Slayer’s Kerry King: My 10 Favorite Metal Albums
When Rolling Stone began compiling the 100 Greatest Metal Albums of All Time, we reached out to a few artists to see what their favorite albums in the genre were. Now that we’ve published the list, we’re reaching out to several more to see how musicians define “heavy metal.”
Since 1981, Slayer‘s breakneck tempos and jagged riffs have set the bar for thrash and speed metal. After teaming up with hip-hop producer Rick Rubin, the group developed a sound that would revolutionize the genre on their 1986 breakthrough Reign in Blood – number six on Rolling Stone’s list. The producer kicked up the volume on Dave Lombardo’s everything-all-the-time drumming and removed all of the echoey reverb that was popular at the time from Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman’s guitars, making it so the band sounded like a well-oiled killing machine as singer-bassist Tom Araya bellowed lyrics about all manners of horrific atrocities on songs like “Angel of Death,” “Criminally Insane” and “Raining Blood.”
The album solidified their place among the Big Four of thrash, alongside Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax, and it’s an approach they continued on 1988’s doomier South of Heaven and 1990’s more accessible Seasons in the Abyss – both of which also made Rolling Stone’s list – and up through today. They released their most recent LP, Repentless, in 2015, and earlier this week, they set out on a tour with Lamb of God.
Throughout the years, King, who is one of the chief architects behind the band’s sound, has also played or recorded with Megadeth, the Beastie Boys, Pantera, Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson. In light of his many credentials, we caught up with him to find out what his 10 favorite metal albums were. “I thought about
picking one of Slayer’s records,” he says. “I could have picked Reign in Blood but then I would have had to leave off one of these other great bands, so I didn’t.” Here is what he selected in alphabetical order with his commentary about why it’s a great metal album.
AC/DC, ‘Highway to Hell’ (1979)
A lot of my picks could have went a lot of ways. I love Powerage. I love If You Want Blood You’ve Got It. All the early AC/DC stuff is so awesome, but Highway to Hell, besides it being Bon Scott’s last album, there’s just no duds on there. It’s super, super polished, too. It’s got maybe a darker vibe. “Walk All Over You” is a pretty dark song. “Highway to Hell” is a very dark song. “Night Prowler” is super dark. Maybe that’s why it appeals to me, I don’t know, but so much of that stuff is just great.
Black Sabbath, ‘Sabotage’ (1975)
Sabotage is just a very heavy record. There’s so much good stuff on there. As I picked these records, I picked the ones I’m compelled to play if I’m working out or driving, and Sabotage was my choice for Black Sabbath. It has “Megalomania,” “Symptom of the Universe,” which has definitely got attitude, “Hole in the Sky.” And it has the instrumental “Supertzar.” I love that one. It grips me for some reason.
Exodus, ‘Bonded by Blood’ (1985)
I was looking through my records when I made this list and I was like, “Oh, Exodus.” If I had to pick one record from Exodus to listen to the rest of my life, it’d be Bonded by Blood. I love Shovel Headed Kill Machine and The Atrocity Exhibition, but Bonded By Blood has just got great songs on it. “Strike of the Beast” is one of my favorite Exodus songs ever. So much so that one tour, we played it live.
We did the Ultimate Revenge with Exodus and Venom in 1985. I didn’t hang a lot with [singer Paul] Baloff. I remember hanging with Gary Holt and probably Rick Hunolt. It was like we were the same band. Well, we were definitely darker than them, but we had very similar sound, very similar presence, very similar aggression. The songs are based on the same structure. They were from the Bay Area, we were from L.A. and we were just kind of brother bands.
There are just great songs on Bonded by Blood, like “Piranha,” “Bonded by Blood,” “And Then There Were None.” They’re all winners. There’s nothing on here to skip. I will listen to that entire record from top to bottom.
Iron Maiden, ‘The Number of the Beast’ (1982)
I had a hard time picking an Iron Maiden album, because I love the first three equally. I went with Number the Beast because that was Bruce’s first record, and he just stomped all over everybody’s guts on that record. Bruce just came out and destroyed everything he thought Iron Maiden was. And Iron Maiden was great before that. Like with my pick for Judas Priest, this album is a band finding the sound that’s gonna take them through the decades.
