Using heavy metal as a means to mend their heavy hearts, the thrash metal rockers of Slayer are embarking on their first North American tour since guitarist Jeff Hanneman's death in May from alcohol-related cirrhosis. Launching in Las Vegas tonight, the 24-city tour promises to be a wild time for fans, but will also prove bittersweet for the band's two founding members, Kerry King and Tom Araya.
"It's a whole different attitude all around," says Araya, 52, of the tour. "I was very hopeful that Jeff would be able to get his abilities to play back, and that he would come back and play (with us) ... (His death) just changed my attitude and opinions about certain things. I don't know if people would ever understand that, but things are different."
Riotous return:Also joining Araya and King on tour are longtime Slayer drummer Paul Bostaph and guitarist Gary Holt, who has toured with the group since 2011 amid Hanneman's health complications. While the band will play some "old, familiar places" and many new venues, its most noteworthy gigs will likely be Sunday's and Monday's shows at the Hollywood Palladium in Los Angeles, which banned the group about 25 years ago after Slayer fans started a riot. "The great fans that we had just destroyed the building," says Araya, thanking the group's "insane" followers for making these tours memorable.
Netflix and nosh:Rock stars - they're just like us. While on the road, Araya and King keep themselves occupied with plenty of sleep and healthy doses of Netflix viewing. When they're not watching "scary, bloody movies," as Araya calls them, he's catching up with TV shows such asThe Walking Dead,JustifiedandSupernatural. King, on the other hand, is still cranking his way throughBreaking Bad.(But be forewarned: He hasn't caught up yet, so no spoilers.)
Although Araya tends to cook up grub on the bus - striving for a healthier diet of fish, chicken, steamed veggies and the occasional steak - King is much more fond of eating out.Some of his favorite restaurants to visit while on tour include St. Elmo Steak House in Indianapolis and Gotham Steakhouse in Vancouver, but he'll also settle for whatever his wife recommends. "She'll go online and find all these cool foodie places," says King, 49. "She'll always find something good, so I don't really (care where we go)."
Getting in the zone:Before Slayer can deliver crowd favorites such asRaining Blood,Angel of DeathandSouth of Heaven, King and Araya have their own set of pre-show rituals. King keeps it simple with stretches and warming up on the guitar, while Araya passes the time alone in his dressing room: practicing deep breathing, relaxing and psyching himself up.
"I still get jitters after all these years," Araya says. "I get so nervous. I just think, 'Don't (expletive) up, don't (expletive) up, you're not going to (expletive) up.' I just tell myself, 'Make it a great show, it's going to be a good show.' Kind of like a mantra type of thing."
Remembering Jeff:Some of the fondest memories that King has of Hanneman include the Sundays they spent watching football together and enjoying movies on the bus such asFull Metal Jacket,Event Horizon,Thir13n GhostsandSe7en. "You know, things you'd expect Slayer guys to watch," King says.
Araya recalls some of the band's early days touring around North America in a van, thinking back to a night they were all just "stupid, stupid drunk" at a bar in Montreal. During an altercation with another customer, "(Jeff) just kind of laid across the table in slow motion and rolled off. We all just picked him up and started staggering back to the hotel."
While he finds such memories amusing, Araya has now taken alcohol out of the equation. "I'm living longer and it's sensible," he says. "I'm just trying to be responsible and make sure that I stay healthy, and can play and perform and do what I do."
More of the same, and that's not a bad thing:Slayer is also beginning to prep new music, with roughly three songs that are nearly complete and more writing to follow once this tour leg wraps up. Among the new jams they're aiming to record early next year is a song written by Hanneman, which King says they'll be tinkering with musically and lyrically to make it the best it can be. "If it ends up being the last thing we ever use from Jeff Hanneman, I don't want people to say, 'Yeah, it could have been better,' " King says. "I want people to say, 'Yeah, that's rocking.' "
As for the sound of the new record, King says that fans shouldn't fret about any drastic changes. "Every time we start a record, people start asking, 'Hey, how's this one going to differ from your last record?' and I'm like, 'It's not going to differ at all because people like us for what we do and I know that,' " he says. "We don't try to be the flavor of the week. People like us because we've done the same thing for 30 years, and that's why I like us."