Slayer Reign Supreme
Published Oct 25, 2009"Slayer!" Second only to pleas for Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Freebird," virtually every concert-goer of the past quarter-century has heard this passionate cry unleashed during a show, metal or otherwise. There's a reason. The Huntington, California metal quartet is hands-down one of the boldest, most agile, impassioned bands in the history of recorded music. There's no mistaking Slayer. Their songs, visages and moniker have been burned, cut and ingrained into the minds and bodies of extreme music fans around the globe since the release of debut album, 1983's Show No Mercy. Over the course of the ensuing 25-plus years, Slayer ― bassist/vocalist Tom Araya, guitarists Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King and drummers Dave Lombardo, Paul Bostaph and a couple of forgettable fill-ins ― have become indelibly vital to music, continually shaping and redefining metal's core elements. They've forged the thrash metal sub-genre, inspired countless bands, brought the subjects of war, Satanism and serial killers into lyrical vogue, faced endless controversy, survived internal conflict and instigated decade-long feuds with other acts. In the meantime, they also managed to win a few Grammy awards, headline major international music festivals and celebrate some of their albums attain gold-selling status. Set to release their highly-anticipated tenth studio album World Painted Blood this month, Exclaim! reflects on the intensity, ferocity and tenacity of Slayer's astounding legacy.
1981 to 1982
In contempt of the illustrious, genre-defining and controversial future that awaits them, Slayer's origins are extremely humble. Seventeen-year-old Los Angeles-born metal fan Kerry King is trying out as guitarist for a band and the session is overheard by fellow L.A. native/similarly-aged guitarist Jeff Hanneman. The two strike up an immediate kinship based on adoration for genre heroes Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. As King tells KNAC.com in 2005, "He said, 'Why don't we start our own band?' I was like, 'Fuck yeah!'" King immediately becomes the lynchpin to the band's formation, utilizing his connection with a former band-mate, 20-year-old Chilean ex-pat, respiratory therapist, bassist and vocalist Tom Araya. Having performed together briefly in an inconsequential band dubbed Quits, the two are familiar with one another. The drum seat in this as-yet unnamed band remains to be filled. As fate would have it, 16-year-old Cuban-born skinsman Dave Lombardo knows of King's reputation as a metal guitarist and is actively hunting him down during shifts as a pizza delivery boy. Despite later rumours of the sort, Lombardo is not the offspring of Canadian bandleader Guy Lombardo. "I was working and I drove by Kerry's house," Lombardo tells Exclaim! in 2009. "He was living with his parents. I saw him outside and I approached him after I heard from other musicians that the guy who lives in that house down there has a bunch of guitars. His dad bought him a bunch of guitars and he's pretty good. I kept that in the back of my mind and I had the opportunity one day so I approached him and told him I was a drummer. That following night we hooked up and he gave me a list of songs that he knew. I went ahead and recognized a bunch of them that I liked and we got together a couple of days later at my house and started practising. He then brought Jeff that he'd met from a rehearsal studio. He brought him to my house and we jammed. Then Kerry said, 'Hey, I know a singer.' I met Tom and we moved over to Tom's place. There it is. History in a nutshell."
With the official line-up confirmed, the quartet begin conjuring up names, eventually agreeing on Dragonslayer, thankfully truncating it to Slayer. Thus begins the task of formulating an identifiable sound and image that will give Slayer instant identity. While the music is rather obvious, the band will prove to falter aesthetically for some time. Due to common interest in many New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) acts, tracks from Iron Maiden and Judas Priest become staples of Slayer's live shows, which are relegated to high schools and diminutive clubs in and around the Los Angeles area for the first few months until original material can be solidified.
"We introduced each other to stuff but we had the same basic liking of music if it was metal or rock of that era," notes Lombardo. "Tom was more about the Doors, Jimmy Buffett, Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel and maybe even Robert Palmer; more that genre. But he still enjoyed rock music. I myself was into Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and bands like that. Jeff liked them too but he brought in the punk element. I think that's where we developed the Slayer style: the influence of punk music blending with metal."
During a performance, Slayer is spotted by Brian Slagel, founder of then-fledgling independent record label Metal Blade Records. After a brief exchange, Slagel offers Slayer a slot on his upcoming Metal Massacre III compilation, the same series that gave fellow hometown outfit Metallica their shot at infamy during its first incarnation only a few months prior. His only condition: it has to be an original tune. Slayer agrees, requesting their return be that Metal Blade offer some sort of assistance with their eventual debut album. The deal is made and Slayer pens their first complete song "Aggressive Perfector," Metal Massacre III's lead track. It's loose, juvenile and the intro veers dangerously close to Metallica's "Hit The Lights," a far cry from the definitive thrash metal style Slayer will eventually perfect but it's also fast and angry. It works, becoming an instant underground hit with local metal fans and incites the band to get to work on that introductory offering, 1983's Show No Mercy. Lombardo becomes nostalgic when recounting these moments. "The early days, the really early days when we were just 18- and 19-year-old kids in a van playing music and raising hell basically. It was a great, great time. Those moments are special."
