Over three "decades of aggression" into their career, the thrashers in Slayer have found themselves in an unexpected situation. Earlier this year, their guitarist and founding member Jeff Hanneman died of liver failure. He was sidelined for two years previously after contracting a flesh-eating disease, but his sudden death surprised the band. Around the same time, Slayer parted ways with founding drummer Dave Lombardo. Now the core of vocalist-bassist Tom Araya and guitarist Kerry King is touring with Exodus guitarist Gary Holt and drummer Paul Bostaph, who played with Slayer off and on originally between 1992 and 2002. Araya reports that the band is at a point where they're figuring out what their next move will be.
Currently, that move is doing a tour with an "old-school set" -- songs from their first five albums, including what fans consider their late-'80s trilogy: the 1986 thrash masterpiece Reign in Blood, the slower, doomier 1988 release South of Heaven, and 1990's bloodthirsty Seasons in the Abyss. They've also reached back to their first two albums to find some deep cuts that have especially pleased fans. Araya reports he's been happy playing on this "old-school" tour, which stops at Myth on Friday. Prior to the gig, Gimme Noise caught up with Araya to find out how the band is moving forward.
One song, "Necrophiliac" off the 1985 album Hell Awaits, got a hearty welcome when the band played it in Los Angeles at the beginning of the tour. "The crowd gave us a loud response," Araya says, in between sips of coffee in an L.A. hotel room. "It was like, 'Yeah!' That's an obscure song." Going along with their old-school mindset, and keeping fans sated while they decide how to progress, the band will be releasing 10 of their albums, from Reign in Blood through 2009's World Painted Blood, on limited-edition vinyl in December. Until then,
Gimme Noise: Who wanted to do an old-school set?
Tom Araya: Kerry originally had the idea we should do a bunch of songs from the '80s up to '90 since we were going to do two nights in L.A. So he put together a set list and we liked it. After we announced the L.A. old-school show, word got around to the promoters for the rest of the shows and they all chimed in and said, "Hey, why don't you do that set here?" They thought it was really cool.
How do you feel about doing all old-school songs?
The recent stuff is great, but the set last night was actually pretty cool. It flowed. I knew all the songs. [Laughs] That helps a lot. I think everybody else enjoyed it, too, because there were a lot of old-schoolers around. [Laughs]
This is your first headlining U.S. tour with Paul Bostaph. Why did Dave Lombardo leave the band?
Dave left the band originally in '91 or '92. After that we brought in John Dette for two years and then we hooked up with Paul, who did four really great albums with us. Then he decided to move on. Our manager hooked us up with Dave again, and when we were putting together [2006's] Christ Illusion, Dave offered to help out. We wanted to make things fair for him, so we offered him a contract with the band. Most recently, we were offered to tour Australia. When we were rehearsing, he seemed to do a 180 and said some things that kind of upset me and Kerry. Kerry just looked at him and said, "If you feel that way, then why are we even rehearsing for this tour?" So we wrote him a letter and said, "Listen, we need to know if you're going to do the shows in Australia. If you're not, we need to do something about that." We didn't get a reply. We were put in a position where we had to do something, so we got John Dette to play with us again.
After what happened with the Australia tour, we made the decision to move forward and make him aware that we no longer needed his services. He was really upset about that. He wrote a rant on Facebook. He said some things that he shouldn't have. It really upset us. And it upset me. I was fuming. I couldn't believe that he would throw that out in the court of public opinion. After that, Jeff, me, and Kerry all got on the phone and talked about it. And Paul's name came up. It was a sure thing with Paul. He'd been in the band for over 12 years. So we gave him a call to see if he was interested and he was more than happy to. It was a no-brainer. He's an amazing drummer.
Jeff's passing was a total shock. What's going to happen next with the band? What do you want to do?
I don't know. Before Jeff passed away, I had a different attitude about the band. There was hope that he would come back and be a part of what we were doing live. Not just necessarily recording, but live. And then after he passed, it's permanent now. He's not coming back. It made it more of a permanent thing. I've been doing a lot of thinking. And I've got to sit down with Kerry and share my thoughts with him and see how he feels. I don't even know how he feels. Everybody's moving forward and saying, "We're gonna do this," and, "We're gonna do that." And in all honesty, I really don't know how he feels. So the two of us are going to need to sit down and really go over how we feel about where we're at and how we move forward. So it's something I hope to accomplish before the tour's up. Because Jeff was not only a founding member, but he was such a big part of the band musically. He didn't say a lot and speak a lot, but his presence was felt.
Do you worry about how fans would accept a new official guitarist?
Slayer fans are unforgiving. Early on in the career, if something changes, it's accepted. But 30 years down the road, in my opinion, they would rather see us do a three-piece than ever try to replace Jeff in a sense. Slayer fans are pretty brutal. It's a question of how to move forward. Whatever we decide to do the question is how we're going to move forward. It's up in the air, but that's where it is at the moment. Hopefully we'll have an answer for everybody at the end of this tour, so no one's left hanging.
This year is the 30th anniversary of Slayer's first album, Show No Mercy. Where did you think the band was going at that point?
At the time, we were too busy putting our hearts and souls into what we were doing to think about anything other than our next gig or if we're going to be able to get a gig. We had a tough time getting gigs in Hollywood, in the L.A. area. We were just a band. We were just doing. We weren't sitting and waiting or anticipating; we were just doing it.
Looking back on over three decades of Slayer, what are you proudest of?
Shit, I'm proud of everything we've done, man. We've never had anything served on a silver platter. But we have had opportunities just pop up. I'm just proud of the slow success that we've had. The first three records we did with [producer Rick] Rubin were amazing records. And then receiving Grammys. Things just kind of happen along the way.
Even when we did our first song on the Metal Massacre album, we weren't thinking about the future. We had original material. And then [Metal Blade Records founder] Brian Slagel says, "Hey, I want to put a song of yours on a compilation album that I do. Record it, and I'll put it on." And it was like true competitiveness in the genre of music that we play. We were like, "Well, shit, what kind of bands are on these?" So we got the first Metal Massacre album, and it had Metallica on it and I can't think of who else was on it. So we sat there and we listened to that and it was funny. I remember when we first heard it, Kerry and Jeff just looked at each other, "Shit, we can come up with something better than this." [Laughs] And that was it.
So they wrote that song, "Aggressive Perfector," and we set out to make sure that it was the fastest song on any of those records. And that was it. We liked the speed. We liked the energy. And from that moment on, we thought, This is it. We're gonna set out to be the fastest and the heaviest. And that was the template for Slayer right there. We set out to be the fastest and the heaviest and we never looked back. We just kept writing that kind of shit, man.
It's been great. I've been very, very fucking lucky.
Slayer. With Gojira and 4ARM. $39.50, 6:30 p.m., Friday, November 8, at Myth. Tickets here.