OVER SLAYER's 30-plus years rippin' and tearin', it's safe to say they've stuck to their guns more than any other group in thrash metal's Big Four. Megadeth, Anthrax, and Metallica, at some point in their careers, have each bowed to trends, been manipulated by a slick producer, or succumbed to the siren song of passing fads. Slayer has stayed raw, fast, and mean since their inception, holding onto a legion of rabid fans, and clutching their metal cred tightly to their chest.
Kerry King, Slayer guitarist and one of the band's two remaining founding members, agrees... kind of.
"Not to ruffle any feathers, but that's a statement that anybody can make. And since you made it, I can agree with it and it wasn't my statement," he says, cackling heartily. "When thrash was an infant, we were helping create that scene. We were all fans of it. Back then, we weren't trying to be something we were not. If a band—be it Anthrax, Megadeth, or Metallica—decides they wanna try something else, that kid inside [of them] that is the reality of [themselves] is being pushed away. You gotta try and be something you're not. We have always made a conscious effort not to do that. We're all metal kids."
Since Slayer has never backed down, their most recent release, Repentless, fits right in with the rest of their discography. It doesn't sound like Reign in Blood or South of Heaven because that era, while the most important in their career, has long passed. What it does sound like is a band that can still write furious, hard-nosed metal despite being in the twilight of their career. Slayer's attack is a bit more measured than their earlier work, but it still packs the same punch.
Repentless isn't just a solid effort from a band of aging "metal kids"—the album hit chart numbers Slayer hadn't seen their entire career. Just under two weeks after its release, Repentless was the second best-selling record in the world, according to the United World Chart.
"I'm not one to get caught up in number sales and where you chart, but under the circumstances, that was incredibly special and unexpected," says King. "To say the least, it inspired me. Maybe we do got a lot more left in the tank. It definitely rejuvenated me to continue."
These "circumstances" refer to 2013, the year when original drummer Dave Lombardo was tossed from the ship, and Slayer's other primary songwriter and original guitar player, Jeff Hanneman, died of liver failure. Paul Bostaph and Gary Holt were brought in to cover the empty throne and string duties, respectively, while King was left with the lion's share of the songwriting.
When I asked King whether he thought diehard Slayer fans would have a beef with the band moving on with only half of its original lineup, he had a quick, definitive answer: "The key word there is diehard. A diehard fan would be happy that we're going forward in any sense, as long as the product wasn't compromised. The people that have a problem with it I wouldn't call diehard fans, because diehard fans would want you to succeed."