1983 to 1985
With ten original compositions in hand and a promise of release by Metal Blade, Slayer is hot to record their debut. Unfortunately, Metal Blade is still miniscule and has a budget of zero. The band is forced to rely on Araya's income as a respiratory therapist and a loan from King's father to finance the affair. Show No Mercy is recorded hastily at an LA. studio with Slagel producing. It hits shelves in December 1983. Musically, not unlike "Aggressive Perfector," Show No Mercy is quite puerile and its poor production values are mocked constantly but its impact is undeniable. Confrontational and furious, it is certainly influenced by the NWOBHM but is decidedly more imposing than contemporaries Metallica, more cryptic and faster than Venom and features instant classics such as "Die By The Sword," "Black Magic" and "The Antichrist," songs Slayer will continue to perform for decades. Most importantly, it gains incredible notoriety in the underground community. It feeds metal fans' need for something more extreme overall. Stylistically, Show No Mercy finds Slayer establishing a rudimentary appearance revolving around Satanic imagery and, yes, makeup. As an homage to their metallic heroes and in an effort to appear darker and even more evil, the quartet opts to embrace eye makeup during shows. At the time it is seen as such, especially when compared to the onslaught of glam bands preferring blush and lipstick over demonic circles under their eyes. However, as Lombardo reflects, this aspect of the band will be incredibly short-lived, documented solely during sessions and live performances around Show No Mercy. "[Makeup] was the influence of Venom and Mercyful Fate. It was the image we were portraying and we also watched MTV. We drew a little eye makeup to make ourselves look dark and evil like Ozzy Osbourne at the time because he was doing it. It was just the norm at the time. Once we went up to San Francisco on our first West coast tour, there were kids there that were telling us we were great but it could have sounded better. We asked what we could do. They said it would 'sound better' if we didn't have makeup. So we dropped the makeup. It only took going out of our Hollywood area ― all of the glam crap that was going on ― to learn that lesson. We had to venture out, we learned and we never looked back."
Still, despite their ephemeral dalliance with cosmetics, the ordeal will haunt them for the rest of their careers. "We wanted to distinguish ourselves in a way so we took on that imagery," sighs Lombardo. "[Other bands] can say whatever they want to say. I don't care. If they're around as long as Slayer is around, I'll give them credit. If they're not, well that's what they get for talking shit."
Lombardo also notes that the overall Satanic theme introduced on Show No Mercy will become their trademark for years to come. "The evil thing stuck...kind of. It's a double-edged sword. Maybe it didn't help at times but Slayer is about art and freedom expression. Say what you want whether it's popular or not. Stephen King wrote horror movies. Slayer writes horror music. I don't think it hurt us. I think it's helped the longevity of the band because it's edgy." Show No Mercy quickly becomes Metal Blade's best-selling album to date, pushing thousands of copies. Slayer's immediate popularity forces Araya to quit the same therapy job that bankrolled Show No Mercy and Lombardo to walk away from his job at a K-Mart in order to assault North America. The band's first tour vehicle is Araya's Camaro pulling a U-Haul trailer.
Slayer immediately follow-up Show No Mercy with the Haunting The Chapel EP in mid-1984, three songs produced again by Slagel. While not a chart-topper, Haunting The Chapel is an important evolutionary affair that displays a band with even sharper direction and begets another live staple in "Chemical Warfare." It cements Slayer's reputation internationally and spawns the band's first overseas assault. After the European jaunt, King is wooed into departing Slayer to fill the role of second guitar in a fresh thrash outfit dubbed Megadeth for a number of shows. That band's leader Dave Mustaine tries to persuade King to stick with Megadeth as opposed to the "posers," "lame spikes" and "eyeliner" of Slayer. King declines, shrugging it off to Decibel magazine circa 2006 that Megadeth was, "taking up too much of my time." He rejoins Slayer and the resulting tour is released as Live Undead. Because King and Mustaine are so forthright, the split causes a long-standing feud that will flare up exponentially, most notably during and after the Clash Of The Titans tour in 1991. Throughout the 1990s, King and Mustaine are vicious towards one another in the press, King stating that Mustaine is impossible to work with and therefore cannot maintain a consistent band while Mustaine attacks Slayer's weaker album sales as compared to Megadeth's. In 2005, King tells metal website Blabbermouth.net that he thinks Mustaine is "a cocksucker...everybody hates him," and that he is a "dictator," yet also claims he "admires Mustaine as a guitarist." Mustaine shoots back that, "Kerry has a problem, because he hates everybody." The catfight is reputedly sorted out when the two bands perform together on a short Western Canadian tour in 2009. It is not the last of King's verbal wars, which will inevitably arise with members of Machine Head, Soulfly, producer Rick Rubin and even Lombardo.
Settling down to a sophomore album, Slayer spend the rest of 1984 and initial portion of 1985 penning Hell Awaits, entering the studio as co-producers with Slagel. A minimal budget this time around offers assistance by way of engineers, the results of which are obvious. The final product is a vast improvement on both Show No Mercy and Haunting The Chapel.
