Slayer is a rocanrol band made from bloody devil horns, huge Marshall stacks, tuned-down guitars and the smoking remnants of a civilization gone horribly wrong. While Guitarists Kerry King and Gary Holt seethe and slither up front, the band also has one helluva rhythm section, if you’ll pardon the expression. With Tom Araya churning out bass riffs plumbed from the seventh circle of Hades, Slayer completes their demonically def vision with the inimitable assistance of Paul Bostaph.
Percussionist Bostaph joined up with Satan’s minions in 1994 for an unforgettably heartwarming recording known as Divine Intervention. Though he continued to work on solo projects while entering and exiting Slayer’s peculiarly dark river crossing like Charon the Ferryman—making time with such metal notables as Exodus, Systematic and Testament—Bostaph’s Plutonically precise soul belonged to the dudes responsible for Diabolus in Musica.
Despite the untimely passing of Slayer’s founding guitarist Jeff Hanneman in 2013, the group continues to navigate the stormy waters of the river Styx with hellacious confidence—a new album, Repentless, is due for release come September. As a spirit-snatching precursor to this apocalyptic event, the band is headlining this year’s Mayhem Fest, which stops in the Duke City on the Fourth of July.
The Alibi caught up with Slayer’s Paul Bostaph as he and his mates prepared to unleash mayhem. Here is a transcript of what the devilish demiurge said as he coaxed Cerberus from out the Stygian Gates and into the midst of modern day America.
Alibi: What’s it like to be with Slayer for this year’s Mayhem Fest?
I never thought I’d be in this position again; it feels like I am home. I’m really excited to be part of the tour. The anticipation of headlining is an awesome feeling. We’ll be playing a lot of new tunes, and I’m really looking forward to the experience.
Tell me a bit about Repentless.
Unfortunately, it’s our first album without Jeff. But it’s a Slayer album in every sense of the word—dark, damaging and damn good.
How has the metal scene changed since your initial involvement with the band 20 years ago?
I’ve always been a metal kid. I’ve always been involved in metal. Heavy metal is constantly evolving, but the internet changed everything. The music industry transformed in response; it’s a tougher environment for young bands to develop in. When I started there was more support of new acts. I do see that there are some labels that are supportive; Nuclear Blast, the label that’s releasing Repentless, gets it. They’re metal guys. They’re aware of the whole dynamic it takes for bands to thrive. It’s a new game though; people need to understand that the rules have changed.
Who are your biggest influences?
For sure Buddy Rich, Jeff Porcaro, Tommy Aldridge, Steve Smith. Bands have left their mark on me too; Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Black Sabbath rock. AC/DC rocks.
Who’s the best rock and roll drummer on the scene now?
The best rock and roll drummer, that’s a tough one, man. For myself, it’s gotta be Tommy Aldridge, who’s currently with Whitesnake.
How do you approach drumming for one of the heaviest units in modern music?
I try to keep as physically fit as possible. I’m no spring chicken. I’m not an old man either. When I was 23, I could just sit down and I was ready. Now I swim, I bike, I try to do things to keep my body moving, to keep my cardiovascular health good. I watch what I eat and take care of myself. I’ve always kinda done that anyway, but mostly, I’ve realized you’ve got to stay hungry. There’s a certain attitude that comes with wanting to do this well. You can’t just show up and be Slayer, you have to live it. It’s a mindset; it’s always on ... it’s not like flipping a switch, but you gotta stay hungry.
How would you describe your drumming style?
I’m always trying to do something different, something new. I’m trying to balance new things—so fans don’t hear the same stuff over and over—with whatever works in the moment; it’s a fine balance to strike.
What kit do you use? What’s essential to you as a drummer; what could you do without?
I use a Yamaha Oak custom set I got in 2008. If I had to do without something, it would probably be my China cymbal.
Are there any time signatures that drive you crazy?
The only time signature that drives me crazy is 5 AM. You know when we’re doing fly dates, finishing up at one in the morning then flying to the next gig can be hell. Musically, there isn’t anything that drives me crazy. I know when our time is happening, but I don’t count it, I feel it. What has the potential to drive me crazy is different perceptions of the same riff. If the guitarist has an idea of what the drumbeat should be and mine is different, that could be a problem. If I was playing, like, Zappa’s “Black Page,” I might pull out a gun out and end it.
If you ran into someone who asked, what is Slayer, what is heavy metal, how would you reply?
If they don’t know who we are, which still happens all the time, I ask them if they’ve heard of Metallica. If they have heard of Metallica, I tell them we’re more extreme than that, but from the same family. If not, they probably don’t know what heavy metal is anyway. Sometimes on a flight, they’ll Google us, and by the time the plane lands, they’ll be downloading our music. One time, about 20 years ago, the person sitting next to me asked me why heavy metal bands use so many skulls. I said it was because they look cool.
Why did you hook up with Slayer again?
Why wouldn’t I? I missed it. I love this style of music. I played with some other great bands, but this particular band and the way we perform together is relentless. Slayer appeals to me on a physical level, on a musical level. I crave the sweat. I wanna feel like—when it’s all done, that there’s nothing left in the tank. I hate getting off stage and feeling like, “what’s next?” I wanna play until there’s nothing left. That’s what Slayer is all about.
With us, there’s something about the energy of performance. It’s not just energy we’re creating, it’s energy that’s floating around. It’s a conductive atmosphere. We’re passing this jolt of power among ourselves and through the audience. It elevates me; it elevates our playing and the audience’s response. It’s a lot like surfing, waiting for the perfect wave. It’s a blast, dude.