This guy slays me

The devil's in the details for Slayer

Remember that loner in junior high who wore the same combat boots, greasy jeans and a black T-shirt every day of the week? You know, the guy standing in front of the 7-Eleven after school with his Walkman on, chain-smoking Marlboro Reds? Chances are, the music blaring out of his headphones was Slayer.

The reigning gods of thrash metal, Slayer's whiplash-inducing riffs and ghoulish lyrics have spoken to disaffected suburbanites for more than two decades. Never sidestepping controversy, Slayer's lyrics plumb the depths of hell, describing unspeakable horrors of battlefields and eternal damnation while simultaneously giving props to the Prince of Darkness. But when Slayer founding guitarist/songwriter Kerry King, 43, called us from a tour stop in Switzerland, he sounded pretty mellow. In fact, the dude digs The Eagles.

How's Switzerland treating you?

Great, an American. I always worry when I'm [in Europe] about what kind of fucking accent [the interviewer's] going to have.

Last year, Christ Illusion debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 pop chart, higher than any previous Slayer album. Did you ever think, 25 years ago when you were playing small clubs, that a band playing your style of music would be able to achieve this level of success?

Well, as a teenager there's those dreams [chuckles] but no. It came totally unexpected. The mainstream hadn't come around to us, but metal has come around to us, and it just grew with people.

On past Slayer albums, the lyrics mostly stuck to horror-movie motifs. But on Christ Illusion, songs you wrote, such as "Consfearacy," have a topical bent to them. I'm thinking in particular of that song's opening lines: "I need to redefine/ All the things I hate today/ Politics that fail/ From a president derailed."

If I ever write anything remotely political, I try to keep it generic so people everywhere can relate. In Italy, there's a guy going "I hate my government." People hate to pay taxes everywhere. It's an easy thing to write about. It doesn't have to have me going out on a limb, especially when I come over [to Europe].

As a songwriter known for occasionally placing listeners on the battlefield, do you find yourself inspired by the news?

I've seen enough news about war [over the years] to last a lifetime. So it's in there, but I'm not writing about the first Gulf War or the current war, just war in general. It's always timely because Americans love to fight (chuckles).

What do you think about musicians taking a stance regarding the war?

My problem with that is that anyone at our level might be taking an opinion without really thinking about it. People need to make up their own mind and not consider what celebrities say as holy.

Christ Illusion includes the song "Skeletal Christ," which in typical Slayer fashion slams Christianity and the entire notion of faith with lines like: "You'll never touch God's hand." And then there's the satanic zinger "I'll take the devil any day/ Hail Satan." I take it your views towards organized religion haven't mellowed over the years.

No, actually, it's probably gotten worse. It's absolute blind faith [King's voice rises]. If I sit down and think about what really controls people, it just blows me away.

Do you consider yourself a satanist?

No, I'm an atheist. But atheist just doesn't have the pop to it when you're writing songs.

Is Marilyn Manson a friend of the band?

I just met him at the press conference to announce the tour.

Any concern that your fans are going to eat Manson's fans alive?

There's no easy way to put that [chuckles]. I hope [Manson] does well. I'm an old-school Manson fan. The wild card in that show is Manson. People know we're gonna play heavy as hell. Manson can go either way. He can play heavy or do that "Tainted Love" shit and people [might get rowdy].

What's it like working with super producer Rick Rubin?

I couldn't tell you. I didn't see him on this record or the last record. He gets involved at the end, overseeing the mix. He's really got his hand on the pulse of how things should sound.

What do you listen to other than metal?

Not very much, dude.

Come on, you got to listen to some other stuff.

If we're going home from the bar, I don't drive, my wife does, and she'll put on that '80s crap. As far as I'm concerned, you'll find The Eagles, CCR [Creedence Clearwater Revival].

The Eagles?

That's my chill out, going-to-bed music.

What's the craziest thing you've witnessed from on stage?

Not really sure. At this point I'm pretty desensitized.

Slayer is considered one of the best live bands on the planet. How do you unwind after giving such intense performances?

Depends on how devastating it is.

Does everyone in the band party after the shows?

Just me. Maybe on this tour I'll get to drink some absinthe with Manson.

Slayer's brand of thrash metal is more physically demanding than most forms of rock music. Do you see yourself doing this as long as, say, The Stones?

Absolutely not. But it depends. We'll stop when it's not fun, but I can't see that happening, or when it becomes physically a pain in the ass.

Slayer classics like "Angel of Death" and your band's cover of Minor Threat's "Guilty Being White" have prompted charges of racism. Were you concerned about those allegations when you included the song "Supremist" on Christ Illusion?

When I did "Supremist" I wrote that knowing, [it was pouring] fuel on the fire. That's how I get to the press. I have no way of policing what the press writes, so this is my way of sticking it to 'em.

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