"Hell Awaits was obviously better to me than Show No Mercy," Lombardo tells Exclaim! "Show No Mercy had some classic stuff on it but the sound really sucks, I think. Especially the way they had me do the drums. It was us at a primitive time. I was only 18 years old when we recorded that. My ability to play is in no comparison to what it is today. The band evolved, we've grown much wiser and better at our craft." Issued in September of 1985, Hell Awaits is not immediately seen as better than its precursors and the band is still under the public radar. Even songs such as "Necropheliac" fail to stir up any true controversy or attention. Over time, Hell Awaits is held in esteem by successful metal acts such as Texan thrashers Pantera and British black metal outfit Cradle Of Filth as a prime influence for its all-encompassing stylistic approach to metal. While still rife with depictions of Satanism, Hell and death (the album's intro provides entertaining trivia as fans struggle to figure out the backwards message: a demonic-sounding voice repeating, "Join us," and ending with "Welcome back."), it is clearly more progressive and complex. Songs feature darker exploration and varied pacing, foreshadowing what is to come from Slayer. Such evolved craftsmanship picks up popularity, as Hell Awaits goes on to sell in excess of 100,000 copies, forcing both Slayer and Slagel to realize the band's untapped potential. An onslaught of offers are shuffled back-and-forth between Slagel and other labels, the most notable being hip-hop producer Rick Rubin and his Def Jam Records. The band is initially hesitant to part ways with Metal Blade, citing loyalty. However, after an in-person meeting between label heads, Slagel deems Rubin, "the most passionate of all the label representatives the band were in negotiations with." Slayer becomes the first extreme music signing to Def Jam Records.
1986 to 1987
Utilizing the financial boost and deeper understanding of recording technology in spite of his largely rap-based history, Slayer capitalize on the Rick Rubin/Def Jam connection for third album, 1986's Reign In Blood. No one is prepared for the album's monumental impact on the state of music, heavy metal or otherwise. Featuring ten songs at a succinct 29 minutes, the album is so fast and ephemeral, it necessitates complete reproduction on the B-side of cassettes just to fill space. A complete about-face from Hell Awaits' vast, intricate songs, Reign In Blood features tunes whipping by at 210 beats per minute and averaging two minutes per track, a true testament to Hanneman's punk rock origins coupled with King and Lombardo's metal foundation. Hanneman later admits that, "if we do a verse two or three times, we're already bored with it. So we weren't trying to make the songs shorter ― that's just what we were into," while King states that self-editing in the interest of impact was of utmost importance. Either way, it works. Reign In Blood forever changes the face of metal, perfectly unifying the pace of speed metal, the antagonism of thrash, brutality of hardcore and attitude of punk. It influences countless thousands of bands over the ensuing years ― even singer/songwriter Tori Amos covers "Raining Blood" on her 2001 album Strange Little Girls ― and multiple magazines declare it the heaviest/most important metal album of all time, a breakthrough in thrash and speed metal. Only Metallica's Master Of Puppets ― released the same year ― receives such indelible accolades.
Lombardo ― who himself will eventually go on to compare all successive Slayer albums to Reign In Blood ― reflects humbly. "It was the moment, it was the time, the time in history when it came out, it was when Rick Rubin was doing Beastie Boys, Run DMC and Slayer. It was just that era. Is it the best metal album ever? I'm sure there will be albums that are just as good but it was just a different time. A new style of music was emerging and taking popularity. So it's acceptable to hear that that album is a masterpiece. It's all good, but there are more albums coming out by this band and there's a damn good possibility that there's another album that could impact as much as Reign In Blood did. You never know. If it happened once, why can't it happen again?"
However, not all is sunshine and roses in the Slayer camp. Delving even further into their fascination with death, religion, anti-religion and war, the album features lead cut/centrepiece track "Angel Of Death." Penned by Hanneman, a war history hobbyist, its lyrics depicting the medical experiments and atrocities of Nazi doctor Joseph Mengle during the Holocaust. While not sympathetic to his actions in any way, the references are immediately construed as such. Slayer are attacked as being both Nazis and Satan worshippers, a tag that sticks eternally.
Araya ― a practising Catholic ― reflects on the issue in 2006. "I think that's one of the biggest misconceptions towards the band... we're normal," he tells The Edmonton Sun. "I'm not one that's going to go, 'This sucks because it's contrary to my beliefs.' To me it's more like 'this is really good stuff. You're going to piss people off with this.'"
