Time passes much quicker than people realize, with metal's founders no longer the fiery, youthful men they once were. However, the greater names are largely still with us, belting out their classic, staple material. Slayer
's "Seasons In The Abyss
" will be twenty years old in late 2010, and "Reign In Blood
" will be quarter of a century old in 2011. What separates such albums from most others though are their timelessness, in that they sound just as great now as they did then, and are still being enjoyed by the same metal fans as well as being discovered by newer metal fans.
While touring Australia in October 2009, Slayer
's Tom Araya
began experiencing back problems. A month later, Slayer
issued tenth studio album "World Painted Blood
", a full length that sold forty-one thousand copies in its first week of US release. Back home in North America, Araya
visited an orthopaedic specialist who diagnosed the man with cervical radiculopathy. Minimally invasive procedures were initially used, but only resulted in some improvement. Undergoing an anterior cervical discectomy with fusion in January 2010, Araya
needed a few months of rest.
Originally scheduled to occur in January and February 2010, the "American Carnage
" tour with Megadeth
is pencilled to happen during August, whereas "Canadian Carnage
" will take place a month earlier in July. On those tours, Slayer
will play "Seasons In The Abyss
", celebrating its impending twentieth anniversary. The outfit's fifth studio album, it arguably combined elements of 1986's "Reign In Blood
" and 1988's "South Of Heaven
". A music video was filmed for the title cut, its location being in front of the Giza pyramids in Egypt prior to the Gulf War.
History will also occur on June 16th, 2010 in Warsaw, Poland when the Big Four of thrash metal all appear at the same event in the form of Sonisphere
, with other dates scheduled to unfold soon thereafter.
On May 11th at 17:45 GMT, a Slayer
representative telephoned Hit The Lights
' Robert Gray
to put him through to vocalist Tom Araya
, so that the man's back surgery and Slayer
's future could be discussed.
UG: How are you Tom?
I'm doing great. How are you doing?
I'm well. Would it be alright if I began the interview?
Yeah, yeah. Let's do it.
How have you been feeling since your January 2010 surgery?
I've been feeling good - I've been feeling very good. I'm very anxious and excited to make up for these shows that we've cancelled. I'm eager.
What originally led you to needing back surgery?
The intense pain I was in when I was in Australia (laughs).
But what brought about that intense pain?
"I'm very anxious and excited to make up for these shows that we've cancelled. I'm eager."
I apparently had compressed discs on my neck which caused bone spurs. The compressed discs were causing compression on my nerves that was affecting my left side, and basically that was it. I was in Australia, and that's when I... I mean it was severe pain. I had had a case of pain here and there, but this was non-stop. It got to a point where by the time I got to Japan, I hooked up with a doctor, and was able to make an appointment. As soon as I got home, I went and saw him. I had three discs that were compressed, and they removed them, and put a plate in. I'm fine now.
Was that incurred solely through headbanging then?
Yeah. They suggested that it probably wasn't a good idea (laughs).
What did the surgery itself entail?
It entailed them cutting a small little hole in my throat, moving everything to one side, clearing out cartilage in between the discs, putting bone spacers in there, and putting the plate in. That's a two to two and a half hour procedure. Yeah, it was pretty serious. You could say I'm a true metalhead now, I guess (laughs).
(Laughs) Definitely. Did your back surgery present any potential danger where your vocals are concerned?
No. That was a concern of mine, and rightly so. He said that it wouldn't affect my vocal cords, and wouldn't affect anything other than moving everything to one side, and having to put everything all back. That discomfort was the only thing I felt.
Have you had to undergo a lot of physiotherapy?
No. Basically, holding my head up was enough physical therapy (laughs).
How did you spend your time while you recovered?
I just took it easy, and tried to make sure that I didn't strain my shoulder, or my back, the entire time. I went to see the doctor after two months, and then after three months. In that time frame, I was being very light; I wasn't doing any heavy lifting, wasn't playing the bass, and wasn't putting anything on my shoulder. I was just making sure that at three months, he would look at me and say "Ok. You're fine. You can go ahead and start building up strength".
Did that give you an opportunity to spend some more time with your family?
Oh, major time. I wish I wasn't healing, because it really didn't allow me to do much besides staying home to heal. But yeah, it gave me almost five months of time with my family - six months - which is very rare (laughs). It's like half a school semester.
How will your back surgery affect your live performance?
