After releasing a best-selling tome on Metallica in 2004, Joel McIver (pictured) seems to have given Slayer the same treatment this year. Joe Shooman chats to the metal guru about what he’s seen along the way.
First time you discovered the band (as a fan and as a journalist)?
I didn’t actually pick up on Slayer until South Of Heaven in 1988, but then quickly went back to their previous stuff and acquainted myself. I’d heard so much about Reign In Blood that when I finally got to hear it, it felt like a major occurrence in my life – a door that I was about to walk through that couldn’t be closed again!
When I became a journalist 11 years later I basically spent my whole time thinking of ways to write about Slayer and the other members of The Big Four. The first time I interviewed Tom Araya was in 2000 and I almost passed out. What a pathetic fanboy, eh?
You’ve interviewed them several times so you must have seen them in many moods…
Yes! Tom always laughs his head off unless he’s tired, in which case he’s more contemplative. He’s an easy interviewee as he has loads of opinions and tons to say. He also likes a bit of mutual piss-taking. Kerry’s default setting, contrary to popular opinion, is friendly: it’s only if you ask the same old questions and/or try to wind him up that he clams up.
You allude to one particularly tense interview pre-gig for a guitar magazine… can you give us the full story on that one and how you felt / how they felt?
That was with Mick Thomson of Slipknot (above, right) and Kerry King (above, left). We were stuck in a tiny, windowless room about 50 feet underground at a stadium in Cardiff. I was supposed to get them talking to each other about guitar stuff, but they were pissed off after being in massive traffic jams all day and not really in the mood for banter. Mick’s a pretty dark character anyway and Kerry was stressed because it was right before his stage time. On the other hand, I got to see him warming up on guitar at close quarters and asked him to show me the main ‘Raining Blood’ riff – my own personal guitar lesson, which was an unexpected bonus.
Any surprises that cropped up in your research?
Yes, most of which I can’t repeat for legal reasons!
Favourite interview for the book or with the band?
Oh man, there were so many. Personally, I always love interviewing Lemmy and Cannibal Corpse, Akercocke, Kreator, Emperor and the Morbid Angel guys, because they’re intelligent and they actually give a damn, but all the people on this list were very generous with their time and I appreciated every interview I did.
Were there any particular difficulties to negotiate when you were pulling this together?
Yes. I wanted to make this Slayer’s official book and had a long dialogue with their manager about making it happen. They were interested, but the whole process was unbelievably slow, and in the end I walked away from it. It’s all amicable, though.
Their fans are quite unique… met any ‘characters’ that come to mind?
I’ve been punched by quite a few in the moshpit.
What is it about Slayer that made them stay the course?
They didn’t change their musical style (although they came close with Diabolus…), they didn’t stop working and they didn’t change the three guys up front. Simple as that.
You mention that it was mooted at one stage to be more official – how have the Slayer camp reacted to it so far?
I gave Kerry a copy of the book the other day and he liked it.
Just to follow on from the last chapter, do you feel Metal in general’s kicking on again at the moment?
Definitely! It was huge in the ‘80s, less so in the ‘90s and it’s massive again now. There’s a vast amount of talent floating about.
Favourite and least favourite Slayer songs and albums?
You’ve started me now! Here’s my mark out of 10 for their albums:
Show No Mercy 6
Hell Awaits 8
Reign in Blood 10
South of Heaven 7
Seasons in the Abyss 7
Decade Of Aggression 7
Divine Intervention 8
Undisputed Attitude 2
Diabolus In Musica 4
God Hates Us All 6
Soundtrack To The Apocalypse 6
Christ Illusion 6
My favourite Slayer songs this week are ‘Hell Awaits’ and ‘Chemical Warfare’ (live versions only), ‘Reborn’ and ‘Supremist’. It changes a lot though!
And finally… what’s next for you book-wise?
A large-format coffee-table book called The 100 Greatest Metal Guitarists is coming out on Jawbone at Christmas, then I’ve signed up for a major Tool book for 2009. Then two more metal biogs which I’ll reveal nearer the time. Drop me a line at JoelMcIver.co.uk if you have any questions, my door is always open.
The Bloody Reign Of Slayer by Joel McIver is out now through Omnibus Press