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December 2008

The 100 Greatest Metal Guitarists, out in January 2009. Click here to see it at Amazon.

The 100 Greatest Metal Guitarists is being reviewed in pretty much all the media outlets I'd hoped for (see Books page) but most of the reviews will come in after Christmas, when it's out. Meanwhile, I've had a quiet month while I finish off books 13 and 14, both out next spring and which I'll announce a little further down the line.

All of which means that November has been a relatively quiet month at McIver HQ. Interviews: Elliot Desgagnes of fearsome death metal types Beneath The Massacre, acoustic maestro Martin Carthy and rock throat Sammy Hagar. Despite the usual load of album and film reviews, it's been the quietest month in living memory.

Oh, and I heard Chinese Democracy -- mostly rubbish. Here's a review I did of it.

And here's an interview with me.

It'll be crazy in the New Year again... happy Xmas to you and yours until then.

November 2008

Like eating a giant pork pie, juggling a million jobs is exhausting but fun. I've been promoting The 100 Greatest Metal Guitarists (see below) and it looks as if almost all the key magazines and radio shows will be reviewing it and/or interviewing me. Can't wait to see the thing when it comes out in January. The few people who know which axe-wielder I've chosen as No. 1 have all said, 'What? That can't be right', but then tend to come round after an explanation. There will be ructions, I can see it... I'm also finishing off two other books which I'll announce in February.

The music hack side of life has been fun. Interviews in the last month: Chris Adler of Lamb Of God, Bay Area banger Brian Lew, one of Atreyu, sometime Metal Churchman John Marshall, Geddy Lee of Rush and Dave Lombardo of Slayer, whose new song 'Psychopathy Red' (here) is horrifically good.

The current issues of Total Guitar, Rhythm and Bass Guitar all have Metallica cover features written by me, a fact of which I'm rather proud. Maybe I'll retire now?

I'm going to be a TV presenter as well. Yes, seriously. Details when I have them.

October 2008

The 100 Greatest Metal Guitarists, out in January 2009. Click here to see it at Amazon.

Book 12 is The 100 Greatest Metal Guitarists, my first guitar book, out just after Christmas. I'm absolutely delighted with it and am fortunate that it's being published by Jawbone Press, the world leader in guitar titles. Basically it lists from 100 to 1 (that's right) the best guitarists in heavy, thrash, death, doom, black and power metal, with exclusive interviews for most of the entries and a foreword by none other than Glen Benton of Deicide.

I wrote this book partly because I'm a guitar geek and write for every issue of Total Guitar, but also in annoyance at the usual 'world's best guitarists' lists which magazines occasionally publish. One mag which should really know better compiled a recent list of supposed metal players and included Neil Young and Pete Townshend! Rather than write a filthy email to the editor, I wrote my own book, based on the slightly intolerant principle of excluding anyone who doesn't play a form of metal. So you won't find Angus Young or Steve Vai in there.

Meanwhile, book 13 is underway and will be out in April; I'll announce it in January. Then 14 and 15 will appear in the summer and winter of 2009. That'll do for now.

Journalistically speaking it's been a relaxed month: I'm looking forward to seeing the results of all the Metallica stuff I did in August -- the next issues of Total Guitar, Bass Guitar and Rhythm all have cover features on a member of Metallica written by me. I'm thinking of framing them and then possibly retiring... This month I've also interviewed Rhino Edwards of Status Quo, Dan Berglund of E.S.T,. Jeff Hanneman of Slayer, the legendary bluesman Taj Mahal and Rick Jackett from Finger Eleven, reviewed films for DVD Review and albums for Record Collector and Metal Hammer.

What else? I had a night out with Steve Asheim of Deicide and a day out with Glenn Hughes, and I went to a playback of the new Oasis album. Apart from three songs, it sent me to sleep.

On a completely different tack from the usual metal/guitar stuff, my interview with Guy Ritchie will be out in Rolling Stone's Australian issue shortly. I rather liked his new film, Rocknrolla -- give it a whirl, why don't you.