Other than Araya, King is the only member to publicly speak about his religious beliefs, which are clearly not Satanic. In the 2005 documentary Metal: A Headbanger's Journey, he comments that he is an atheist and that organized religion is, "the biggest brainwashing thing that is totally acceptable in America, and most other parts of the world, too...it's a load of shit." Def Jam's parent company Columbia Records refuses to release the album and promoters decline hosting the band live. Through a unique arrangement, Reign In Blood is distributed by Geffen in October of 1986. However, due to the controversy, Geffen refrains from listing it on their release schedule. Even artist Larry Carroll's cover depicting a collection of priests carrying a royal leader sporting a goat head in the pits of Hell is seen as offensive. Regardless, the album goes on to sell well over a half-million copies. Interested in raising the profile of Reign In Blood especially outside of the metal world, Rubin enlists King to perform two solos on the Beastie Boys' debut Licensed To Ill. While the pairing works and Licensed To Ill's popularity impacts Slayer for the positive, King's effort is somewhat flat. Even he later jests about his performance, declaring it "certainly wasn't that of a virtuoso." The success of Reign In Blood is a double-edged sword to Lombardo. He's proud of the accomplishment but begins to express frustrations that Slayer's rising success and notoriety fails to result in financial return as well. He recalls the time to Decibel many years later. "I wasn't making any money. I figured if we were gonna be doing this professionally, on a major label, I wanted my rent and utilities paid." Lombardo quits in October of 1986, one month after the start of their Reign In Pain tour. He is replaced temporarily by Whiplash drummer Tony Scaglione, yet rumours fly that Rubin continually courts Lombardo to return, going so far as to offer him a salaried position. Still, it is Lombardo's wife who finally convinces him to return by 1987. This is only the first of many issues between Lombardo and his band-mates, who finish out the year with a less-than-stellar rendition of Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida," for the film Less Than Zero. It's their first recording played by major radio stations but is generally regarded as a major misstep for Slayer by fans and band alike. Hanneman's diplomatic analysis renders it, "a poor representation of Slayer," while King, who never minces words, is more blunt: "It's a hunk of shit." "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" is an unwitting foreshadow to the band's next work.
1988 to 1989
Slayer's fourth album South Of Heaven is recorded in the same manner as its predecessor: in Los Angeles with Rubin at the boards. In July of 1988 it is released, once again through the special arrangement with Geffen because Columbia still refuse to work with Slayer. Anticipation runs high for South Of Heaven, given the amazing critical response and stunning track record Slayer has maintained, yet upon its release, South Of Heaven sparks of a different sort of controversy than Reign In Blood. Expecting a repeat performance of Reign In Blood, fans are shocked to hear the band moving away from the rabid aggression of Reign In Blood, performing slower and Araya singing as opposed to utilizing his typical steely grunt. While still clearly well-constructed metal, the album feels closer to the likes of Hell Awaits than Reign In Blood, leaving many critics and fans unsettled and confused. Throughout the years, queries about South Of Heaven are addressed with the same response. Because King has recently married and moved to Arizona, he is far less involved in the creation of South Of Heaven. Hanneman and Araya pick up the slack, discussing their options.
Says Hanneman: "We knew we couldn't top Reign in Blood, so we had to slow down. We knew whatever we did was gonna be compared to that album and I remember we actually discussed slowing down. It was weird ― we've never done that on an album, before or since."
Despite initial disappointment, fans eventually begrudgingly give the record the benefit of the doubt thanks to the fact that it doesn't strive to emulate Reign In Blood and does feature some unforgettable tracks such as "Mandatory Suicide" and "Ghosts Of War." King later admits that South Of Heaven is his worst performance and suffers from his lack of participation yet contrary to years of upholding this stance, in 2009, Lombardo tells Exclaim! that South Of Heaven's more patient delivery is not a direct reaction to the expediency of its predecessor. "Things are not done purposely. It happened. South Of Heaven was what it was. We had slow songs like 'Spill The Blood' and whatever contributed people to think that South Of Heaven was slow should listen to 'Silent Scream' and 'Ghosts Of War.' There are a lot of fast songs on that record. It just happened that way. When you're in the studio creating, it just so happens that the material you're bringing in is what it is. It's not intentional. It just develops during the creative process."
Mixed opinions regarding South Of Heaven notwithstanding, Slayer shows are still insanely popular. During the ensuing World Sacrifice tour, sold-out events in both Los Angeles and New York incite riots and vandalism that are well-publicized and propel the band's image as dangerous miscreants. The New York performance, released online in 2009, shows an overzealous crowd tearing up seat cushions and hurling them in all directions, forcing the band offstage. In an effort to assuage the insanity, Araya bellows, "You guys came here to have a good time, and you're blowin' it, big time! Why don't you give us a break? We can probably never play here again." They don't.
1990 to 1993
The Slayer/Rubin team add co-producer Andy Wallace to the fold and finally hit their stride with 1990's Seasons In The Abyss, an album that is revered for finally uniting the outward bombast of Reign In Blood with the creative progression of Hell Awaits and South Of Heaven. Issued in October, it ushers in the band's first two official videos, a live document for the track "War Ensemble" and a trip to the Gaza Strip for the title track's celluloid representation. Straying from ― but not completely eliminating ― the overt Satanic imagery, songs focus more on themes of military aggression, psychopathic killers such as Ed Gein and apocalyptic tragedy. Moreover, the album is revealed to feature stronger writing and performances by King, who admits to taking guitar lessons for the first time. Speaking with a guitar magazine, he notes that he feels his limited knowledge of musical theory means he has been "faking" up to this point. With some knowledge under his belt, he is able to comprehend how to craft engaging songs. Apparently it works, as Seasons In The Abyss goes on to attain the same immortal status as Reign In Blood. Yet again, Lombardo declares that, "We weren't trying to do it. It's just what happened."
