Written on July 26, 2011 – 10:00 pm | by Jaxon Hallahan
The mid-point of a tour is when Kerry King finally gets in a guitar groove.
Not that fans would ever notice any rustiness from the goateed Slayer guitarist. He plays fast and technical enough to convince just about anyone of his immense ability, even when he hasn’t found his tour legs.
“At the beginning of the tour it’s rough, because you want to go out there and play like you do at mid-tour, and you just can’t do that,” said King, who likes to do two weeks of rehearsals prior to heading out on the road.
“My body has to get used to what it is going to battle for.”
Slayer has been going to battle for the better part of 30 years, and the war continues to rage. The Grammy Award-winning group, which also includes singer-bassist Tom Araya, guitarist Jeff Hanneman and drummer Dave Lombardo, is playing like a band half its age, although its first record was released in 1983.
That’s a legendary length of time for a metal act, let alone one with a modest commercial presence. Even though the band qualifies as an underdog on the grand musical scale, King is reminded often that Slayer’s influence looms large.
“When you do interviews it gets brought up. It’s not something I sit and think about all that often, unless you’re talking to people about moving forward. Then I’m able to think, ‘Man, we changed some sh*t.’ We’ve been doing this 30 years and to still be in the position to play on arena stages, that’s an accomplishment.”
Slayer is grouped alongside Metallica, Megadeth, and Anthrax in the Big Four, the name given to the quartet which represents the best in American thrash metal. The four acts, which haven’t always been simpatico with each other, performed together for the first time on June 16, 2010 in Warsaw, Poland, making it one of the definitive events in metal history.
The concert was deemed so successful, a live concert was released to theatres, followed by a 5-CD/2-DVD set. The event was re-staged April 23 in Indio, Calif., and will complete its run Sept. 14 at Yankee Stadium in New York.
King said he hopes to have a key piece of the Slayer puzzle back in action for Yankee Stadium: founding guitarist Hanneman, who is currently off the road due to a spider bite-induced bout of flesh-eating disease. He has been replaced in recent months by Exodus guitarist Gary Holt, whose band also opens for Slayer and Rob Zombie this week on the Hell on Earth Tour.
Hanneman played a few songs with Slayer during the Big Four concert in California, but he felt the repercussions after the fact, King said.
“He knows as well as I know that he wasn’t up to snuff, and we made an executive decision so that he wouldn’t rush to come back. We want him to go home, get his shit together, let his arm heal up, and don’t worry about healing too fast.”
Nonetheless, the guitarist — who has undergone skin grafts to repair the damage — has Yankee Stadium in his sights. King remains cautiously optimistic. “I know he’s been playing, I know he’s been writing. But that’s far different than a Slayer stage. I know he wants to [come back for Yankee Stadium] but I also know he’s not sure if he is physically capable of standing up there for an hour and 10 minutes. These are things we’ll have to sort out between now and then.”
Slayer has left little to question in terms of its legacy. The group has recorded 11 studio albums, a handful of which are deemed essential in the metal canon. Slayer’s two recent recordings, 2006′s Christ Illusion and 2009′s World Painted Blood, are considered highlights of their catalogue, proof that the group has plenty left in the tank.
Not that anyone needs to inform King. “My job is probably a lot more fun than yours,” he said with a laugh.
Slayer’s tour with Zombie is the first between the two groups in over a decade, so fans can expect something special from both, according to King. The set by Zombie and his ghoulish group will be heavy on the props, which leaves little time for an extensive changeover between sets. Though it’s a co-headlining tour, King has been told that Slayer will close most dates in Canada.
That’s good news for Slayer purists. “When I found out we weren’t doing pyro this time out, that made us decided to go the complete opposite way,” King said, indicating that buckets of blood will not rain down as per usual during Slayer’s set.
“We’ve got nothing. We just go up there and play.”
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