GREATNESS CAN OFTEN BE MEASURED IN CONSISTENCY, and Slayer
has not only been the most consistent metal band for nearly 30 years,
it has been the most consistent and uncompromised musical act
around. In Slayer’s world, you don’t sell boatloads of albums and play
all over the world to a frothing and rabid fanbase by mixing in the
occasional ballad or writing a concept album. You do it by giving your
fans the most unadulterated brand of thrash ever, with demonic,
well-executed, original-sounding riffs that are played with an almost
hilarious tightness and speed. Kerry King and his fellow guitarist
Jeff Hanneman formed Slayer in 1981 and have never, ever veered
off course in their mission to deliver some of the most brutal guitar
work in recorded history. World Painted Blood [American] is Slayer’s
11th studio album, and it continues the legend that albums such as
Reign in Blood, South of Heaven, and Seasons in the Abyss cultivated.
King spoke to GP while on an unfortunate hiatus. Slayer
bassist/vocalist Tom Araya’s emergency back surgery required the
group to cancel all of their remaining tour dates. But by the time you
read this, King and Co. will be back on the road giving millions of
diehard metalheads exactly what they want—and more.
How much layering and thickening do you and
Jeff do to your guitar tracks in the studio?
The most layering we ever did was
probably on South of Heaven—two rhythm
guitar tracks, per guy, on every tune. Honestly,
we didn’t feel it made a huge
difference, so we didn’t do it again. It
wasn’t any heavier. I guess if you don’t
have a very heavy sound to start with, I
can see why you’d want to double- and
triple-track, but we’re cranking some
heaviness out of our rigs from the start.
Do you and Jeff ever work on fitting your
We’ve never really done that. In the
studio I let the engineer mess with the
fine-tuning. I’m not the guy who knows
how this certain guitar is going to sit with
the drums or bass or whatever. I don’t
have any patience in the studio. I relinquish.
I bring my tone, which I’ve worked
on tediously for years. After we get the
performance, it’s all up to [World Painted
Blood producer] Greg Fidelman or whoever
is producing it.
Do you ever experiment with tones in the
Not really. I’ve never been a big experimenter.
I’m a big believer in, ‘If it ain’t
broke, don’t fix it.’ Also, when we’re in
the studio, we’re busy getting work done,
so whenever I think I want to experiment
with a new sound or pedal, my head is too
deep in tracking the tunes and getting
them down right. There’s just so much
going on, I never get around to it. We like
to work fast in the studio and find the best,
and easiest way to get to the finish line. In fact, over the years, since I always overdubbed
my rhythm guitar first, as long as I
was up and running and had the track really
tight with the drums, I may as well play the
other rhythm part too instead of waiting for
Jeff to get it down perfect. In that case, I’ll
just track it through his rig. We’ve worked
like that on most of our albums.
Do you think your tone has evolved or changed
No. I think it’s just easier to get a heavy
tone now. In the early days I wouldn’t say it
was difficult, but there were a lot more components
involved. Now with all of the genius
electricians out there, you can get almost
everything out of the amp.
World Painted Blood was mostly written in the
studio, which is a big departure for you guys. What
differences do you hear with the guitars specifically
from working that way?
Believe it or not, I think writing that way
made the tunes and riffs more diverse. I don’t
usually pay attention to that because riffs
for previous records were typically written
over a long time span—a couple of years in
some cases—and you don’t necessarily catch
any similarities. Whereas coming up with
an album’s worth of material in the studio,
we went out of our way to make each riff
and groove different.
You’re able to recreate some of your craziest,
most chaotic solos live. How?
When I work them out, I just write them
down in tab without any time signature or
anything—just enough so I know where I’m
supposed to be on the neck. Believe me, after
I write it, track it, and then don’t play it for
eight months before we hit the road, there
is a very good chance I won’t remember it.
You and Jeff are definitely practitioners of
some twisted and angular chromatic soloing. Was
that something you heard someone do when you
I’m sure I got it from someone, but chromatic
scales are pretty common in metal.
Slayer tunes aren’t typical chord progressions—
they’re chromatic and weird, too. I
just try to find a scale or group of notes that
fits the groove and the progression. Sometimes
nothing fits. That’s why I reach for the
whammy bar and go for the divebomb—
make it sound like you’re killing the
Was there anyone who inspired your speedpicking
I was a big Van Halen fan, particularly for
the first three albums, where he really played
guitar. His playing isn’t representative of what
we do, but he was fast at what he did, and I
loved it. After Eddie, it was Randy Rhoads
who incorporated speed into his rhythm style.