Seasons In The Abyss not only prompts accolades though. Due to its popularity, the band is pushed out on the road endlessly for Touring In The Abyss (shows are later released as 1991 double-live album Decade Of Aggression) and the Clash Of The Titans stints with fellow thrash metal stalwarts Megadeth and Anthrax. It is here that Araya begins a years-long feud with Megadeth's Mustaine apart from King's battle. According to various 1991 interviews, the battle begins when Mustaine allegedly unpromptedly confronts Araya and states that he enjoyed it when Araya "was sucking his dick." Araya opts to counter the comment onstage by telling a crowd that Mustaine is a "washed-up homo." The battle is quickly forgotten though, when more tension with Lombardo arises. Hints at the stress are revealed in an interview with Metal Maniacs magazine where Lombardo admits that he feels more like a "hired gun" than a bona fide member and alludes to acting the part in future, toying with the idea of charging the band for his performances and recording. Difficulties reach an apex in 1992 when the band expresses intent to tour yet again, a plan that conflicts with Lombardo's personal plans of remaining at home for the birth of his first son, something he makes the band aware of nine months prior. At the time though, the issue is revealed to press as a dispute between the band and Lombardo wanting to bring his wife on the road, presumably one of the options discussed. Unable to come to a resolution, Lombardo quits. This time though, the parting of ways seems to be finite; will last for almost a decade.
After his son's birth Lombardo goes on to work on a few projects including his own metal outfit Grip Inc. as well as Fantõmas, an avant-garde metal outfit comprised of former Faith No More vocalist Mike Patton, the Melvins' Buzz Osborne and Dale Crover and Mr. Bungle bassist Trevor Dunn. The odd comment is made from each camp over the years revealing little else than general unpleasantness but all prefer to avoid the topic.
"It was a time where we were touring a lot, there was friction, I had personal issues that I had to deal with and my first son was gonna be born in December when the band called to tour. I didn't want to do it. We had friction between band members already so I decided to stay back and be there for my family and they could go ahead. They said they'd do the shows and found another drummer they kept for ten years," Lombardo states in 2009, adding that during his absence he was, "focusing on my own music. I didn't even care what they did or what they were saying. It didn't bother me or phase me. You could tell by all the projects that I did, I wanted to do as much as I could and be as different as I could to distinguish myself as an all-around drummer rather than just Dave Lombardo, the drummer from Slayer."
Undaunted, Slayer enlist Lombardo's own drum teacher but he is unable to keep up. A series of unsuccessful auditions later, King's guitar technician relays the name Paul Bostaph to the trio. He has recently quit fellow thrash outfit Forbidden so the band offer him a shot. Given a deadline to learn a list of songs, Bostaph nails them and is offered permanent residency. Despite his own prowess though, Bostaph knows he is at a disadvantage when compared to Lombardo. He constantly struggles to mimic Lombardo's style and is forced to improve his strength. After departing in 2001, he admits to website Metal Rules that, "I respected and loved Dave's drumming but as a fan, if they got a new drummer and I bought a ticket to a show, I would expect to hear the stuff that Dave does, that's what I would want. So, I went in and every time I had to learn a new song I would play them exactly how Dave played them."
In the interest of honing the new line-up, Slayer remain relatively dormant through 1993, save for contributing a medley of three Exploited tracks ("War," "UK '82." and "Disorder") to the Judgement Night movie soundtrack with rapper Ice T, saving Bostaph's full-fledged debut for September, 1994's Divine Intervention. The album maintains the band's overt thrash tendencies; it peaks at Number 8 on Billboard's Top 200, the best charting for a Slayer album to date. More attention is drawn to the album when a fan volunteers to have the band's logo surgically cut into his forearm and photographed for the insert. However, with its regurgitation of themes (Holocaust, serial killers ― this time Jeffrey Dahmer) and shifting of studios and producers, Divine Intervention still seems like listless retread and fails to hold up to the essential status of its predecessors. Even Bostaph later shrugs it off as his least favourite Slayer album he is featured on. It still fares far better than 1996's Undisputed Attitude, a covers album intended to showcase bands who "made Slayer what it is," as King comments. Plans for versions of metal tunes by Judas Priest, UFO and Deep Purple are scrapped and the album is relegated to a few older originals from Hanneman's punk past, one new Slayer song "Gemini" and punk covers by the likes of D.R.I., T.S.O.L. and the Stooges. By changing the last line of Minor Threat's "Guilty Of Being White," to "guilty of being right," Slayer spawn a huge controversy, igniting claims of white supremacy (the tune has long been misinterpreted as such) and spurring songwriter Ian MacKaye to assert, "that is so offensive to me," to which King assures it was altered for "tongue-in-cheek" humour, seeing as the singer of their band isn't exactly white himself. He dismisses the claims of racism as "ridiculous."
