The headbanging legends in Slayer have had a rollercoaster of a 2010. Hell, one doesn't even headbang anymore. After releasing World Painted Blood last year, the band had planned an epic tour this year, which they sidelined due to vocalist-bassist Tom Araya needing surgery for chronic back pain. The frontman was back onstage by mid-summer—even if he wasn't headbanging—and, with that, the group began hitting high after high.
First, it rekindled its relationship with fellow thrashers Megadeth, and toured with the group in the U.S. Then, Slayer joined Megadeth, Anthrax, and Metallica for a string of European festivals showcasing the Big Four of Thrash. (All of the bands played a rendition of Diamond Head and Metallica staple "Am I Evil?" in Sofia, Bulgaria, for a live broadcast, but drummer Dave Lombardo was the only Slayer member to participate. Warner Bros. is releasing a DVD of the shows on November 2.) They then headlined the massive Wacken Fest in front of 10s of thousands of metalheads, and now they're heading back out with Megadeth and Anthrax on the Jägermeister Musictour, which kicks off today.
If that wasn't enough career highs, next year marks the 30th anniversary of Slayer. In celebration, the band is putting out a couple of retrospective box sets this year: the Slayer Live DVD 3-Pack, out now, contains 1995's Live Intrusion, 2003's War at the Warfield, and 2004's Still Reigning, and the band's label, American Recordings, is reissuing all of the band's albums from Reign in Blood through World Painted Blood on high-quality vinyl as the box set The Vinyl Conflict. Revolver recently caught up with King, who spends his spare time (when he has spare time) raising snakes in Los Angeles, to look back on what's made Slayer so great.
REVOLVER What has the highlight of the year been for you so far?
KERRY KING Probably the Big Four shows, because going in, I didn't think it was as special as it ended up being. I thought it was gonna be really cool for the fans and kind of cool for me, but I had the time of my life. It was fun. Being a part of it made me realize how important that tour was.
Why didn't you play in the Big Four jam on "Am I Evil" at the end?
There's a damn good reason. It isn't too long an explanation. [Dave] Mustaine came to me that day and James [Hetfield] came to me that day saying, "Hey, it would be really cool if you played." I knew Jeff [Hanneman, Slayer guitarist] wouldn't do it, and I knew Tom wouldn't do it. And I also knew after we played that neither one of them would edit our video that was going to cinemas in a couple hours, so I told James and Mustaine both, "Listen, man. I've gotta edit our video before I can even think about playing with you guys." So the entire time of the set change between Slayer and Metallica, I was editing that video. I came running to the tuning room after I got done picking the songs, and they were already onstage.
And to make it an even better story, I found out at 1 a.m. the night prior, so I really had no chance to work on that stuff or anything. So I wanted to; it just couldn't happen. I've got a lot of flack for that but yeah, that's the story.
Next year is Slayer's 30th anniversary. What do you consider Slayer's biggest accomplishment to be?
Ha. Staying together for 30 years. [Laughs] That seems to be the thing that at the end of most bands: people think one's better than the other. Or, I can't get along with this guy today so fuck him, I'm leaving. At the end of the day, we've got this gig doing what we do and if I don't like somebody one day, hey, the next day, it's all new.
What is it about you four people, who have played together since high school, that keeps it going?
I think when you get older, realizing the fact that you don't have to be best friends. You don't have to hang out all the time. Usually we get home, and we scatter like cockroaches, and that's my best advice to anybody. [Laughs] Just going home and being you.
What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment outside of Slayer?
Keeping Slayer together for 30 years. [Laughs] Fuck, I don't know. That's been my life since I was a teenager, so there's not a whole lot going on. I've got a pretty decent reputation in the snake world. So I would say, just last season I produced the third of [one breed's] kind in the world.
What specific kind?
It's a morph of a jungle carpet python. It's called a super zebra. I still have the only one outside of Germany. So there's this one, and now the guy in Germany has produced two or three more. So I think there's six or seven [in the world]. But this is still the only one on this continent. So that's kind of an accomplishment.
They started out with what a jungle carpet python looks like, the zebra is a morph, and you've gotta breed a zebra to another to get what is called a super zebra. In the wild, that never would have happened. The odds of it happening are very slim.
What are you going to do with it?
Since that's the only one here, I could sell it for a ton of money. But I'm gonna keep it and grow it up and breed it with some other stuff.
Going back to Slayer. Since we're talking about your history, what was your first taste of success?
Maybe the first time somebody asked for an autograph. When you're not expecting it, that hits you off the wall.
And now you've probably signed millions.
Oh, I was out for two and a half hours running errands today and I signed a couple, took some pictures. [Laughs]
What's been your favorite rumor about Slayer over the years?
The beauty and fucking horror of the internet is information right away. If people see you doing anything, they just assume that's what you do. I've seen some site where people say what kind of car I have. Somebody might have seen me borrow somebody's truck and that's what they think I own. [Laughs] It's funny how people see something and they just put it on like it's the gospel. It's amazing. The internet's a great thing and it's also a fucking cancer.
What about the pre-internet era?
How do I put it? We're Nazi, fascist, satanist, and I'm sure there's a couple lines I'm forgetting.
Obviously you guys have debunked that over the years.
Oh, absolutely. But once people get an idea in their head, the hardest thing is talking them out of that idea.
Was playing "Angel of Death" ever a problem in Germany?
