"I've learned that you can play a song, and you can live a song, and we really tried to make these songs come to life," says Slayer's Kerry King, accounting how the band attained the unprecedented power that makes its most recent album, 2001's God Hates Us All, one of the best heavy metal albums in years, and Slayer's best since the '80s.
"It's intensity from the first note to the last note," King continues. "The last two hadn't been like that. I mean, this one's in your face -- we definitely got Tom [Araya, vocalist/bassist] screaming to the best of his capabilities again, and it shows. We really paid attention to detail and didn't take a backseat for any given part. Guitars, drums -- we were pretty anal about getting performances that sold the songs."
Normally, when a band has been around for two decades, new albums are little more than an excuse to tour. Fans might buy the new CDs out of loyalty, but people just want to hear the old hits -- to be taken back to the glory days. For Slayer, however, the glory days are just as likely 2002 as back in 1986, when the seminal Reign In Blood was released.
God Hates Us All is on par with that metal classic -- King's and Jeff Hanneman's guitar solos are as mind-bending as ever before, Paul Bostaph drums some of the greatest grooves Slayer has ever used and Araya's harsh screams suggest he has more fire in his belly now than he has in 10 years.
All of this re-discovered insanity was brought to sonic fruition by producer Matt Hyde, who the group first used for "Bloodline," Slayer's contribution to the Dracula 2000 soundtrack. "Before we even starting dubbing the song, I was calling up management saying, 'Let's see if this guy can do the record. I like working with him, he's cool,'" King says.
As Slayer's primary lyricist, King made sure the album's lyrics matched the reborn chaos of its songs. "You've gotta be able to summon it, you know?" he says. "You have to get in that mindset. On this one, though, I also tried to harness into things that everyone can relate to. Even the lyric, 'God hates us all' -- people will say, 'Damn, I know what he's talking about. My dog got hit by a car the other day. God fucking hated me that day!'"
Still, listening to God Hates Us All's lyrical brutality, it's easy to wonder how this progression can continue to be natural for these metal veterans. Shouldn't they be getting tired of being so constantly vicious? King, however, says, "This is what we like. Of course it's our job, and this is what pays us, but you gotta like it at the end of the day to keep this up. And obviously, we do."
While mellowing out seems inevitable as bands age, Slayer seems to have bucked the trend by remembering where it came from. "When I was a fan, growing up," King says, "I would get pissed off if a band put out a record I didn't like, let alone slow down."
Where bands of its generation, such as Megadeth and Metallica, let new musical directions sway them, Slayer has managed to stay on top, retaining long-time fans while recruiting new listeners. And the group can still outplay just about any band on a metal bill -- even though most groups these days are an entire generation younger.
While for now, Slayer seems to have unlocked the secret to metal immortality, King says Slayer will keep going only "as long as it's relevant, and as long as we don't look like somebody's dads doing it."
Which, of course, brings to mind a certain MTV dad. "I can't see myself doing the Sabbath thing when I'm 50 years old," King says. "We couldn't do that. Our show demands too much intensity from us, and from our fans. And if we can't perform to what the fans expect, that would be when I would say to call it a day."