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Slayer’s Kerry King: My 10 Favorite Metal Albums

Guitarist’s picks include Judas Priest’s ‘Stained Class’ and Metallica’s ‘Master of Puppets’

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 Bloodnumber 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.

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.