Could It Be ... Satan?

"I think in the next couple of years people are gonna realize, 'This stuff sucks,'" King predicts, referring not necessarily to Metallica's latest recordings but to the current state of music in general. "They're gonna go back to what's always been cool, and that's heavy music. It's credible. It's always been credible, if you listen to the correct bands. I think it's all gonna come back to that."

Guitarist Jeff Hanneman concurs: "There's always a need for our kind of music. It's an outlet. You can only listen to so much pop and you just have to listen to something heavy. No matter how wimpy you are or how wimpy your attitudes may be, this stuff is just more interesting. We've met so many people you'd never even suspect of being Slayer fans: suits, lawyers, and people like that. And they go, 'I get so frustrated I just have to go put on your records to keep from killing somebody.' We're public servants, basically."

Self-appointed, of course. But at least they've got character, something sorely lacking in so many of today's anonymous one-hit wonders. Shoe-gazing guitar players and lead singers who appear glued to the stage have rendered many a Nineties live concert a total yawn. Has all thought of showmanship deserted us? Not so, says Hanneman. There is hope in the likes of Marilyn Manson.

"Basically he's a little over the top for me," the blond guitarist admits, "but he came along at a time that really needed it, because some of these bands are so bland. They have no personality."

When reminded that some people have long considered Slayer "over the top," Hanneman is quick to blurt, "Yeah, but we don't wear women's clothing," as if his manhood were in jeopardy simply by comparison. Of course, clothing doesn't make the man or the band. Nor do the horrific stage props of a rock and roll torture chamber the likes of Manson's or sometimes even Slayer's, if the music isn't happening. Regardless of the ghoulish gimmickry, people don't go see bands like Slayer just to see them.

"If I was a Slayer fan, that's not what I'm going to see," Hanneman says of the band's on-stage theatrics. "It's the aggressiveness of the music combined with the aggressiveness of the crowd, the sweat, the lights. It's not so much theatrics as it is basic raw energy."

With so much raw, energetic aggression inciting the predominantly young male audiences, though, some thought has to be given to the consequences of firing up a crowd as do Hanneman, King, vocalist and bassist Tom Araya, and drummer Paul Bostaph (who replaced original skin-beater Dave Lombardo in 1994). But King says he's not too concerned about his fans taking the band or its lyrical content too seriously.

"I'm always straight up-front about it. If they like us enough to like the music, they probably read most of the interviews. I don't lie in the press every day. If you want to know what the songs are about just do a little homework and I'm sure you'll find out. There's always -- I'll just throw out a number -- five percent outer fringe that are just tweaked anyway. No matter how many times you tell them what it's about they'll tell you, 'No, you're wrong.'"

King finds that kind of behavior especially irritating because, despite what he or his mates may have told Headbanger magazine about Devil worshipping all those years ago, today he claims it's really just entertainment. He's not trying to establish a point of view, just a little mental imagery. And he's not doing any recruiting for anyone, not even the antichrist.

"I'm not a preacher. I don't say, 'Think like this,' and I don't appreciate bands doing that, because a lot of them don't realize how much power they have over their audience. They can influence masses of people to think like them just because they said something. I think it's bullshit. I never wanted to be a preacher. Ninety percent of the stuff I write is fantasy.

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