The album sells well initially but quickly bombs after being panned. Araya later accepts it, noting, "I knew it wouldn't do very well, people want to hear Slayer! The real diehards picked up on it and that was expected."
After the release of Undisputed Attitude, Bostaph inexplicably quits Slayer to form his own band the Truth About Seafood and is replaced by Testament drummer Jon Dette for 1996. Dette performs live with the band for a few months but is eventually fired for reportedly being unable to get along with Araya for undisclosed reasons. Bostaph is brought back in for 1997, just after Slayer is issued a lawsuit from the parents of murder victim Elyse Pahler. According to them, the 15 year-old is choked, trampled, raped and stabbed to death by three assailants who later admit to luring her into their acquaintance in order to to use her for a Satanic ritual. Her parents claim that as fans of the band, the lyrics to Slayer songs "Postmortem" and "Dead Skin Mask" encouraged the accused parties' behaviour. While the perpetrators are sentenced to 25 years to life in prison, the sealed lawsuit drags on until a full dismissal in 2001. After being unsealed in 2000, Metal Hammer reveals that the Pahler family accuses Slayer, "and related business markets" of distributing, "harmful products to teens, encouraging violent acts through their lyrics," and "none of the vicious crimes committed against Elyse Marie Pahler would have occurred without the intentional marketing strategy of the death-metal band Slayer." Dismissal lies on multiple ground including, "principles of free speech, lack of a duty and lack of foreseeability."
Undaunted, the family file a second, amended complaint for damages against Slayer, their label and other industry and label entities which is again dismissed by a judge who declares that he does "not consider Slayer's music obscene, indecent or harmful to minors." Even later, one of the convicted speaks with The Washington Post, stating, "The music is destructive [but] that's not why Elyse was murdered. She was murdered because [they were] obsessed with her, and obsessed with killing her." The band remains largely uncommunicative about the events to the present.
With Bostaph's return, the band tucks into seventh studio effort Diabolus In Musica, Latin for "the devil in music"; it's a particularly dissonant musical interval. The moniker is incredibly apt, given that Diabolus In Musica, released in July of 1998, is the band's most experimental album. Written almost entirely by Hanneman, it maintains the standard Slayer speed and dominance yet also displays detuned guitars and general murkiness that is somewhat accepted by forgiving sorts but generally blasted by media. Renowned metal journalist Borijov Krgin deems it, "a feeble attempt at incorporating updated elements into the group's sound, the presence of which elevated the band's efforts somewhat and offered hope that Slayer could refrain from endlessly rehashing their previous material for their future output." In general though, it is revered as a primary influence on the churning beats and rumbling low-end embraced by the ensuing nu-metal brigade such as Static-X and Godsmack. With time it is accepted but considered a relatively dark tangent for Slayer who rarely perform tracks from the album live. The obligatory album tour, a few appearances on soundtracks and tributes round out 1999 and 2000 before the band settle down to write again.
2001 to 2005
In an effort to work out the kinks of complacency and not repeat the lacklustre performance of Diabolus In Musica, 2001 brings many changes to the Slayer camp. The band steps outside of Los Angeles to record for the first time, selecting Vancouver's Warehouse studio and opting to work without Rubin for the first time since Reign In Blood. Rubin also claims to be "too busy" and "worn out" on heavy music to work on the album. Araya and King feel the same way about Rubin, King noting later to Guitar World magazine that he, "wanted to work with someone into the heavy music scene, and Rubin's not anymore. I wanted somebody who knows what's hot, knows what's selling, knows the new techniques, and will keep me on my toes." Rubin recommends Matt Hyde (Fu Manchu, Monster Magnet), who is selected to twiddle knobs for Slayer's eighth studio album, an effort that garners the most inadvertent controversy in the band's history.
Initially intending to call the album Soundtrack To The Apocalypse, Araya suggest that moniker would work better for a box set, which it does when the band releases one in 2003. The title is switched to God Hates Us All. It instantly outrages religious fanatics who already detest the band, a situation that is exasperated when the album's artwork ― a Bible pounded with nails, covered in blood and bearing the band's logo scratched into the cover ― is revealed. Inside, the booklet showcases Bible verses crossed out with marker. Despite being quite stunning, King has his own idea of what the cover should be: nails hammered into the Bible in the shape of a pentagram, each one missing a key word so as to represent the actions of a sociopath. The concept is ignored and King slams the chosen design, which was created by the label, sneering that it, "represents a record company with absolutely no idea what the fuck they were going to do," and "looked like a seventh-grader defaced the Bible." Nevertheless, the artwork is deemed "too graphic" by many and a simple, white slipcover bearing four gold crosses is created to shield it on store shelves. Thematically, the album features a new twist for Slayer: what King tells Guitar World is an incorporation of more realistic subjects as opposed to "Satan this, Satan that and the usual Dungeons & Dragons shit... I definitely wanted to put more realism in it, more depth. God Hates Us All isn't an anti-Christian line as much as it's an idea I think a lot of people can relate to on a daily basis. One day you're living your life, and then you're hit by a car or your dog dies, so you feel like, 'God really hates me today.'"