Here's an interview I did for a site called Metal Shrine, and here's me talking for ages about my life on the Classic Metal Show.

Read this book at all costs!

September 2008

Joel with Bruce Dickinson. See here for a larger version.

Another month of meeting the great and the good of rock and metal. I was a special guest on Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson's BBC radio show as well as a Total Rock show, hosted by Talita Jenman and devoted to Slayer. I was also interviewed by The Classic Metal Show. All this radiophonic hot air tied in with The Bloody Reign Of Slayer, which has had all the promo I can possibly throw at it and has been written about by a man and his dog just about everywhere. So that's it for book 11. Book 12 is done and will be out at Christmas: I'll reveal all next month.

I've mentioned before that I'm co-writing Glenn Hughes' autobiography, but while that's happening I've signed up for books 13, 14 and 15 to keep me off the streets until mid-2009. All rock/metal biogs -- but with a difference! -- and with major publishers, so global distribution and state-of-the-art production values are guaranteed. Lucky you.

I've also written a gazillion words this month for Metal Hammer, Classic Rock, Total Guitar, DVD Review, Bass Guitar, Rhythm and Record Collector magazines, interviewing the four members of Trivium, all of Mindless Self Indulgence and James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett and Lars Ulrich of Metallica.

A gratifying moment came at the start of the Lars Ulrich interview when the fun-sized Dane asked: "Are you the guy who wrote that book? I get asked to sign copies of that all over the world!" Nice to be recognised...

August 2008

Kerrang magazine, 14 July 2008. Click here for a larger version.

Reviews of The Bloody Reign Of Slayer have been excellent, with Kerrang (left), Metal Hammer, Rock Sound (the big three of the UK metal press) giving it the thumbs-up and many other mags following suit. Only Q didn't like it, implying that it was a bit tedious, but y'know, each to their own -- and anyway, the reviewer Paul Brannigan (who also edits Kerrang) dropped me a nice email afterwards explaining that he'd actually rather liked the book, which the review hadn't made clear. I'm still waiting to see what Terrorizer and Mojo make of it.

There's a queue of books backing up now, starting with the one I'm currently finishing off, then one which I have to deliver in October, then another at Christmas and yet another in summer 2009. I'll reveal more next month, as the Slayer press is still going and I want to spend as much time on that as I can.

I will say that I'm co-writing the autobiography of Glenn Hughes in addition to the other projects. Glenn, a key member of Deep Purple in the mid-70s and now a much-acclaimed solo artist, has lived a life that you literally would not believe. I expect the book to be published in mid-2009.

The other bit of my job, music and film journalism, has been a laugh as usual. This month I've interviewed Herman Li and Sam Totman of Dragonforce, Ralph Santolla of Deicide and Obituary, Jack Owen of Deicide, Mark King of Level 42 (from death metal to jazz-funk in a single step -- it never gets boring round here), Jon Schaffer of Iced Earth, Tom Araya of Slayer, Bruce Foxton of The Jam, Jeff Loomis of Nevermore and the bloke out of Toxic Holocaust.

Slayer are touring with Trivium later this year, a band who I feel could probably have gone it alone without Slayer's help, leaving a smaller band to take their place and benefit from the exposure. I put this to Araya and he had some choice answers for me. See here for the full interview.

I'm interviewed here and here. Thanks to Joe Shooman and Raz Rauf at Thrash Hits and Pharmer 4 at this site for their support.

July 2008

Venue magazine, June 2008. Click here for a larger version.

Another nutty nutty month in the life of High Wycombe's sole rock and metal author, with lots of press for The Bloody Reign Of Slayer including the interview on the left in Venue magazine and reviews in all the major magazines (see Books page for details). I'll announce my next book in August when the dust has settled from the Slayer biog.