I don't think so. Maybe in the early days there might have been a little… I can't even remember, that's why I'm not commenting on it. People over there like the song because it's a cool song. For the longest time in the early days, they were more concerned with the "S" in Slayer, because it looked like a Nazi S. A couple times over there, we altered it a little bit in the beginning. It's morphed over the years to different ways we write it anyway. There's still the original one, but then there was that scratchy one that was less Nazi. That's not why we did it; we just thought it looked cool for that particular album. I think that was on the God Hates Us All album. The scratchy logo.
Well, was the original "S" in Slayer based on the SS?
I don't think so. I can't even remember who came up with it. I think it was our manager friend at the time. I don't even know if it was him and Lombardo working on it or how that came together. We ended up on that and I can't remember how.
I was looking at some early video and pictures of Slayer. You used to wear those big nail gauntlets. Did you ever have any problems with those?
Very early. It wasn't even an accident. When I used to have a cable, instead of being wireless, I got pulled into the crowd, when we used to get too close to the crowd anyway. I kind of went down—I didn't go down, I kind of landed on a knee. And I still had my guitar on, and I just kind of swung my arm to get people away from me, and they scattered like ants. [Laughs] I wasn't looking to hurt anybody, I just wanted to make sure I didn't get hurt.
Why did you want to reissue three of Slayer's DVDs recently?
I don't know. I don't understand that at all. [Laughs] I don't work with the record company. The one I was talking about for years and years and years was Live Intrusion. I couldn't understand why that wasn't a DVD. Me suggesting that seven, eight years ago, whenever that was, it morphed into all three in one pack. I'm sure it's just record-company positioning, saying, "Here, get all three at once, and here's this cool pack."
Did you rewatch any of them?
No, they came out since I've been on tour. I wanna see Live Intrusion, because I haven't seen it in years.
What were some of the moments over the years where you felt you were doing something special?
Probably the first time we played what was Download, what was Donnington [in the U.K.]. I think the first time we played it, it still was Donnington. Being a kid, growing up with the European mags, you just have an idea of what it might be. You have no idea what it really was, because nothing here is anything like it. So I think we did that in '94. I think Metallica was on the show, too. But it was our first time. I think it was [drummer Paul] Bostaph's second or third performance, of all things, and it was just awesome. We performed really well. It was one of those ones you just look back and say, "Man, I'm glad that was a good one."
The Big Four thing, that was really cool, like we touched on. The downpoint, probably this year, was waiting for Tom to get done with his surgery, because we had six, seven months off. We're usually used to touring. And I had this great idea of writing half a record during those six, seven months, but it just turned into a party. There was no guitar to be played.
How is Tom doing now?
Tom's good. He's not headbanging, but he's doing his gig really awesome and sounds great, so that's all you can ask of him.
You've mentioned the Big Four a few times, what is your relationship with Metallica like these days?
It's better than it's ever been. Not that we had any beefs with each other. Oddly enough we just completely ran in different circles. I went into this tour not really thinking Metallica were my friends. I've known Trujillo since Suicidal, and I speak to Lars off and on, historically, but leaving this tour I feel like they're all my friends. I feel bad I didn't get to play "Am I Evil?" but I had a good time. When time allowed, I would go into Lars' World—you know, the little section right behind where he plays—and me and Dave would be back there watching the show. I got to see it there three nights out of the six or seven, and it was just fun.
Have you talked about the possibility of doing it in the U.S.?
Every chance I get. [Laughs]
Were Metallica originally supposed to be on the upcoming shows with Megadeth and Anthrax?
When Anthrax got brought up for the second leg, I'm like, "I'm into it." I said, "I just don't want it to have any adverse effects on the Big Four coming here." I was assured it wouldn't, so we'll see how that goes.
You're playing Seasons in the Abyss on the Jägermeister tour, and last time you did that tour, you played Reign in Blood. Why won't you be playing South of Heaven in your classic album tours?
Well, that's definitely my least favorite of the three. One of those songs on there, "Cleanse the Soul," I hate that fuckin' song. There's a Priest song on there ["Dissident Agressor"], which I love, but I don't think that condones redoing a record, because you have a cover, for one, and a song that I, for one, hate and I think Hanneman hates as well. I think that was one that just slipped through the fuckin' sifter. Like, whoops, shouldn't have recorded that one. [Laughs]
What is your favorite Slayer record looking back?
Historically Reign in Blood, without a doubt. And I think the new one is the most complete since the late '80s. I like everything we've done this decade, definitely, but I think each one has gotten a little better.
Speaking of, you also have that vinyl box set coming out. How involved in that were you?
More so. We had some artwork to pick from. They had some stupid name for it in the beginning, like—this may not be it but it was equally as dumb—The Vinyl Collection: American Recordings, or something retarded like that. I'm like, "Man, this ain't the fuckin' Eagles. We've gotta have something cool." They kept busting my balls on tour, and I said, "Give me a second. Let me hang out at the bar one night and think about it and I'll come up with something great." And that's what happened. Two days later, I wrote back, The Vinyl Conflict, and everybody loved it. Definitely gives it a Slayer vibe, you know?
Obviously "vinyl" is a play on "final." Do you see an end in sight for Slayer?
I don't know. Not for myself. I feel great. I wouldn't know what else to do. There's four people involved, so everybody's got their own opinion about what the future holds. I don't wanna give false information and say, "Hey, we're gonna play 'til we're 50 years in the business." [Laughs] But I'm gonna be around for a while, regardless of what I do. And if you ever speak to the other dudes, maybe find out. [Laughs]