In his typically reserved-albeit-candid way, Araya rationalizes his own religious beliefs against the title to Metal: A Headbanger's Journey by stating, "God doesn't hate... [but] it's a great fucking title." The album and tour are also unintentionally publicized when posters promoting its release simply state God Hates Us All: September 11, 2001. They are instantly linked to New York's terrorist attacks by superstitious sorts and conspiracy theorists as some sort of (overlooked) omen. The ensuing Twin Towers incident and crippling of all air travel impacts the band's tour plans but not as much as Paul Bostaph's unceremonious departure after an early December 2001 performance. Citing a chronic elbow injury as hindering his ability to play, he amicably vacates the band mid-tour, forcing King to contact Lombardo in an effort to honour commitments despite personal reservations about his ability. After rehearsal though, King comments that he is, "blown away" by Lombardo. "He's got the feet and he's got the hands, he's not missing a step." Still, at this point, Lombardo's return is solely for the duration of the tour.
"What I heard was that Paul Bostaph had problems with his elbow while he was playing with Slayer. That's all I know," Lombardo says now. "Why did I want to do it? I was gonna have some time off and the first six months of 2002 were a little uncertain. I believe I got a little lucky when management called me and asked if I wanted to help the band out or whatever; play in the band again. I gave it a shot. It was a trial period that I did."
Following the tour, Slayer begin listening to demos in order to find a permanent replacement. After listening to endless tapes and enduring multiple auditions, they conclude that Lombardo is the only suitable candidate and offer him the permanent position. He accepts. "It felt really good to be back although it was uncertain if I was to stay or not," Lombardo continues. "I didn't know how they were gonna be; they didn't know how I was gonna be. It was testing the waters for four or five tours but it all worked out. So far, so good."
As if King doesn't have enough on his hands, that October he winds up in yet another war of words, this time with metal outfit Machine Head for calling them "sell-outs" after hearing their recent album Supercharger. Other slights including, "They're responsible for rap-metal," "they fooled me into thinking they're metal," and "they have no integrity left," draw return fire from band front Rob Flynn. The feud ensues until another backstage discussion in 2007.
The remainder of 2002 through 2005 are spent promoting God Hates Us All with a few outside ventures here and there such as King starting his own clothing company KFK Industries in honour of the "Kerry Fuckin' King" nickname bestowed upon him by fans for his strong aesthetics, guitar abilities and mouthiness. The company is announced in 2003 but continually starts and stops for various reasons. By 2007, he will change its name to KFK Ministries but still offers nothing for sale.
Musically, live DVD War At The Warfield and the Soundtrack To The Apocalypse set are released but the biggest news is the band's announcement that they will perform Reign In Blood in its entirety for a number of shows as the Still Reigning tour. The show culminates with blood pouring from the rafters and soaking the band during, "Raining Blood." It is captured on film and released as the Still Reigning DVD in 2004.
2006 to 2008
Slayer spend the majority of early 2006 ― their 25th year ― back in Los Angeles recording ninth album Christ Illusion with producer Josh Abraham (Velvet Revolver, Courtney Love). Even before its release, much hype is made about the fact that it boasts Lombardo's return after a decade, stirring up anticipation and projections about its sound and style. By the same token, it causes another of King's aforementioned war-of-words when Rubin opts to work with Metallica on their Death Magnetic album as opposed to Christ Illusion. While Abraham is producer, Rubin winds up with executive producer credit, which King claims is unearned seeing as Rubin was absent from the studio and merely provided final mixing suggestions. Post-release, the issue is raised again with Ultimate Guitar magazine in 2007. King pulls no punches, stating that Rubin's actions were a "slap in the fucking face," especially because he chose the "sinking ship" Metallica over Slayer. Rubin does not comment. The band is able to stir up more contention with the release than internal issues though. Carroll's artwork depicting a mutilated Christ prompts issuing of an alternate cover for stores unwilling or uncomfortable with stocking it and a series of bus bench adverts in Fullerton, California are pulled for their "offensive depiction" and sentiments that the band name alludes to a murderer. Internationally, the song "Jihad," which reflects on September 11 from the perspective of terrorists, upsets the Catholic Secular Forum and all copies of the album are recalled and destroyed by EMI India.
According to most accounts, Slayer are expected to release Christ Illusion on June 6, 2006, the date being vague Satanic reference 6/6/6, the "number of the Beast." The band shoots down these expectations, King offering that they do not want to be lumped in with the throngs of, "half-ass, stupid fucking loser bands" planning to do the same. Furthermore, Araya enters hospital for gall bladder surgery that prevents completion of all tracks. Christ Illusion is not issued until August. Still, June 6, 2006 does not pass unrecognized as a group of devout Slayer fans Stateside unofficially declare it the National Day of Slayer, an event named in parody of the National Day Of Prayer. Fans are urged to listen to Slayer at maximum volume and purport their love of the band endlessly. Due to a tongue-in-cheek mention on their website that fans, "spray paint Slayer logos on churches, synagogues, or cemeteries" being taken literally, New York fans vandalize a church by painting a pentagram on the front doors, inverted crosses on foyer columns and 666 on steps. They also paint "reign In blood" on the seminary landing and quote Milton's Paradise Lost by scrawling, "Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven" on the property. Even with bad publicity, the Slayer holiday catches on with following years until in 2009, it is re-named the International Day of Slayer. This is one of few times when Slayer is not directly accused of instigating actions revolving around them.