Cool interviews this month: John Campbell of Lamb Of God (whose new DVD I reviewed in a couple of magazines -- it's excellent), Wes Borland of Black Light Burns and once of Limp Bizkit, Mike Amott of Arch Enemy and Carcass, Kerry King of Slayer (who is pictured holding a copy of my Slayer book here), Bobby Burns of Soulfly, Chris and Ben of Black Stone Cherry, Eddie Jackson of Queensryche and Dave Mackintosh of Dragonforce.

Interview of the month? Ted Nugent. The guy is unstoppable and went off about Barack Obama (and not in a good way) for at least 20 minutes before I got a word in. Although Ted's views on just about everything are way too right-wing for me to stomach, he's incredibly entertaining.

Other writing stuff -- helping out with the resources sections on Metal Hammer's forthcoming Metallica and Doors specials, reviewing stuff for The Quietus (a new music site that you must check out immediately -- it's a breath of virtual fresh air), sleevenoting a 3-CD compilation called This Is Rock, and doing a stack of reviews for Metal Hammer, Record Collector and DVD Review magazines.

I was present at a playback of Metallica's new album, Death Magnetic, in early June. Rather than bore you with a blow-by-blow, riff-by-riff account of what it sounds like, let's just say that it's their best work since 1991 (but that's hardly difficult). It is not, however, anywhere near the return to form that certain reviewers who should know better have been claiming it is.

I also caught gigs by Sabbat (with the almighty Akercocke in support), Glenn Hughes and Morbid Angel -- all on stunning form. The debut London Guitar Show at Excel in east London was impressive, too -- I recommend a visit next year to anyone with a penchant for loud axes.

June 2008

Kerry King of Slayer with my new book on his band, June 2008

Life gets busier and better, so I'll be brief. Here's what I've been doing, in bullet points, since last month's update...

Trevor Peres of Obituary
Dusty Hill of ZZ Top
Avery Sharpe of McCoy Tyner's band
Keith Groucutt of ELO
Pat O'Brien of Cannibal Corpse
Mikael Akerfeldt of Opeth
Richard Patrick of Filter
Victor Wooten
Joe Satriani
Jack Bruce
Mark Morton and Willie Adler of Lamb Of God
David Vincent of Morbid Angel
Stanley Clarke
Tony Iommi
Esperenza Spalding
Corey Beaulieu and Travis Smith of Trivium

I think that's a record number of interviews in one month for me, even excluding the ones that were scheduled to happen but didn't occur for one reason or another -- Jim Kerr of Simple Minds, M Shadows of Avenged Sevenfold and Shagrath of Dimmu Borgir.

Book stuff
Press for The Bloody Reign Of Slayer
Finishing off the next one, out at Christmas (press release to follow next month)
Signing the deal for the next biggie
Scheduling two more books for 2009
Attempting to complete novel (as all non-fiction writers do...)

Other stuff
Doing long old liner notes for a big old 3-CD thrash metal compilation what I compiled
Hanging out with Mrs M and the kids
Jamming with a couple of bands
Drinking beer

Not a bad month now I look back at it. If this is how my career stays until retirement or death, I won't complain.

May 2008 [part 2]


Once again, here's a chance to read some of my forthcoming Slayer biography. To order the book from Amazon, click here.

Feel free to sign the guestbook while you're here -- it's on the Contact page.

‘Angel Of Death', was – quite apart from its musical qualities – a shock to the established Slayer fan because it sounded so crisp and immediate. The murky shroud that obscured the finer elements of songs on the earlier records was gone, whisked away as if by a breath of ice-cold air: King's opening guitar riff, although loaded with distortion, stands out clearly at all frequencies. It's interesting to speculate how much of this came directly from Rubin, his skilled engineer Andy Wallace (who went on to be a much in-demand metal producer in his own right) or simply from the superior LA studio and mastering facilities which could be used thanks to the ample Def Jam budget.

