If you grew up in the dawn of speed metal or within the height of thrash and Slayer didn’t have some kind of impact on your life, you likely are without a pulse. Metal fan or not, Slayer was the face of controversy. Be it within the inherent evil of their sonic blitzkrieg on albums like Reign in Blood (arguably the most important metal album of all time) and South of Heaven or in the apocalyptic lyrics and images that accompanied those albums, Slayer was a suburban parent’s worst nightmare and the soundtrack of teenage rebellion. Even in 2010, 20 years after the release of Seasons of the Abyss, the band’s most visible album, there are no signs that Slayer have chosen to slow their pace and relent that torch. Though Seasons is the highlight of the group’s present tour—where they are joined by Clash of the Titans alum, Megadeth and Anthrax, both playing classic albums from their catalog—last year’s brutal World Painted Blood is as visceral as anything that has come before it. The force of the album is proof that Slayer isn’t content to revel in old ways, instead vying to be faster and harder than they were yesterday.
One major contributor to that continual rebirth was the return of original drummer Dave Lombardo to the fold during the God Hates Us All tour. Since then the band has celebrated a renaissance of their defining sound. In talking with Lombardo in the midst of the American Carnage tour, I found that he’s well aware that metal these days owes more than just a handshake to Slayer and that labeling what Slayer does as art does little to diminish the punishing influence the band has had on all of music in the last two decades.
What brought you back to Slayer?
Dave Lombardo: Money? No, what brought me back to the band was just a phone call from the manager. It was at the right time and I agreed. The conditions were fine. I stayed with the band after that initial invitation, and I’ve been back now for over nine years.
I remember in the late ’80s and early ’90s there was always a lot of controversy surrounding the band’s choice of artwork and lyrical themes. Do you have any theory as to why that controversy isn’t as amplified as it once was? It’s not like Slayer has softened or lost any momentum since those days.
DL: Maybe now it’s been accepted as art. At the time, they thought we were a threat to society. It’s art. That’s how we’ve always seen it.
Do you think we are now living in the times that Tom (singer and bassist Tom Araya) has always warned us about? Has reality caught up with Tom’s vision?
DL: That goes without saying. It’s not a vision or an oracle that Tom has come up with. It’s all been the same since back then. It’s our job to bring that to the forefront through our music.
The bands that you are touring with on this tour were at one time your competition. Did you ever feel back then that it was a competition at all or was it more a fraternity of metal bands during that time?
DL: At that time and now, it’s like a fraternity of metal bands. There’s no competition. We all hold our own torch to our music. There’s just no competition, at least for me there isn’t. I just go out there and kick ass and let the fans decide if there needs to be a hierarchy.
Do you have a favorite from that time?
DL: Actually, yeah. I love Suicidal Tendencies. They played the European leg of the Clash of the Titans tour, and I still listen to them today.
I’m sure every Slayer fan has an opinion as to what you guys should be playing, so I’m interested to know how you agreed on Seasons in the Abyss as the album you chose to play on this tour.
DL: We already did Reign in Blood, so I think this album would be the next contender. All the agents and managers throw their opinions in and they wanted us to perform that album so we did.
Earlier you talked about people accepting the band’s work as art now, so does that mean you consider Seasons in the Abyss the band’s best piece of art?
DL: No way, it’s Reign in Blood.
I do think that World Painted Blood is sonically and melodically your best album since Seasons. “Snuff” alone is like a compact version of Reign in Blood. What do attribute to this album being so well designed?
DL: Not only was it the collaboration of both guitarists, because Kerry and Jeff brought this music to the table, but those guys brought it to me and Tom asking for help. There was a whole different vibe in the rehearsal room.
Was there something particular that re-energized the band? Because it really does sound like this album is harder and faster than anything you’ve done before.
DL: I had some personal things going on in my life that could’ve fueled me. I think it was also the addition of the producer, Greg Fidelman. He was amazing. He really brought the band together during the recording and was always the first one in and the last one out, which is what you want in a producer. Plus he was into the band. He had a big part in it.
What about the current state of metal? Anyone you think can carry the torch or do you feel you guys need to keep it lit?
DL: I’m not too familiar with metal bands these days. All I know is that it’s overproduced. They all have the same bass riffs and all the same drum rolls. It all sounds the same. I don’t know. I haven’t heard anything that pleases me yet.