I liked [original Maiden singer] Paul Di’Anno, and the music was more punk-infused then, which I like as well, but Bruce was the singer that made them metal royalty. They may have taken the punk element out a bit after he left, because Number of the Beast is more of a metal album, but I think Bruce is what changed for them. That was just heavy metal.
We used to cover all kinds of stuff off of that record. We’d do “22 Acacia Avenue.” I’m sure we dabbled in “Hallowed Be Thy Name,” but that’s not something we would ever attempt to play live; that’s just not our style. We also rehearsed “Number of the Beast” but never did it live.
And I liked “Invader.” Somebody was telling me [bassist] Steve Harris hates that song. But I get it, because there’s a handful of songs in our history that I’m like, “Goddamn, I hate that song,” like I fucking despise “Desire” and I hate “Cleanse the Soul.” But when “Invader” came up, I’m like, “Wow, I like ‘Invader.'” And then I tried to start thinking about why he would hate it. It just sucks, I don’t get it. But he’s close to it, like I’m close to my songs, so there you go. You’re more than welcome to your opinion, Steve. You wrote it.
Judas Priest, ‘Stained Class’ (1978)
To me, historically, it seems like the most complete Judas Priest album. I love the intro to “Stained Class.” And Rob Halford is my favorite singer of all time, closely followed by Ronnie James Dio, closely followed by Bruce Dickinson. There’s riffs on all of the early records, as well as a lot of the later ones, but it was on Stained Class where they really found what the “Priest sound” was gonna be. It kept evolving a little bit, but to me, it was more defined than Sin After Sin and Sad Wings of Destiny. It seemed like it came together more. We’d covered [Sin After Sin’s] “Dissident Aggressor” because it was super heavy but very obscure. And after we did, a lot of people still thought it was our own song. But on this one, they had the two-guitar thing and it was a little more cleaned up, maybe how Reign in Blood became Slayer’s sound of the future. We’ve sounded the same basically ever since.
Mercyful Fate, ‘Melissa’ (1983)
I almost forgot about including Mercyful Fate. I was looking through my records and I’m like, “Oh, God, Mercyful Fate.” On Melissa, in particular, it was Mercyful Fate finding their sound. And that’s what the band, had they stayed together, would probably have sounded like to this day. It has great songwriting. I love the guitar duo of Michael Denner and Hank Shermann. And King Diamond has a completely unique style of singing and you either love it or hate it. Anybody would have a hard time finding fault in Melissa. It’s just really well done.
There was definitely a Mercyful Fate influence on [Slayer’s] Hell Awaits. You can tell by the super long songs with, like, 10,000 riff changes. That was definitely a Mercyful Fate influence. You can hear that on Melissa on “Into the Coven” and “Melissa” – every time I hear that, it’s such a sad song, it stays with me for like a day. I’ll just sing it in my head.
Actually, in 2015, on the last Mayhem Fest we played, I actually got onstage with King Diamond and played “Evil” for, like, eight shows. That was a gigantic thrill for me, and it was a gigantic thrill for King, too. And I don’t think of myself in that context; I’m like, “That’s King Diamond. What the hell do you want me onstage for?” But he was really into it, and if you told teenage Kerry that someday I would be onstage with King Diamond playing Mercyful Fate songs, I’d go, “Fuck right off.” Even though Melissa came out the same year as [Slayer’s] Show No Mercy, there were preexisting releases – I had the Mercyful Fate EP – so they were bigger than us in my eyes. And I was still a teenager, so I was super impressionable. It was very easy for me to latch onto a hero.
Metallica, ‘Master of Puppets’ (1986)
I wasn’t on the fence about picking a Metallica record for this list, but it wasn’t a rushed decision either. Metallica’s a great band and they deserve to be on this list, so I thought, “What album of all albums would I put on if, say, I’m working out?” That would be Puppets because one of my favorite Metallica songs of all – well, probably my favorite Metallica song of all – is on that record, and that’s “Damage Inc.,” the best song they ever wrote. That’s coming from a hardcore-thrash kid. I could justify including it by that.
If you think Metallica is thrash, and they were at one point and stayed a thrash band for quite a while, I would say they were the first thrash band. They were more established than us. I remember seeing them early on in Orange County, in a place we later frequented called the Woodstock. Me and Jeff would go do homework, see what bands were popping, and what’s happening. We heard about Metallica and they played close enough to us that we went. And all I basically remember about that is watching David Mustaine play and ripping these crazy solos and he’s not even looking at his hands. I’m like, “That guy fuckin’ rocks. He’s awesome. He was a great talent.” Unfortunately, his demons got the better of him and he had to go a different route.
