LEFT TO RIGHT: Tom Araya, Gary Holt, Paul Bostaph, Kerry King
What do you do when found in this position: You’re one of — it not the — most metal band on the planet and you’re almost forced to call it a day because one of your two guitarists passed away at a way-too-young age of 49 from a combination of flesh eating disease and cirrhosis of the liver, your singer has had to have a neck plate installed which prevents him from doing the onstage headbanging for which the group is renowned, your original drummer has flown the coop once again (this time because of money related issues), and you then ditched one of the most respected producers in history for the first time in three decades?
If you’re Slayer, that band who encourages carving their logo into your arm (somewhat jokingly), you buck the fuck up, snag the guitarist from fellow thrash metal act Exodus, dial up the initial replacement for the original drummer, and come up with a killer record which hearkens right back to the rest of their notoriously consistent catalog.
Michael Christopher: Repentless is the first album you worked on without Jeff [Hannamen], first without Rick Rubin in 30 years, first Gary Holt and first with [drummer] Paul [Bostaph] in 15 years. How much did all of that affect you, pressure-wise, as far as the writing process?
Not much; less than you would think because I started working on material when Jeff got hurt, not when Jeff got sick. So I had a two-year head start., which really made everything happen. And yeah, if I hadn’t have done that, it would’ve been a giant burden and I can guarantee you wouldn’t get the same record.
Tom said in a recent interview he was kind of…concerned about how it was going to come out. I have sort of the same question, but with all of the changes, were you concerned at that it wouldn’t come out sounding like a Slayer record?
I knew it would, because you have the voice that hasn’t changed — ever. You’ve got half of the people who’ve made up the music since day one. The only concern from the beginning was, I didn’t want to leave what Jeff brought to the table; you know, I’m not Jeff, I can’t make up a song like Jeff makes up a song and he couldn’t make up one like I do. We both have things that we distinctively excel in. One of thing I wanted to get out of the way early was get the “me” side covered. It turns out “When the Stillness Comes,” that intro riff, that’s 20 years old — I had that since Paul was in the band the last time. I just never used, because I didn’t have to [laughs]. I wanted to address that and get that song done; and once it was done, I got goosebumps on my arms, you know, and knew this is exactly what it needs to be.
Obviously the X-factor on the record is Gary. Were you confident that he would bring his A-game and that he wouldn’t be saving it for Exodus?
Absolutely. I noticed when he plays with us onstage live; I never once, nor has Tom, said, “You’ve gotta play this just like the record.” Gary gets a couple things that are very signature that need to be played or in the ballpark, and then he just riffs on it. Before he started playing with us in 2010, he was my favorite unsung “guitar hero,” and I’m glad he’s getting some recognition.
Slayer has had issues in the past, being called anti-Semitic. You’ve seen what Phil Anselmo has been going through recently, what is your take on that, or what advice would you give him?
Ours is all unwarranted; I’ve said since 1986 if “Angel of Death” was a documentary on History Channel it would probably win awards, but Slayer said it — so they’re racist. That’s just people not knowing what things are about. Now, what Phillip did — I wasn’t there, but of course I’ve seen some of it… [laughs] there’s a line I think he crossed a little bit; yeah, he may not come back from that. It was massive.
So many bands are calling it a day, in metal, the most notable of course is Black Sabbath. Do you ever see a time down the line where you’ll look over at Tom and say, that’s it — we’re done?
I’m sure it’s coming. I’m sure it’s a lot closer than farther away like it was 20 years ago, but we’re not in the same age class as those guys. I mean, we’re in our 35th year, and those guys are 40-something years in the business, so… can we do it as long as they can? That’s hard to say. Our show is still a lot more physical than what Sabbath has ever done. Tom’s time has come, and he’s a better singer and bass player because of it; he’s not thrasher dude onstage or whatever. When that time comes that me and Holt and Paul can’t do it, then we’ve either got to face the music and say it’s time to quit this or at least do a farewell and let everybody get a chance to see you. That being said, we’re not gonna be one of those bands that says “farewell” 15 times [laughs]. You know, if we hit your town, we’re not coming back. Whenever that time comes, I want to do it the right way — like Mötley Crüe of all people.
When it comes to newer bands, do you see anyone taking on the mantle of metal at this point, in 2016?
I really don’t — and I wish I did. I’m sure I’m not up to date on everybody that’s happening these days because in this day and age I can’t keep track of all the stuff coming out and I’ve still got all the stuff I love historically. My time is much spent doing that then weeding through CDs and stuff that I’m not gonna like. For me new to listen to it these days is either a close friend or somebody on [Slayer’s label] Nuclear Blast saying, “Hey, check this out,” and I’ll definitely give it time. You think it gets easier; it just seems to get busier.
I’ve been into tequila for a number of years and it seems to me that they’re coming to the party with better ones these days. I guess that’s because tequila really boomed five, six years ago, so now you’re getting all these nice five years extra añejos and four year extra añejos that you can just… I don’t even have salt, lime — no training wheels — just straight out of the bottle. Nobody drinking with me? I’ll drink it out of the bottle — I don’t give a shit. It’s a really fine time for nice tequila and you can get ones that aren’t super overpriced; of course you can get ones that are overpriced that aren’t that good, but it just takes friends and trial and error to find out which ones.
Is there a certain brand that you’re into today?
The one I’m really into now, and I’m not sure how it is regionally, but you can find it in Southern California, you can find it in Vegas; it’s called Grand Mayan. If I’m not mistaken, it’s a five year extra añejo. It’s not priced out of this world. My friends in Boulder, Colorado, are gonna be like, “Yeah — you mentioned it!!”
::SEVEN OF SOMETHING
I’m gonna throw out seven things that relate to the word “King,” and you tell me the first thing that comes to mind.
He’s a hero of mine from the Mercyful Fate days and he came up to me on that run and asked me to play a Mercyful Fate song with him, not only was I flattered, but if you told teenage Kerry King that someday King Diamond from Mercyful Fate is gonna have you come up and play anything off Melissa, I’d have said, “Go fuck youself.”
It’s cool. You know, It’s so easy to get jaded by effects these days and CGI and stuff, it’s moving at such an accelerated speed that things you saw eight years ago look dated. It’s amazing how fast that shit’s coming. But looking back at that and enjoying it for what it is, it’s still a fun movie.
I have mixed emotions about that – big time. Was he a talent? Yeah, absolutely. Were there things severely wrong with him? Absolutely. I guess it’s better to remember the… better stuff; the early Jackson 5 stuff when he sang like a bird and it was awesome. Then, later in life, Thriller came out which is one of the biggest records of all time. It’s not my style, but if one [of the songs] came on, I could probably sing the fucking lyrics right along with you.
Really good lately. After a long time of, not mediocrity, but never getting over the hump. When I’m in town and I’d get the opportunity to go with Brian Slagel from Metal Blade records, because he goes to a lot of Kings’ games. Before they started winning Stanley Cups, he’d get suites, because they wanted some famous people to bring in fans.
SLAYER + CARCASS :: Sunday, March 7 at the House of Blues, 15 Lansdowne St. in Boston, MA :: 6 p.m., all ages, $49.50 to $60.00 :: Advance tickets