If It Ain't Broke
Kerry King, he of the tattooed scalp with tribal imagery (it meanders from his dome onto the rest of him, buttressed by a bushy goatee), sure looks the part of the metal guitar hero. Either that or a pro wrestler. But while you can find plenty of his brethren liberally copping his style at metal fests around the globe, King is undoubtedly the real thing.
In fact, he is a founding member and major force behind metal institution Slayer, whom all those metal dudes are most likely striving to be. With King, there is no Metallica-esque pretense floating around. You know, the one in which the rich guy in the famous metal band spends his time doing considerably un-metal things such as amassing multimillion-dollar art collections and suing fans for downloading his music on the Internet.
No, King, 46, a self-described “notorious drinker,” still freely admits that he likes to party and regularly goes to metal shows when he isn’t with his band or dreaming up his next monster riff.
“I always tell people that if I quit Slayer today, I’d start up a new band tomorrow that would sound exactly like Slayer,” he says. “We’re all totally into what we’re doing. . . . We’re metal guys; this is what we know.”
That statement is self-evident. As King and his crew of fellow 40-somethings creep closer to the half-century mark after three decades of performing, there is hardly an inkling of slowing down. They still tour heavily, obliterating stages with their punishing music while sending their loyal, ever-multiplying fan base into fits. The band are currently out on the road with fellow elder statesmen Megadeth and Testament on the American Carnage tour. It’s the first time these three bands have hit the road together since 1990’s classic Clash of the Titans tour. In the fall, the band headline the 2010 Jägermeister Music Tour with Megadeth and Anthrax.
With thousands of shows in the rearview mirror, it would be understandable if the band’s live performances were a bit tamer than in the early days. But King and company still treat each date as if it were their first.
“It is our responsibility as a band to go out there and put on the best show that we can. . . . Our fans expect that from us,” he says. “I love drinking—everyone knows that—but I never drink before a show because I want to be out there at my best.”
The energy and brutality emanating from their music in a live setting has been the key driver behind the group’s exceedingly loyal fan base. Although the band have sold their fair share of records, Slayer would never be confused with Michael Jackson when it comes to moving units. The group built their reputation by blowing the minds of those who watched them and are now transcending the generation gap. Legions of Slayer fans from the ’80s and ’90s now have kids old enough to go to the shows with them.
“It’s really is a trip to see kids at our show with their parents, totally into it,” King says. “But I think metal is the one genre where it’s cool if you listen to the same thing as your parents. . . . It’s like you’re both in the same kind of underground club.”
Slayer now have enough rings around their proverbial tree stump to be eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. With a legacy of influencing generations of metal bands, they’d appear a likely candidate for induction, but King has other ideas.
“Do I think we deserve it? Absolutely,” he says. “Will it ever happen? I seriously doubt it. There doesn’t seem to be much room in there for bands like us.”
In any case, the group are commemorating their longevity by reissuing three live DVDs chronicling different eras in their storied career. Long out-of-print sets including 2003’s War At the Warfield, 2004’s Still Reigning—which ends with the band being drenched in 150 liters of fake blood—and, for the first time on DVD, 1995’s Live Intrusion are now available. The most striking characteristic about all three efforts is how remarkably unchanged the energy is to this day.
“It really is kind of amazing when I look back on it,” King says. “Just the other day at a signing, some kid told me how much he loved Reign In Blood, and I was thinking, ‘Damn, that album is, like, 24 years old.’”
King, who along with fellow founding guitarist Jeff Hanneman pens most of Slayer’s tracks, has a few ideas for a follow-up to 2009’s World Painted Blood but doesn’t plan on getting into the studio in the near future. There are just too many shows to play.
“Luckily, we started this band at such a young age, that after 30 years, we’re still in condition to keep on doing this,” he says. “It really never gets old, and at this point, I don’t see a reason why it would.”
Slayer perform with Megadeth and Testament at the Long Beach Arena, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach, (562) 436-3661; www.longbeachcc.com. Mon., 7 p.m. $15.75-$54.40.
This article appeared in print as "It Never Gets Old: Slayer Guitarist Kerry King still gets a kick out of their obliterating metal sound."
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