I don't know, actually. We started rehearsing just last week. I don't seem to have issues with the bass being on my shoulder, but I plan to check into a strap that will support the weight of the bass on both shoulders. I'm gonna try to come up with a new type of strap.
Will your back surgery affect how often Slayer performs at concerts?
It shouldn't. It shouldn't. Like I said, I just need to build up my strength again and get back to where I was. I don't think it'll affect how often we tour. I think time in itself is a factor; we're not playing as many shows in a row as we used to, which is normal. Now we may do three in a row, as opposed to four to five in a row.
So you and the boys are being sensible?
Yeah. We're just being sensible. We've been doing that as time has progressed. We've gone from doing five in a row to "Hey, let's cut that down to four", and now we're at a point where we've said "Let's cut that down to three". Every now and then we'll do an occasional four. That's just being smart (laughs).
While you were recovering from back surgery, did Kerry and Jeff write any new material?
I don't know. I know that Kerry had mentioned that he would probably work on new material while he was down, and I'm pretty sure Jeff has. Jeff's always working on stuff, and when he feels he can present it to everybody, he presents it. It wouldn't surprise me if they had come up with new material.
At present, is Slayer's plan to properly tour and promote 'World Painted Blood'?
Yeah, that's about it. At this point, we're basically reintroducing the band again, and getting back out onto the live circuit. That's what we're gonna do. Yeah, we're focusing on our live performance, and getting this tour up and running, and doing what we said we were gonna do. Once the tour's over, I'm sure there'll be more. It ends in the first week of September, but I know more shows are gonna be added. Until then, we get together and start touring. I'm sure the conversation will bring up the subject of what we plan to do once this tour's over. At this moment, we haven't really discussed that.
Is there the possibility that Slayer might do what it did in preparing for 'World Painted Blood'? Where Slayer entered a recording studio, and cut "Psychopathy Red" as well as two other tracks?
I don't know, but if that works well with us and everybody's for it... We'll see. Right now, I'm more concerned about making sure I can play 'Seasons' in its entirety (laughs), and making sure I remember all the songs that I'm supposed to know so we can play them live (laughs).
Is there the possibility that Slayer might perform 'World Painted Blood' in its entirety live?
"At this point, we're basically reintroducing the band again, and getting back out onto the live circuit."
I think 'World Painted Blood' is a really great album, and it would be really cool to play all of it live. If it's something that might happen though, I don't know.
Since 'World Painted Blood''s material was mainly written in the studio, do you feel that caused it to be more natural and spontaneous?
Yeah. It made 'World Painted Blood' very spontaneous by our standards, very spontaneous. Usually, we'll go in with songs that are pretty much structured. This time, we just went in with songs and ideas that were structured and made into songs in the studio. It didn't allow for too much thought, but allowed us just to do it and make it happen, which I think was the magic behind this record. It didn't really leave too much room for thought. Either you liked it or you didn't, and everything we did, everybody liked (laughs). That was kinda cool.
How do you look back on 1990's 'Seasons in the Abyss'? It's been almost twenty years since the release of that album.
I know. I look back at it... when I look at my CD collection (laughs). I think 'Seasons' is a really great record. On this new album, I think that Greg Fidelman was able to do what Rubin did on our first three albums with him. He was able to capture that Slayer magic and sound, because everybody's comparing it to that time (laughs). That's what I see - I see that Greg did a really great job of doing what Rubin did. Everybody's saying "God, this record sounds like 'Seasons'", that time frame. My thought is Greg was able to do what Rick Rubin did, which was capture Slayer - classic Slayer, real Slayer.
Would you deem 'Seasons in the Abyss' a classic metal album nowadays?
I think 'Seasons' is one of the many classic records - one of our many classic records (laughs).
Do you have a preference between 'Seasons in the Abyss' and 'Reign in Blood'?
No. I think 'Reign in Blood', 'Seasons' and 'World' are really good. With 'Show No Mercy' - our first effort as an album - I think with not knowing what we were doing in the studio, and listening to other people rather than listening to ourselves, 'Show No Mercy' was a really great record (laughs).
A lot to choose from, obviously.
Yeah, it's a lot - yeah. In my opinion, the only difference between 'Seasons' and 'World' and all those albums in between is the fact that those producers captured Slayer, but they weren't able to do what Rick Rubin and obviously Greg Fidelman did. To me, 'Seasons' was a pinnacle album for us. When we recorded 'Reign In Blood' though, we didn't realize how fast we were doing it (laughs). I think we have a lot of classic records.