After that snaky opening riff, the band punctuate the track with a series of unison stabs and Araya launches the most shattering death-scream ever uttered on record, modulating it into a roar as it dies away in time for the song's verse riff. Musically, the song is pure genius – perhaps Hanneman's finest work. There's a totally unexpected key change in the first verse (at the line “Forced in, like cattle you run”); the slow, extended section in the middle is based on an unforgettable riff that has gone down as one of thrash metal's finest; a duelling lead section, featuring Hanneman and King swapping solos over an ever-intensifying backing riff that leaps a fourth higher at each change; and a few seconds of Lombardo showing off his double kick-drum prowess near the end.

The devastating opening line of “Auschwitz / The meaning of pain…” made it immediately clear that Slayer were no longer confining themselves to lyrics about Satan. The song lists in agonising detail the torture and human experimentation meted out on the inmates of the Auschwitz death-camp in World War II by Nazi scientist Josef Mengele. The listener wouldn't necessarily pick this up from the lyrics without some education on the subject (although a clue to the subject is provided by the lines “Destroying, without mercy / To benefit the Aryan race” and “Sickening ways to achieve the Holocaust”), with Mengele referred to only by his real-life sobriquet of the ‘Angel Of Death'. Araya's syllable-perfect enunciation takes the listener through a gratuitous river of gore in which the “pathetic harmless victims” are sequentially subjected to “surgery, with no anaesthesia”, pumped with fluid, burned, frozen, “sewn together”, “abacinated” (eyes burned out), injected with substances and have their eyes dyed a different colour.

A storm of protest blew up when Reign hit the stores. The problem for many observers (in particular those representing society's moral code) was not the grisly imagery, it was the fact that Hanneman did not condemn or negatively judge Mengele's actions. He simply reported them, which was deemed by some to be at best in poor taste and at worst a gesture of approval. Over the next two decades the band were called to task over ‘Angel Of Death' hundreds, perhaps thousands, of times, and on each occasion they denied that they were Nazis, neo-Nazis, fascists, racists, anti-Semites, white supremacists or in any way particularly right-wing or intolerant.

Hanneman was asked time after time if he sympathised with the acts of Mengele: a typical answer was one he gave to the NME in March 1987: “I feel you should be able to write about whatever you want. ‘Angel Of Death' is like a history lesson, but as soon as we released it everybody was calling us Nazis. Our singer's a dark-skinned Chilean, there's no way we're fascists. I'd read a lot about the Third Reich and was absolutely fascinated by the extremity of it all, the way Hitler had been able to hypnotise a nation and do whatever he wanted, a situation where Mengele could evolve from being a doctor to being a butcher.”

Those who have worked with Hanneman are quick to point that he's far from being a Nazi sympathiser. Photographer Ross Halfin says: “People don't get it – it's all right for the Stones or Lemmy to dress up as Nazis, but as soon as he does it, it's all, ‘Oh, he can't do that'. The thing is, Slayer don't mean it. They're not some far-right band at all.”

Jeff himself explained: “Right before I wrote ‘Angel Of Death', I read a bunch of books about Mengele because he was pretty sick. That was how ‘Angel Of Death' came about… I know why people misinterpret it – it's because they get this knee-jerk reaction to it. When they read the lyrics, there's nothing I put in the lyrics that says necessarily he was a bad man, because to me – well, isn't that obvious? I shouldn't have to tell you that.”

This stance of refusing to pass judgment and allowing the listener to draw his or her own conclusions has been typical of Slayer over the years. Araya was once informed by an interviewer that the Slayer website forum was attended by a number of racists and asked if he had a message for those people – to which he responded: “I'm not white, so I don't think I need to send out a message. I've noticed it and met people that are into that. I have no problems with people's beliefs and how they want to live their lives, but just don't fuck with me.”

