Thrash metal titans Slayer are used to whipping up a musical firestorm onstage, and they will be doing exactly that Sunday as the band headlines this summer's Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival at Nikon at Jones Beach Theater in support of the forthcoming album "Repentless," the group's first studio effort since 2009.
The musicians' maniacal, quasi-Satanic onstage personae belie friendlier real-life characters, and one wonders how, as they get older, some people like Slayer guitarist Kerry King can maintain that connection with the angry young man inside.
"Just dealing with humanity every day," says King. "I've got enough anger for five lifetimes."
Two years of changes
Times have been tough for the California thrashers. The group fired original member Dave Lombardo in February 2013 over a business dispute, and co-founding guitarist Jeff Hanneman died three months later of liver failure. (King's 35-year-old guitar tech, Armand Crump, also died unexpectedly in March 2012.) Exodus guitarist-thrash pioneer Gary Holt had been filling in for Hanneman, and drummer Paul Bostaph, who had replaced Lombardo once before, came back into the fold. Then last year, Slayer had a falling out with the group's longtime producer, Long Beach native Rick Rubin, and his American Recordings that ended their 28-year association. The band then signed with Nuclear Blast records and enlisted producer Terry Date, known for his work with Pantera, Soundgarden and Deftones.
Although Hanneman made up half the main writing team of Slayer, "Repentless" still rages with signature Slayer fury -- kamikaze riffs, a bruising rhythm section, and bassist- singer Tom Araya's fierce shrieks intact. The collection, mostly written by King but featuring a couple of 20-year-old riffs plus the multi-tempo Hanneman composition "Piano Wire," merges the melodic roots of the band with the hard-core and punk influences that emerged with their seminal '80s album "Reign in Blood."
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"If you've liked Slayer at any point in our history, I think there's definitely something for you on this record," King says.
Getting back to this point of new creation was not easy. "The word I really hate in sports is 'adversity,' because they use it way too much, especially in the NFL, [but] we had to overcome a ton of adversity that we're not used to dealing with," King says. "And to make sure it was fun to be in Slayer after all that went down. We went out and did a couple of tours. I know Tom was more on the fence than me -- there was never any question what I wanted to do. At the end of the day, if I'm making up music, it's going to sound like Slayer, so why shouldn't Slayer exists"
Themes of the music
The new songs reflect familiar themes to the group's universe. The title track is about how Slayer pushes forward with no regrets and, according to King, also reflects Hanneman's lust for life. "Cast the First Stone" was inspired by a visit to Athens in which King reflected on "all the war and strife and things that have gone on in Greek history," he says. "It's basically a 'vengeance in battle' kind of song. It isn't about Athens, I just happened to write it there." The song "Chasing Death" focuses on "trying to get people out of addiction."
Despite all the lyrical and musical intensity he unleashes in Slayer, the inked-up, bearded rocker says he is still a fun- loving guy because of what he lets out onstage. "I think it's the misconception in America especially that you've got to grow up," he says. "I think this keeps me young. I still have the exact same influences I had when I was 20. I love Black Sabbath, I love Iron Maiden, I love Judas Priest, I love Ted Nugent. I love Van Halen's first few records before they wanted to be a pop band. And I love Slayer today more so than when it first came out."