How Slayer keeps its edge

For many people Slayer=metal, and vice versa. The band’s speed, aggression, and chaotic sense of melody, coupled with graphic imagery and controversial lyrics, helped define thrash metal in the ’80s, and make Slayer a household name. During their 30-year existence, the group survived significant line-up changes, charges of Nazi sympathizing and racism, and various furors surrounding Antichrist album covers and songs written from terrorist and Satanist points-of-view. Just before heading out on a North American tour with Anthrax and Megadeth, Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo told the Current about being a misunderstood metalsmith, the perils of head-banging, tin-foil bands, and the importance of vitamins.

Over the years, you’ve kind of had an on-again, off-again relationship with Slayer. How have the transitions moving into and out of the band been?

The first time I had left, `producer` Rick Rubin was calling me and telling me “Dave, you have to come back to the band, they need you, blah blah blah.” So after that coercion, I agreed. Conflicts started happening again, and that’s when I left the band again, this time for ten years. When I came back `in 2001`, that’s been super easy, because we kind of picked up where we left off, but in a positive way.

Do you walk onstage and turn on Dave Lombardo in Slayer, and walk offstage and turn him back off?

I’m the same person onstage as I am off. I don’t do any stupid pranks or anything weird on stage. If I look angry or mean, it’s not on purpose, I’m just concentrating. If I do throw out a snarl or a growl, it’s all in fun. I think there’s this perception of the band, and it can sometimes be distorted by the music, or by the images you see.

To keep up that Slayer image, do you have to keep a light-hearted sensibility about that sort of stuff?

I think so. People shouldn’t take it to heart; it’s entertainment. With musicians, I think that things get misconstrued, and people don’t see the art in it. They see it as a more serious threat to society.

How do you consistently manage to play material that is over-the-top in a lot of ways, without ever descending into caricature?

Slayer has kind of parameters that we work within, and we don’t step out of those, because it won’t be Slayer anymore. There are certain riffs that we will not use because they sound, in our words, cheesy … metal that’s walking in the park, or metal with fairy boots. If it doesn’t have that edge, it’s not a Slayer riff. That’s how we’ve kept it, by having that sort of exclusivity, making sure that it’s not become impure.

I don’t think there’s any other genre out there that’s been hyphenated as much as metal has.

Yeah, it’s sad. It’s ridiculous. A lot of these bands aren’t even real metal, they’re just fuckin’ aluminum.

I understand Tom `Araya, vocals and bass` recently recovered from back surgery due to what many suspected were onstage, metal-related injuries. Have you felt any of the pain of 25 years in metal?

No. I feel very lucky and very fortunate that I feel like I’m in the body of a 25-year-old. Whether it’s genetic, or just the fact that I eat a lot of vegetables, stay away from certain foods, take my vitamins, and drink a lot of healthy juices, I don’t know. I plan on staying here and playing drums for a long-ass time.

How is Tom doing now?

Tom is doing amazing. He’s not head-banging, and I would not allow him to head-bang if he started, and I wouldn’t be surprised `if he tried`.

Both in and out of Slayer, you have broken so many boundaries. What’s left?

There’s a lot, dude. My creativity goes above and beyond Slayer. There’s the possibility of doing an industrial/country-western album. Or there’s the Jimi Hendrix/Led Zeppelin/Cream kind of a band that I put together and have been playing with. It’s my style of playing, really heavy, but on a four-piece drum set.

Do you ever think you would do something that’s completely the antithesis of Slayer?

No. I can’t be that … . Slayer is special. There was something very innocent and, this is kind of ironic, but, very beautiful about how that developed. We were kids. I was only 16 years old when I got into Slayer. For me to think of anything else like that, no way. •

American Carnage Tour
With Slayer, Megadeath, and Anthrax
7pm Sat, Sept 25
AT&T Center
One AT&T Center
(800) 745-3000

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