While the memorable opening track would seem hard to follow, ‘Piece By Piece' was just as fast, heavy and as lyrically uncompromising as ‘Angel Of Death'. One of the first songs which might be classified as ‘gore-metal' before bands such as Autopsy took that approach to its logical, queasy limit, ‘Piece…' originally began with a bass intro, replicating the opening whole-band riff. This was removed, however, and the song begins with a fat, lumbering riff that accelerates after 23 seconds to one of the fastest tempos Slayer had yet attempted.

“Modulistic terror!” barks Araya mysteriously, before embarking on a tale of death and dismemberment, the like of which hadn't been seen too often on the metal scene, only adding more fuel to the fire of controversy. King was the songwriter this time, coming up with lines like “Bones and blood lie on the ground / Rotten limbs lie dead / Decapitated bodies found / On my wall your head”. More importantly, Kerry amped up a device used on previous songs such as ‘Fight Till Death' where the band execute a fast chord change at an odd place in the bar – in this case under the last word of the line, ‘As soon as life has left your corpse…”

This unexpected device, which goes against all previous riff-writing rules, lends the song an air of unpredictablity and instability, as if the band might implode at any second. It's this air of impending destruction which gives Reign In Blood its sense of engorged energy.

On first listen it appeared hilarious that the very fast ‘Angel Of Death' was followed by the even faster ‘Piece By Piece' – but it was stupefying when track three was faster still. The unearthly ‘Necrophobic' – like ‘Chemical Warfare' two years before – was the fastest song ever written at the time, by Slayer or anyone else. How the band conceived, wrote and recorded at such phenomenal speed was hard to understand back then, although the fact that it's a Hanneman/King co-write is obvious, with both men's lust for fast metal now renowned. Asked how he played at such ferocious speed night after night, King reasoned: “To me, it's like if you're working out and you go from lifting 20 pounds to 50 pounds. You don't lift 20 pounds and then say, ‘Hey, I'm going for 50.'

“When I warm up before a show I start out by playing ‘Propaganda' by Sepultura, because it's got some pedalling, but it's not fast pedalling. I don't warm up with, say, ‘Angel Of Death', because if you cramp up it blows your gig. I'll warm up with something slow and then build up to where I need to be in an hour. My goal before a gig is to play the fastest riffs in the set, so I'll make a point of getting ‘Angel Of Death' down…. If I had to play [it] today, I probably couldn't, because I've had five weeks off – but my hands are trained to bounce back…”

‘Necrophobic' – which was often confused with the Hell Awaits track ‘Necrophiliac' - describes someone who is “scared to die” and is basically a shouted list of ways to expire, from “Strangulation, mutilation, cancer of the brain” to “Skin contortion, bone erosion” less than two minutes later. In that frantic 100 seconds or so, the band whip through no fewer than nine verses (there's no chorus as such), a solo section – featuring the most gripping leads yet, aided by a delay loop at the end – and a final, catastrophic crash to an end. Araya has clearly honed his act, spitting out the words with perfect clarity despite the ridiculous speed, and Lombardo is a powerhouse, delivering his most intense performance yet.

May 2008

Here's the new issue of Bass Guitar Magazine with my Peter Hook cover feature. He was great. A bit spiky, but a decent geezer, and he let me become the first journo ever to hear his new band, Freebass, in which he plays alongside Mani and Andy Rourke.

Just in the middle of press for The Bloody Reign Of Slayer, recording interviews for American radio and doing Q&As for various magazines. Elsewhere I've recently interviewed Mikael Akerfeldt, Fredrik Akesson and Martin Mendez of Opeth (whose new album may be the metal release of the year unless Metallica come up with something pretty spectacular in the autumn), Mille Petrozza of the mighty Kreator, Jason How at Rotosound, Charlotte Cooper of The Subways, Grog of Die So Fluid, Matt and Rob from Chimaira, Doug PInnick of King's X, Tim from Bloodsimple, Michael Schenker, Frank Allen of The Searchers, Guy Ritchie (yes, you read that right -- Madonna's husband), the bassists from Gogol Bordello and Flogging Molly, Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, John 5, Stuart Zender and Wednesday 13. All this hot air eventually finds its way into Rolling Stone, Metal Hammer, Total Guitar and Bass Guitar magazines. I did a big Foo Fighters resources round-up for Hammer too.