On Master of Puppets, though, there’s great stuff. I love “Battery” and “Master of Puppets.” It’s a little long for me. You know, Slayer doesn’t really make epic songs, ’cause I get tired of ’em. But that record, it’s got a billion great songs on it.
Ozzy Osbourne, ‘Diary of a Madman’ (1981)
I had a hard time picking between Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman. And for that matter, I could have picked anything with [guitarist] Zakk Wylde, ’cause he’s a superstar. The first Ozzy solo record [Blizzard] was great – it was your first taste of [guitarist] Randy Rhoads – but Diary didn’t seem as keyboard-influenced. It seemed more heavy to me with “Over the Mountain” starting the record. That song is heavy as fuck. That came out and I was like, “This is cool.” And the song “Diary of a Madman” is just so spooky with the intro. It’s haunting. And “Believer” – shit, that’s a great song.
I got to see Randy live with Ozzy at Randy’s last New Year’s Eve show in, I think, Long Beach. It was great. I was excited to watch him for the next 20, 30 years, but that didn’t happen. Luckily, I pulled the trigger on that gig and I went to it because that’s a memory not a lot of people have. The way he played was effortless. Just watching him, he’s one of those naturals. He made difficult look easy.
Rainbow, ‘Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll’ (1978)
Ronnie James Dio is – make that was, unfortunately – such a great singer. I never saw him with Rainbow, but when I saw him with Black Sabbath he was just a natural. It was just like listening to the record. He was that good. And I’ve been going through a big Ritchie Blackmore renaissance recently. He wrote some great stuff and doesn’t get the credit he deserves. I love Rising and “Stargazer,” but to me Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll has the most bang for your buck, song for song. There’s great stuff on there. The shit is just heavy.
There are, like, six or seven songs on there, and the only one I really don’t listen to is the last one. So “Kill the King,” “Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll,” “The Shed,” “Gates of Babylon” … Jesus Christ, that’s one of the coolest songs ever.
As for Blackmore, I love Deep Purple and I love Rainbow until Dio left and he really started trying to go the pop route with Graham Bonnet and Joe Lynn Turner – there are some great songs there, but it’s not what I like about Rainbow. I would credit his work in Deep Purple as an influence on thrash. It was hard not to pick a Deep Purple album for this; if I did, I probably would have gone with Machine Head. On “Highway Star,” it seemed like Ritchie was more interested in playing faster rhythms than Sabbath. It took Sabbath quite a while to get anywhere remotely fast, I think. I would say that happened probably in the Dio era with like “Neon Knights” and stuff like that; that’s thrashy to me, but Blackmore was way before that. And we covered “Highway Star.” That’s probably the only one historically we did at most shows, ’cause it’s a great song.
But in that context of picking a Blackmore album, Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll, to me, has the most good songs on it.
Venom, ‘Black Metal’ (1982)
Finding out about music was so different in the early Eighties compared to now. You had to wait until [zines] like Metal Forces and Kerrang sent their import magazines over here, and you’d read about bands that got no coverage over here. Now, with the Internet, the knowledge is everywhere. So it was very important for me to go to the mom-and-pop record shops and see when the magazines hit and buy them to see what was going on. With Venom, the pictures they published were like, “This is the shit, man.” Now when you look at them, they’re kind of cheesy and laughable, but back then, to an impressionable teenager, I was like, “Look at these fucking guys.”
Slayer looked like Venom early on. We were impressionable and trying to find ourselves and we were probably a cross between Venom and Mercyful Fate, maybe a little bit of Priest, maybe a little bit of punk. That’s where we came from.
I picked Black Metal because I think Venom got better as they were going along. They were the best shitty band ever. But on Black Metal, you could tell they were getting better. There’s great songs. I remember in between albums, they’d put out EPs, and that’s where “Bloodlust” came from. Now, “Bloodlust” is on the remaster of Black Metal. And the song got better. They’re heavy. I don’t know if you’d call it … I guess I wouldn’t call it thrash, but definitely faster metal. Shit, it’s “black metal.” They coined the phrase.
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