Slayer guitarist and co-founder Kerry King doesn't listen to much new music. He sticks to the classic metal outfits that inspired him around when he, Dave Lombardo, Jeff Hanneman and Tom Araya started playing together as Slayer in 1981. The only guilty pleasure to speak of on King's iPod is a compilation of South Park Christmas carols. Otherwise, he sticks to the old stuff: Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath.
Neither King's taste in music nor the sound of his band have changed much over the years — even though the lineup has, in the wake of Lombardo's split in 1992 and Hanneman's death in 2013.
"If Slayer ended tomorrow, I'd be in a band that sounds just like Slayer, because that's all I know how to make up," King says.
In the past four years, King has been making a lot of it up on his own. Hanneman, who wrote many of Slayer's classic songs, died after he was bit by a spider and contracted necrotizing fasciitis. During Hanneman's illness, King took the reins and began writing new material, some of which the group will play tonight, Wednesday, August 2, at 1STBANK Center.
"I was really just going for good stuff more than ever," King says. "Ninety-five percent of it was put on my shoulders for the first time. I wanted to make sure that I had a record that wasn't only awesome in my eyes, but pretty much bulletproof. More so than ever. You know how the Internet is. So many people say, 'Jeff's not here. Dave's not here. It isn't the same.' I said, 'Yes, motherfucker. It is the same.' I mean, there are some differences. I don't want to belittle that. But the Slayer machine keeps on going."
The songs King wrote during his bandmate's illness and after his death and one song by Hanneman make up the act's 2015 album, Repentless, a weighty effort that reinforces Slayer's reputation as producers of music full of rage, violence and speed. It doesn't push the band into new territory, something King says he has zero interest in doing.
"I like AC/DC for being AC/DC. I like Judas Priest for being Judas Priest. I think people like Slayer because we sound like Slayer, and they don't want us to do anything else," King says. "As far as maturing, going different directions, I have no desire."
The thrash-metal band's guts-soaked lyrics have spanned a gamut of horrors for decades, from "Angel of Death," Hanneman's documentary song about Josef Mengele — the Nazi doctor who sent people to their death at Auschwitz and performed deadly experiments on human subjects — to "Repentless," which has lyrics that neatly sum up the band's practice: "My songs relive the atrocities of war/Can’t take society any fuckin’ more/Intensity, anarchy, hatred amplified/Playing this shit is all that keeps me alive."
The band has been accused of championing Nazism through "Angel of Death" and through its logo, which some say resembles the eagle that sat on top of the Nazi swastika. Stop by Stormfront, the white supremacist chat room, and you'll find all stripes of bigots debating whether Slayer is a white-power band — and if it even can be, because lead singer Araya is from Chile.
Over the years, the band has maintained that it is not a hate group, and on Repentless, it wages a heavy-handed criticism of racism in the song "Pride in Prejudice." "Angel of Death" makes more sense as an anthemic repudiation of Nazi violence than as a celebration of it, but racists and anti-racists alike find something to latch onto.
Criticism of the band's politics flared up after Donald Trump was elected and lead singer Tom Araya, unbeknownst to his bandmates, posted a Photoshopped picture of the grinning musicians with Trump to the Slayer Instagram page. On social media, critics unearthed old accusations of fascism that Repentless and a trio of gruesome music videos — one of which portrays Nazis as sadists who deserve to be murdered — should have put to rest.
"A band's social-media site is for things that a band agrees on to put up," says King, who describes himself as a political independent who sees the good and bad in both Republicans and Democrats — though more bad in the GOP. "I've never put anything up on our band site, ever. When that went up, it didn't strike a wonderful chord with me. It's nothing I'm going to waste my time worrying about. I don't have any personal social media, so I put up my thoughts on my wife's social media, just so people know not everybody thinks the same and that it's okay to be that way."
He and Araya never spoke about the incident, King says. The election and the post happened while the band was on hiatus. By the time the musicians reunited, the tension had blown over.
What has not blown over for King is his anxiety about Trump. "I never used to wake up and watch CNN, but I do now — just to see what fucking idiocy this guy's said that day. It's not even weekly. It's fucking daily."
King rips Trump apart for his inability to keep his mouth shut, his raft of political scandals and the administration's ability to keep the public distracted. While the guitarist pays attention to the blow-by-blow soap opera that is the Republican administration, when it comes to his songs, he keeps them wide open for interpretation and unhinges them from specific events or political platforms.
"If I do a political song, it's generally extremely general. I know that's basically saying the same thing. Of course, it's about my government, because that's the government I know. But I also like to make it very vague so people can say, in any given country, 'Yeah. I hate my government, too. He wrote this song for me.' I like it to be like that, so it's not just Americans getting something out of it. It's Europe. It's Australia. It's Japan. Anybody who wants to get into it can get behind it."
And people do.
Slayer, Wednesday, August 2, 1STBANK Center, 11450 Broomfield Lane, Broomfield, 303-410-0700.