dig it. I think that would be kind of awesome. I'm not sure that's ever going to happen [playing it live], but I'm definitely into it.

Listening to the title song from "World Painted Blood" made me think about other longer, multi-riff Slayer songs like "Season of the Abyss" and "South of Heaven." How did those come about? Did you figure out you had these different parts that fit together the right way?

Well, "World Painted Blood" Jeff did, and he had it all together by the time we heard it. So there wasn't any collaboration. It was already done when he presented it to us. But a lot of my stuff, like "Hate Worldwide," it's kind of like guerilla warfare. You go in, you make your point and get the hell out.

You've always been brutally honest in interviews regarding your peers and your opinions about the quality of the albums they're putting out. Did the recent tours with Metallica and Megadeth require some mending of fences? 

For this tour, the Slayer and Megadeth tour, I saw Dave [Mustaine, Megadeth frontman] months ago when we were getting ready to do Australia and a little bit of Japan. I knew I'd run into him, and I thought to myself "You know what? I don't even remember what the fuck I'm mad at this guy for." So I went in kind of with a clear head and said "Let's start [over]." And his whole approach to the whole thing was, "I don't want to repair our friendship. I want to start a new one." And I'm like "Alright. I guess this is ground zero." And when we did the shows with Metallica, at the first show in Poland, Metallica threw a dinner for all the bands. And that was really fun. It was cool. I talked to everybody and hung out with Lars [Ulrich] and hung out with James. Over those seven shows, I probably got to watch Metallica like four times. I was watching from right behind Lars' kit. There's a little curtain where you can't see in but you can see out. So I had a blast on that.

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