"There are family things that I should've attended to, but I said, 'No. You knew what you were getting into when you got involved with me.'"
Those words are as close as metal mastermind Kerry King, guitarist and co-songwriter for Slayer, comes to opening up about his two-decade career. Family and relationships aren't the standard subjects broached when talking about his band's fusion of punk rock's blistering pace with heavy metal's power chords, but his choice of Slayer above all else is among the many reasons Slayer's original 1982 lineup has survived.
Of course, being known as one of the loudest, fastest metal bands in the world doesn't hurt, either.
These days, Slayer is headlining the Jägermeister Music Tour after a hugely successful stint on this summer's Ozzfest. You'd never guess King is 40 years old. With guitar in hand, he bangs his bald head while nimbly upholding the gnarly pace of Slayer's speed metal, and his tattooed body features a slogan on his left arm not normally associated with a midlife crisis: "God hates us all," the name of their last album from 2001, in big capital letters.
On Still Reigning, their latest concert DVD, the other guys in Slayer do just as well to hide their 40-something ages. Jeff Hanneman's axwork seamlessly matches with King, and lead singer Tom Araya still screeches like a madman through 90-minute sets. Also, original drummer Dave Lombardo, who returned in 2002 after a decade-long hiatus, hasn't lost a double-kick-drum step.
"The coolest part about Dave being back, other than being fun as hell, is that a lot of kids who got into Slayer in the '90s never got to see him," King says. "It's probably how we should be seen."
Modern Slayer plays with so much intensity that it's easy to mistake their current attack for Reign in Blood, their 1986 breakthrough that originally catapulted the band to metal fame alongside Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax. Then again, most of Still Reigning consists of the band playing Blood in its entirety--at the original tempo, no less.
But in the years since Blood, while other speed-metal bands of their era have since reached outside their boundaries to varying degrees of success, Slayer has held off on experimentation and stuck to their original sound for nine studio albums.
King attributes that to "not caring what was popular, believing in who we were to start with. [With other bands], you'll find key points, any particular record where they tried something to broaden their audience. You've got a band like Metallica, great fuckin' band, but all of a sudden, they don't want to be a metal band anymore. Are you supposed to believe they were doing metal to get popular? Or they liked metal and now they want to be a pop band? But with us, we made up our music and said, 'Hey, Limp Bizkit's popular this year. So what? Let's make a Slayer record.'"
Indeed, Anthrax never recovered its metal credibility after its crossover hit with Public Enemy, "Bring tha Noise," and Metallica's rise to fame came at the cost of their original reputation, which they indirectly admitted with the "return to our roots" crapfest of St. Anger. Slayer may have lain low in comparison, but crowds at their concerts are proof that they were hardly forgotten.
If King's tattoo describes God's hatred for Slayer, then the band is fortunate that so many fans skipped that part of Scripture, as they came out in droves for the original Jäger tour in 2003 and even more so this year at Ozzfest. Praise from metal magazines like Revolver and a huge plug on MTV's Jackass spin-off Viva La Bam have kept Slayer in the public eye, but the band believes they didn't need the extra help to get more kids at their shows.
"I think that's a lot of the die-hards' younger brothers, younger sisters [and] kids," King says, "some people that are into heavy music for the first time. There's definitely kids you see in the front row, and you think, 'What the fuck are you doing down there?' But the front row has become where headbangers stand, and all the action's behind them."
According to Still Reigning, filmed only months ago, the kind of action Slayer will bring to Dallas for the second Jäger tour is some of the most severe you'll see at any concert. The DVD features tons of bruised and injured fans escaping the moshing melee, and some of them say on camera they want to sneak back into the crowd after getting bandaged. Again, not what many would expect from concerts performed by 40-somethings--but that's the point.
"[After] 20 years, you've got the nucleus intact," King says. "You're not changing members. You don't have guys coming in and confusing you with bad ideas."
King repeatedly points out the commitment Slayer's members have to each other. He calls the band his second family. Any suggestion of a Slayer documentary, à la Metallica's Some Kind of Monster, is shot down, because, along with a dislike for documentaries that expose a band too much, he also notes, "We don't have tolerance for people who aren't in our inner circle." If anything shows the band's age, it's King's understanding of exactly what Slayer does and doesn't want. They want passion. They don't want intrusion. They want each other. They don't want fads and gimmicks to reach a different audience. Most of all, they want metal.
"I can't go back and second-guess what I did [to stay with Slayer]. It's a choice I made, and that just goes to show you the kind of tough things you deal with when you've been in a band 20 years."
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