Originally published in RIP magazine
What you are about to read is true. The names have not been changed to protect the guilty. The lyrics belong to speed-metal divas, Slayer, who use their mind over metal to combat the untruth and bondage that we’ve come to accept as the American Way. This, then, is a description of hell.
“I’m really proud of what (Tipper Gore) has done in elevating awareness and calling attention to what she calls the strip mining of our culture.” – Al Gore on his wife’s PMRC activities.
“Death’s an art, flesh and earth never part / A power of the mind” – From “Cleanse the Soul” by Slayer
“Music doesn’t have to be redeeming, it’s an art form,” says Kerry King, one-half of Slayer’s manic guitar duo. “It sounds nifty, and it’s what I want to hear. I mean, why do you like Hank Williams?”
The bearded King was not actually addressing your truly with his condemnation of the country star, rather those who argue about the validity of Slayer’s music. When Kerry says quite calmly that he “doesn’t care what people think” concerning the content of a Slayer record, you can rest assured he means it.
Contrary to what his lyrics may imply, Kerry King does not perform séances to conjure up the spirit of Aleister Crowley, and he doesn’t rob graves to fulfill his necrophiliac desires. Hell, he probably doesn’t even own a Ouija Board. Instead, he likens himself to a heavy metal Stephen King writing hellish tales that he says are just good, evil fiction.
“People still think we’re the most evil thing they’ve ever seen. But they don’t know what’s real, and they take things too seriously,” he maintains. “The past three years I’ve said the same thing, ‘Look, man, I make things up’ – and that’s not just a scapegoat in case somebody kills himself listening to my song.”
Sitting in a sterile, white-walled room of the band’s publicity offices, the most evil thing present wasn’t King but rather a plate of stale, frosted donuts that sat untouched at the guitarist’s feet. King actually proved more than amenable discussing the true origins of his inspiration: horror movies – the Nightmare on Elm Street series being among his favorites – and, of course, the new Slayer record.
Seasons in the Abyss, which debuted on the Billboard charts in the Top Sixty and is already their biggest-selling album to date, is another step forward in Slayer’s development, both in terms of form and content. The lyrics, written mostly by King and singer/bassist Tom Araya, are as distinctive as ever – using metaphorical depictions of the nether world to describe hells on earth. And the music is as brutal as ever, providing a surreal backdrop for our worst nightmarish realities, such as the atrocity in Tian An Men Square.
“You have worked hard, comrades…continue working hard to protect the capital’s safety and order.” – Chinese Premier Li Peng commending his soldiers after their assassination of thousands of student demonstrators who’d gathered in Tian An Men Square.
“You cannot hide the face of death / Oppression ruled by bloodshed / No disguise can deface evil / The massacre of innocent people.” – From “Blood Red” by Slayer
“This is the most complete record we’ve ever made,” King exerts. “The lyrics are perfect, and the leads are better than they’ve ever been because they are pre-contemplated. In the past, we’d always done the leads last, when we were short on time. But now they’re much m ore a part of the song.”
There’s also a well-defined diversity in the writing styles of King and Araya that has become more apparent, making Slayer’s music almost as scary as the six-o-clock news. “The big difference,” King explains, “is that my lyrics are more like a fiction writer’s, while Tom’s are about something that’s happened. He’s more socially aware, as he puts it.”
“President Bush is sending your sons to war for no purpose save fatal arrogance. (An American attack) would repeat the Vietnam experience but would be more violent and (cause) more casualties.” – Iraq President Saddam Hussein.
“The sport is war, total war / When victory’s a massacre / The final swing is not a drill / It’s how many people I can kill.” – From “War Ensemble” by Slayer
“I just found out about the Iraq thing recently, and I hope nothing happens because war is no answer,” King muses with a swig of Diet Coke. “Who is this guy, Hussein? He’s got a little fucking country, and he’s gonna take on the world? Give me a fucking break. Besides, give me a gun and I’ll go shoot the guy myself. Actually, he sounds like the kind of guy that’d be a serial killer if you put him in the States.”
“It gave me a lot of satisfaction.” – Ed Gein, after being committed in 1957, explaining his fondness for having intercourse and eating female corpses.
“Dances with the dead in my dreams / Listen to their hallowed screams / The dead have taken my soul / Temptation’s lost all control.” – From “Dead Skin Mask” by Slayer
“Dead Skin Mask” from the new album is one of many songs whose subject matter rivals the intensity of a good horror movie. The central character of the song is Ed Gein, an infamous psycho from the late Forties who had an odd fascination with skinning his victim’s carcasses and making knick-knacks such as vests and bracelets from the epidermis. He would even slice the heads off just above the eyebrows, hollow out the skull and eat soup from the cranial bowl; not the sort of neighbor you’d want to join for dinner. The subject matter of the song is made even more chilling by the song’s juxtaposing of a child’s screams of mercy over the words of Araya, who seems to represent the killer.
“We originally had more voices screaming but, to me, we just needed the one, because it’s that one voice that represents what made Gein a psycho,” the song’s author explains. “It’s the voice of those he’s killed and it keeps coming back to haunt him, and that’s what makes him want to kill again.”
Nevertheless, whatever existed in the head of Gein that pushed him over the edge, might today prove to be something as simple as a Slayer album. “That is the question everyone’s asking,” King says. “If you’re over the edge, though, who’s to say that the bird which just flew by me face isn’t going to throw me into a psycho rage. A very friendly person could say hello to you, and you could slit his throat. Some people are just fucked up.”
Born in Huntington Park, California, King admits to not having been exposed to any music other than bland radio pop tracks. “I was probably more sheltered than anybody in the band, because I was the only son, and my parents watched my ass. They were just more protective than other people.”
Perhaps because of his nurturing, the one thing that has not fed his bizarre creativity is drugs. “I have never done drugs,” the guitarist says. “Maybe because of the protectiveness of my parents, or maybe just because I knew. If somebody tells me it’s bad for me, and I see people dying because of it, then I’ve got no desire to try it.”
Six years ago, Slayer dubiously launched their career with an out-of-time presentation criticized by even ardent followers of thrash. The band’s early shows were often hilarious affairs with upside-down 50-watt bulb crosses adorning the backline and thick mascara under the eyes of the frontline. “That was great,” King recalls with a hearty laugh. “When we were new, you couldn’t touch us because it was so original. The eye makeup was (so-so) but we were demons, you know. We were silly little kid demons, and nobody did that shit.”
Since then, the band has forgone the overtly Satanic material of those early days in favor of a more original approach that flows from their music like blood from the palms of the crucified Savior. “The Satan thing has gotten so cliché,” he explains. “Even though I like it, I can’t do everything like that. It’s been done so many times, even by us, that it’s hard to find a new aspect.”
It’s even harder to shock an audience when the content of a song pales in comparison to the headlines of today. In fact, look around; the hell that awaits might just be a welcome change.