Slayer: Grave New World
Originally published in Guitar World, November 2009; photos by Travis Shinn
Slayer continue their quest for global domination with World Painted Blood, their annihilating new album. Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King talk about working hard, playing fast and living life on the dark side.
"Have you ever seen someone and the thought comes in your head that you just want to... kill 'em?”
Coming from most any other human, this line of questioning might be surprising. But when the human in question is Slayer’s Jeff Hanneman, it’s par for the course. He is, after all, the dark-spirited counterpart to Kerry King, his co-guitarist in Slayer. “But why would you do it? Why would I do it?” Hanneman continues, as he cracks open a second Corona. “I think about that more than I should.”
Hanneman is airing his most sinister thoughts as we settle into our booth at a Mexican restaurant in Chino, California. Paradoxically, he happens to be very happy, and with good reason. Slayer have just put the finishing touches on their 10th full-length album, World Painted Blood, and by all accounts the record is a thrashing tour de force that continues in the vein (no pun intended) of Christ Illusion, the group’s 2006 return to form.
“Christ Illusion was the first album of pure attitude we did since [1990’s] Seasons in the Abyss,” says King, who credits Christ Illusion’s success to the return of original drummer Dave Lombardo following a decade-plus break. “We messed around and kept our bit of fame, but when Dave came back was when we really started getting big again.” More than 25 years into their career, at a time when most bands their age are simply reheating the hits on nostalgia tours, Slayer are bigger and more vital than ever. Christ Illusion debuted at Number 5 on the Billboard charts, and fans worldwide came out in droves to see the original lineup—which includes vocalist/bassist Tom Araya—tear it up on multiple headlining tours, big-ticket gigs with Marilyn Manson and the mega-metal Unholy Alliance Tour.
It was on the wave of this success that Slayer entered the studio in October 2008 with producer Greg Fidelman (Metallica, Slipknot, Marilyn Manson) to begin tracking World Painted Blood. “Dave was in a real ‘Slayer’ mood,” Hanneman says. “He was on fire and loving what he was doing. Plus the band was getting along better than in previous years. Not that it’s been bad, but because Dave was in a good mood we’d go into practice with an idea, jam it out and have fun.”
Those initial sessions resulted in three Hanneman-penned tracks, including the break-neck single “Psychopathy Red,” which was released as a limited seven-inch vinyl disc in conjunction with national Record Store Day on April 18. Afterward, the band took a break for the holiday. When Slayer met back up with Fidelman in March 2009 at L.A.’s Pass Studios, they hammered out the rest of World Painted Blood, taking a more spontaneous approach than they had for Christ Illusion. King says, “With Christ Illusion, we were ready for so fucking long before [the record company] even allowed us to record. This time, we weren’t prepared at all. At the beginning of the week, Jeff would come in with a new song to record, and we hadn’t even played it yet.”
For years, King and Hanneman have been Slayer’s primary songwriters, and they remain so. While they used to collaborate closely, the songwriting process has become an increasingly solitary one for the guitarists since 2001’s God Hates Us All. It has less to do with artistic friction than it does with simple logistics. “It’s not because there’s something bad between us,” King explains. “It’s because we’re maturing and growing. We also live further apart, and by the time we go into the studio the shit’s already done.”
Hanneman adds, “In the old days Dave was hard to get a hold of, too. We’d say, ‘Come to practice at five,’ and he’d show up at seven. So Kerry and me would sit there and work stuff out together. But nowadays everybody’s more professional, so we tend to write on our own.”
The guitarists’ songwriting process may have changed, but the good-natured competitiveness that fueled some of metal’s most memorable riffs is still alive and well. “In the early years there was a lot of competition,” Hanneman says, with a laugh. “Now I don’t really feel that I should be playing to beat Kerry, but I definitely want to impress him. It’s not about winning or losing, because we’re on the same team.It’s healthy form of competition.”