When Christ Illusion is finally released, it is immediately Slayer's best out-of-the-gate album to date, entering the Billboard Top 200 at Number 5. With time to let it sink in though, fans and critics fail to see it as the be-all, end-all of Slayer. While still a strong album, Christ Illusion is praised more for Lombardo's return than any other aspect. As he notes to FFWD magazine in 2009 when discussing the difference between Christ Illusion and forthcoming 2009 effort World Painted Blood, Lombardo reflects that Christ Illusion was solid but not quite firing on all cylinders. "Getting back together, we felt comfortable performing the old stuff and I felt comfortable performing Paul's stuff but maybe we didn't establish our method of operation, our songwriting operation or collective efforts to the extent that this album has." Irrespective of critical views though, common opinion is that with Lombardo back in the band, Slayer are capable of far more than they have been since his 1991 departure. Even the formerly hesitant King admits how Lombardo's return has offered the band a popularity surge and that he, Araya and Hanneman perform best with him keeping beat. Araya's enthusiasm shines through when stating, "It's kind of right back where we started. He's an amazing performer. We took off right where we left off, you know? It's like he was never gone. He's working with Kerry on his tunes. He's helped out a lot actually!"
In 2007, the track "Eyes Of The Insane" wins the band their first Grammy for Best Metal Performance, having only previous been nominated for "Seasons In The Abyss" back in 1990. Later that year, heavy metal magazine Kerrang! adds Slayer to their Hall Of Fame for their influence on heavy metal.
While working on their tenth studio album World Painted Blood with producer Greg Fidelman (and again, executive produced by Rubin, King's affronts notwithstanding) in the latter portion of 2008, Slayer earn their second Grammy win, this time for "Final Six," again from the Christ Illusion sessions.
Much of 2009 is spent working on World Painted Blood, its official release initially scheduled for early summer yet constantly pushed back. November 3 is slated as its unfurling, creating a massive internet speculation as to how it will sound. With only one track, "Psychopathy Red" issued as a teaser a year prior, few details are forthcoming until the band is more certain about the finished product themselves. Once again, they claim that World Painted Blood is a commingling of their best previous work, which remains to be seen/heard. King claims it "has a little bit of everything ― more so than anything we've done since Seasons. So I would imagine people are gonna compare it to that one," while Lombardo dubs it, "the most amazing record since Reign In Blood."
"[The album has] elements of Seasons..., South Of Heaven, Reign In Blood ― it's inspired," he adds. "The vocals, the leads, the rhythms. It's pure, classic Slayer. I wouldn't say it if I didn't mean it. I'm not trying to push a record. I'd keep quiet. If I didn't like it, I wouldn't say much but this one is really exciting for me." Araya and Hanneman remain typically quiet prior to the album's release.
Questioned as to the on-again, off-again relationship between himself and King, Lombardo assures that in their mid-40s, much of their internal tension is water under the bridge and the quartet is finally at a place of inner-peace for the most part. "[Life in Slayer] can be tense. We get pissed off but it's rare and it's usually petty when you look back at it. Maybe it's read into more than it actually happens. We're so past it... there's nothing there as far as I'm concerned. I don't like to hold grudges or make lives miserable. Just enjoy it, man. Take any chance to forgive and move forward. Sometimes it's hard and it may take a while but for that's how I operate."
Still, he will have little time to enjoy it. Fears of Slayer's end start circulating in 2008 after an interview between Araya and metal journalist Joel McIver. Here, Araya admits that he is uncertain about Slayer's future past World Painted Blood, acquiescing that his advancing age and World Painted Blood being their final album under their longstanding contract with Rubin's American Records will force the quartet to "sit down and discuss the future."
In 2009 though, just over a month prior to World Painted Blood's November 3 release date, unsubstantiated sources claim Araya announces that World Painted Blood will be the first in Slayer's final trilogy of albums. They allege that this triumvirate will be completed by 2012 and Rubin is committed as sole producer for each effort. Unsurprised and ever the optimist, Lombardo concludes that while he doesn't call the shots, he plans on sticking with the band indefinitely.
"I don't know. I hear that rumour too and I can only speak for myself. I haven't heard anything internally about, 'Oh, this is it.' I have enough fire and energy to last I don't know how long. I don't know about the other guys. I'll keep playing though and as long as Slayer needs me, I'll be here. Whatever they wanna do. I can imagine myself at 75 looking like Charlie Watts playing speed metal."