STORY WRITTEN BY GARY GRAFF
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After spending some seasons in its own abyss, Slayer is reigning and raging once again.
Rocked by the death of guitarist and co-founder Jeff Hanneman in 2013, the California quartet — one of the Big Four of thrash metal along with Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax — has regained its footing. The group released its first album since 2009, “Repentless” last year. This year comes a new comic book series with Dark Horse comics based on some recent videos as well as a line of Slayer-inspired BMX bicycles.
With Exodus guitarist Gary Holt now in the fold, Slayer has continued its headbanging ways around the globe, including a current tour of North America. Signer-bassist Tom Araya tells us that despite scars from the recent past, Slayer remains a defiant force to be reckoned with…
Not much has changed about what Slayer tries to do on stage, according to Araya, 55. “Our show is about our music,” he says. “If there’s anything different that’s up to the lighting guy, whether he changes the scene or set or anything like that. Then we just let the music do the talking. We start off slapping you around. The next group of songs we slap you, punch you and kick you a few times. At the very end it’s a brutal assault, then we tell you good night and thanks for coming.
That makes Slayer’s fan base the ultimate “Thank you sir, may I have another” throng. And that’s something Araya says he appreciates more now than ever. “We have a very loyal following,” he explains. “After the passing of Jeff, I really appreciate the fact that they come and share and spend their time with us. For an hour and a half on this one day they come here and they give that time to us and share it with us. With all of these musicians and artists that are passing away, I’ve learned to appreciate that. I’ve always been thankful, but now I’m just coming out and being more vocal about it.”
Araya says another development in recent years is that he and guitarist Kerry King, who co-founded Slayer with Hanneman, communicate better than they have before. “Me and Kerry are doing something we’ve never done, which is talk,” Araya says. “Usually we never did communicate on things. When it came to Slayer business, we each kind of put in our input and then it was a majority rule kind of thing and the outcome was the outcome. I would say in the last few years we actually did get on the phone and talk about things, and after Jeff passed Kerry and I continued that dialogue.”
A follow-up to “Repentless” is not in the cards just yet. “We haven’t talked about it, but (the record company) people have,” Araya says with a laugh. “We like to work our material out and make sure we’re happy with it before anybody decides to say, ‘Let’s do a record.’ We’ve never really been the kind of band that’s like, ‘Alright, let’s do a record every year.’ Then you don’t come up with quality songs. You need time to start working on ideas and get your ideas together and hope you’re happy with the ideas. That’s kind of how we’ve always been as a band, and you need to take a break from touring to work those out.”
The Slayer comic books are a three-volume story written by “Metalocalypse’s” Jon Schnepp based on the videos for the songs “Repentless” and “You Against You.” And Araya says Slayer is stoked about the project. “It’s pretty cool,” he notes. “Dark Horse came up with the stories around the video ideas, and we’re excited because it’s a legit comic book company doing a comic for us. I talked to the editor and writer and they told me about their approach and what they came up with and how they’re applying Slayer. The whole thing is really cool.”