It’s hard to say, though. Motorhead played
pretty fast and so did Metallica, especially
when Dave Mustaine was in the band.
How long does it take you to get your chops up
to full-speed and with enough stamina to nail an
It’s like going to the gym. If you’ve had a
long layoff, you don’t go in and start lifting
100 lbs. You start with 30 and work your way
up. If I had to play a gig tonight, I wouldn’t
be able to play our stuff up to speed, but give
me a week and I’d be right there. I’m not
like Dimebag. That guy was gifted. He could
get onstage and just rule without ever practicing,
whereas I have to work at it. But if I
ever worked at it, sh*t, I’d be f***ing great!
I’m not the biggest practice guy.
Is there anything currently that bums you out
about metal guitar.
What bothers me is that you’re frowned
upon if you give 7-strings a chance. A lot of
people pigeonhole them as strictly a nu-metal
thing that popped up and went away. I didn’t
even pick one up until 2000, but to me, the
7-string is a means to get better and come
up with riffs you may have never thought of.
It’s like adding another drum to a drum set.
Is there a guitarist that you dig that would
Probably not. My iPod is all metal. Seriously.
A new player I like is Alexi Laiho from
Children of Bodom. He and the keyboard
player, Janne Wirman, play exceptionally well
together—like a modern-day Jon Lord/
Ritchie Blackmore combination.
You mentioned Dimebag. Did he ever impart
any guitar wisdom to you?
When we were making Seasons in the
Abyss, we were on the phone and I was telling
him that I almost had all of my solos worked
out and ready to track. He told me, “Kerry,
just make sure you don’t stop doing what
you do. Just rip that guitar up.” He was essentially
telling me to not plan everything out
and leave some room for myself to just go
for it and see what comes out. So that’s what
I do, and I’ll take the good stuff. I mean, if
you like what you do, you have to at least
“Live, Kerry runs three prototypes of his
Marshall JCM800 2203KK signature heads
into six Marshall Mode 4 MF400B straight
cabs loaded with 75-watt Celestions,”
details King’s longtime tech, Armand
Crump. King’s signature Marshall uses
four mammoth KT88 power tubes instead
of the stock JCM800 6550s for maximum
ball rattling. “I split the heads with a
Radial Engineering JX44,” continues
Crump. “At sound check, Kerry will come
in and pick one head to be the one that
gets miked, and then he’ll blend the other
two heads around that one, depending on
what type of stage we’re playing on. If it’s
concrete, he’ll mix in more lows, whereas
with a wood stage he usually backs them
off. The band hates playing on carpeted
stages, but when they do, I find we have
to dial back the midrange.
“We take ten of Kerry’s B.C. Rich V and
Warlock signature models out with us.
They’re all strung with Dunlop strings and
loaded with EMG 81s in the bridge and
85s in the neck and an onboard EMG PA2
Preamp/Booster that he’ll kick on for
+15dB. Some of his guitars also have Fernandes
Sustainers. He uses them in
conjunction with the boost for the feedback
on tunes like ‘Dead Skin Mask,’ when
he’s on a festival stage and far away from
his cabinets. Kerry is also a diehard about
Kahler tremolos. They’re pretty much all
he has ever used.
“The pedals onstage are a Dunlop Kerry
King Q Zone, and two controllers for two
rackmount wahs—Dunlop CryBaby and
modified ZW-45 Zakk Wylde Signature
wahs. It seems like he uses the Q Zone on
tougher-to-play solos and parts, like the
low-string tapping section of ‘War Ensemble,’
where he wants the notched sound,
but he doesn’t want to bother working the
wah and finding the sweet spot. For clean
tones, on ‘Spill the Blood’ or ‘Seasons in
the Abyss,’ Kerry steps on a Radial
Tonebone Switchbone, which send his signal
into an MXR M-134 Stereo Chorus into
a D.I. to the house. When we toured with
Damageplan, Dimebag couldn’t believe
the clean tone Kerry was getting—it
totally blew him away. I was like, ‘It’s a
chorus pedal into the board!’”
— DARRIN FOX