Highway to Hell

Speed-metal demons Slayer on songwriting-by-thesaurus, boy bands and favorable exchange rates

A brief slowdown in activity in the early '90s — founding drummer Dave Lombardo left the band and was eventually replaced by Paul Bostaph — coincided with the rise of "death metal," a generic exercise which further stamped the malevolent tundra Slayer had helped to map. Slayer's own sound, however, has varied little over its 20-year history; tentative experiments with slower tempos and more commercial production in the late '80s represent the band's most outré deviance from its apparently successful model. Last year's God Hates Us All was critically well-received as a determined return to the kind of music the band does best — loud, high-speed metal at its most irresponsible.

And, oddly, at its comparatively literate. At least, the band eventually wrote an album whose lyrics are distinctly more street-level than previous entries.

"When I wrote for this album," says King, "I tried to take it a little beyond what we'd done before. I used to get out my synonym finder and say, Okay, I need a rhyme for rhinoceros, and it needs to be two syllables.' I tried to write [the new album] in a more accessible way, so that people could relate more easily to the lyrics."

Hell, yeah: Unlike Ozzy, when Slayer sings about gore and damnation, it's not just posturing.
Mark Weiss
Hell, yeah: Unlike Ozzy, when Slayer sings about gore and damnation, it's not just posturing.


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Earthy songs like "Exile" and "Threshold" do in fact seem more suited to a prole band like Pantera than a consciously demonic outfit like Slayer. But the changes are subtle, rather than radical. Having found a reliable formula, the band is loath to tinker with it.

"We've never done anything stupid," King claims. "I'm a fan myself, and I always hated it when a band went in some totally new direction for no reason. And the people who listen to us — who've always listened to us — respond to that. Our fans have always made it good for us to go out and play, and I think it's because we've always remained consistent in our sound. Some nights I'll even drag out the same nail-studded wristband I wore on the very first tour, and I'll see people check it out: Oh, yeah, there it is.'"

God Hates Us All might, in fact, be the coolest album of Slayer's long career, simply because it was recorded at (brace yourself) Bryan Adams' Warehouse studio in Vancouver. Reportedly — and who cares whether it's true — Slayer redecorated Adams' joint so that the vibe might better conduce to their particular idiom, i.e., by drawing a chalk body outline on the floor, papering the walls with porn, hanging a middle-finger banner from the ceiling, and so forth.

"I didn't even know it was Bryan Adams' studio until the third week," King confesses. "I'd heard of it, it was a state-of-the-art place and all that, but when somebody told me, I was like, Whoa, no shit?' We came up because it was a good studio. And Vancouver is very cool. And our money was worth a lot more."

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