Would you deem 'South of Heaven' as one of Slayer's classic records? It seems like an album which divides people.
Yeah. Can you name all of the Slayer albums?
Dude, there's your classic list right there (laughs).
(Laughs) 'South of Heaven' is probably my favourite Slayer album, but there's quite a few who dislike that record.
I like all of our albums. To me, 'South of Heaven' was a really good record to follow 'Reign in Blood'. Can you imagine if you had another album that was like 'Reign in Blood'?
It would've been a silly move.
It would've ended right there, and 'Reign in Blood' wouldn't have had such an impact. We followed it with something slower because we knew that going even faster would've been too much.
Following on from 'Reign in Blood' and 'South of Heaven', would you say that 'Seasons' was a rough mixture of the two?
Oh yeah, yeah. We were evolving and developing not only our songwriting, but our production, and how we wanted songs to sound and to be produced. Yeah, I think 'Reign in Blood' and 'South of Heaven' teamed together and did 'Seasons'. I have to agree with you. I think 'Seasons' is a culmination of those two records; when we did 'Seasons', we thought "This is it - right here". And it took us how many albums to get there (laughs)?
Did you decide to become more vocally aggressive on 'Seasons'? Compared to 'South of Heaven'?
Yeah. 'Seasons' was a little more aggressive sounding, because we listened to 'South' and I had to agree that the vocals could've been a little more stronger. Then again though, like I said, this was a whole new thing to us - working with Rick Rubin, and working with Andy Wallace and them allowing us to do that. To me, it's all a learning experience. Looking back, I think that when we do 'South of Heaven''s songs live, my voice is really strong and aggressive. That's when you know "Wow - these songs sound really cool". It would've been great if we did them that way when we initially recorded them.
Are you looking forward to teaming up with Megadeth again for 'Canadian Carnage' and 'American Carnage' in July and August 2010 respectively?
Yeah, yeah. It'll be good - it's something that the kids wanna see. To me, it's something the fans wanna see and something they've been hoping to see for a long time. It'll be good.
Do you get on with Megadeth's Dave Mustaine? Press reports on the topic seem confusing.
He's a human being and I have to respect him for that, but that's about it.
Fair enough. I just wondered considering the press reports, because you hear a lot of things.
Yeah. He's a nice guy, but he has his personality and I have mine.
That's fair enough. Obviously, you'll be fifty in 2011 Tom. Given the fact that you as well as Slayer's other members are approaching that milestone, what do you feel the future holds for you and Slayer?
"[Megadeth's Dave Mustaine] is a human being and I have to respect him for that, but that's about it."
(Laughs) I don't know. Fifty's a number. I don't think about my age - let's put it that way. I don't really think about how old I am; it's only when somebody brings it up that I have to sit there and think "How old am I?". It's not really on my mind, but I know that there has to come a time, and I'll know when - I'll know when it's time for me to... Last night, I watched this documentary with (Mike) Tyson; he did that one fight where he lost, and they asked him "What happened?". He just said that he wasn't into it anymore. He just didn't wanna do it anymore, and said that on national television. I sat there watching that, and thought "Wow". I'll know; I'll know when I wanna say "Hey, I don't wanna do this anymore", but right now I'm getting ready to do a tour (laughs).
(Laughs) Could you see Slayer being like Lemmy (Motrhead), or The Rolling Stones?
I can't answer that. I don't know. Right now, I can say "No - I don't see that", but I don't know. Right now, like I said, I'm more concerned about doing this tour. That's about it (laughs).
So Slayer are just taking one day at a time then?
Yeah. That's about it.
Although Slayer are taking things one day at a time, can you see at least another album being recorded?
I don't know. I don't even know what we would do if we did one. I don't know how it would be handled, or how it'd go, who'd lead the process. Like I said, Kerry mentioned that he would probably be writing stuff during this time we had off. I won't know that until he says "Hey, I wrote a bunch of songs", and the same with Jeff.
Do you have a message for the Slayer fans who've supported you during your recovery from back surgery?
Yeah, I do. Thank you very much - thank you very much for your well wishes. A lot of people gave me their well wishes. It just blows my mind. I'd just like to say "Thank you", and "Thank you for being patient. I'm very anxious and eager to put these shows behind us so that you won't be mad anymore (laughs)".
(Laughs) Thanks for the interview Tom.
Thank you very much sir.
All the best.
Interview by Robert Gray