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For all his band's purported fascinations with life's uglier aspects, Slayer frontman Tom Araya sure is a cheerful guy. Calling from a moving bus in rural Washington state, Araya laughs seemingly every couple of minutes. Surely, though, it's this laissez-faire sense of humor that's gotten him through almost three decades of leading one of the most notorious and most influential metal bands on the planet.
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That's not an understatement. Nor should one take Araya's relatively chipper attitude as a sign he or his band has gone soft. The swift kick in the ass that is Slayer's latest album, World Painted Blood, should disavow doubters of any of those notions. Yes, the title echoes the band's seminal 1986 record, Reign in Blood, and that must be on purpose — the new work is, as Araya repeatedly points out, classic Slayer.
The band's collaborative, off-the-cuff songwriting and recording process this time around has clearly been a revitalizing force. The songs explode with fierce, classic thrash energy, propelled by a youthful ferocity but composed with expert chops. And although Araya and company are carefully shielding most of the material from the public before its release, just check out the song "Psychopathy Red," which has been circulating on the Internet for about the past year. Then rehinge your jaw and wait for the rest. Here's what Araya has to say about World Painted Blood and the band's national outing on the Mayhem Festival tour.
New Times: Your new album was "executive-produced" by Rick Rubin. What does that mean? How involved was he in the actual recording process?
Tom Araya: He oversees what we're doing and he says yea or nay. He mostly left this one up to Greg Fidelman, who's doing an amazing job as producer. We mostly worked everything out in the studio, and once we finished in the studio, we'd get a really good mix and send it to Rubin just so he could hear it, not really for an opinion.
How did you choose to work with Fidelman as the actual producer of the record?
He kind of found us. He found out we were working on a record, and we said OK! [Laughs.] That's about how we usually end up with producers, because they're eager to work with us. And Rubin said, "Hey, this guy's great; work with him. He's awesome, he's well organized, and knows his shit." And he does. He knows how to get everything together and get what we want out of the band. He got classic Slayer out of us, and it sounds amazing.
You've said that usually you start recording with your songs already written, but this time you spent a lot of time on pre-production in the studio. Why the change?
We actually started recording in October of last year. Jeff [Hanneman, Slayer guitarist] had three songs. We recorded the three songs, and it kind of just fell together real quick. We were supposed to do a North American tour in January, but we didn't because everybody felt really good in the studio with Greg. We figured, All right, once we get our European tour out of the way, we'll come home and start recording.
Then, when we got back to the studio, Jeff and Kerry [King, Slayer guitarist] came in with a good four or five songs each and started putting together new songs in the studio. It would be like, while we were working on the drums, Jeff went home and worked on new stuff while the rest of us were finishing what was already started. It was the same with Kerry. When he was done with his parts, he would head home and work on new material, then come back and play it to Dave [Lombardo, Slayer drummer]. A lot of the songs, we learned them and put them together in the studio, as opposed to rehearsing them first after coming in.
You've also said the writing process was more collaborative this time around.
It was, actually. Music-wise, it was, between the three of them [Hanneman, King, and Lombardo]. Then I got input as far as guitar parts and stuff. But usually we all sit there and say, "Wow, that sounds great," or "We don't like it." We usually all agree to either like it or dislike it, and then move on.
But this time, I had ideas that I kind of passed along to Jeff, and Jeff put them into the songs. We were all giving our two cents. I think it was the fact that we went into the studio less prepared, know what I mean? We needed to get into the studio right away, record right away, to get something done by the summer.
So when did you finally finish all the sessions?
We finished right before we took off for the five shows we did in Canada with Megadeth, a week before that. Then we spent a week rehearsing. Now we're out here with Manson on the Mayhem tour.
The new tracks kind of go back to your '80s feel, as you said, almost with a punk rock energy. Where did this come from now?
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