Hmm. When it's written down like that it really looks like a lot of work. And it is. Not to mention actually writing about these people once the interview is done, planning the next few books and mowing the lawn. But no complaints from me! There's always time for this, this and this...

April 2008

There's so much to do that I fear I may fall asleep in my muesli. Here's what I've been doing: writing a feature for the new Classic Rock (left) called 50 Bootlegs You Must Hear, interviewing Amebix, Bloodbath and Kreator for Metal Hammer, interviewing Michael Romeo of Symphony X, Thomas Fischer of Celtic Frost and Black Tide for Total Guitar, interviewing Larry Hartke, Stuart Zender and John Moyer of Disturbed for Bass Guitar, interviewing Jaska Forgottenhissurname of Children Of Bodom for Rhythm, interviewing a ton of metallers for the next book after The Bloody Reign Of Slayer (for which I've been on the receiving end of a load of interviews) and reviewing the usual pile of films and albums for Record Collector and DVD Review. I also went to the playback of Ihsahn's amazing new album, and I added a gallery of my UK and overseas book covers to Facebook here. That's about it, in between lots of vodka.

And here's the best book ever written.

March 2008


You lucky people. Two to three months ahead of publication, here's a chance to read some of my forthcoming Slayer biography. To order the book from Amazon, click here.

Excerpt 1: Chapter 2 – Metallica vs. Slayer, 1983

Show No Mercy was, to a certain extent, Metallica's fault.

As has been detailed at great length elsewhere, Metallica were probably the world's second ever extreme metal band, after the British band Venom had founded the idea of thrash metal (heavy metal played fast) and black metal (heavy metal played fast with Satanic lyrics). The band, also formed in LA mere months before Slayer, had relocated to San Francisco in 1982 for two reasons. Firstly, the LA scene was largely populated by hair metal acts – make-up-wearing pretty-boy glam-rock bands – and secondly because their new bass player Cliff Burton didn't want to move from San Francisco, his home town.

In 1982 Brian Slagel performed for Metallica the same service that he later did for Slayer – he used one of their songs on his first Metal Massacre compilation album. The following year Metallica were invited to visit New York by the East Coast-based Jon Zazula, who became their first manager and record company boss, having founded a label called Megaforce specifically for them.

Slayer were aware of Metallica's activities in California long before the latter made the move to New York in spring 1983, because they had been regarded as a breath of fresh air on the tepid metal scene of the day. After a series of demo recordings, the quartet (at that time singer/guitarist James Hetfield, guitarist Dave Mustaine, bassist Ron McGovney and drummer Lars Ulrich) released their best and most influential cassette, the seven-track No Life 'Til Leather . This tape soon became the stuff of legend among metalheads worldwide, duplicated endlessly and distributed through the tape-trading underground in many countries. Its popularity stemmed from the relentless speed of the riffs and the precision with which Hetfield executed them; his machine-like picking skills soon set the standard to which all thrash metal guitarists would aim in order for their songs not to sound muddy. One song, ‘Phantom Lord', was a token nod to black metal devilry, but by and large Metallica's lyrics dealt with life on the road, warfare and the same subjects which bands such as Motörhead had been dealing in for many years.

Metallica's debut album, Kill 'Em All , contained all the songs on No Life 'Til Leather , although Hetfield evolved his vocals from a melodic wail to a rough-edged bark for added malevolence, and the band as a whole played faster (and better) on the record. Released in August 1983 – four months before Slayer entered Track Record Studios to record their own album – Kill 'Em All was easily the fastest, heaviest, most uncompromising album released at that point, although it would be superseded dozens of times by the end of the decade, not least by Metallica themselves.

That Metallica were the pioneers of American thrash metal is not in doubt, although one or two observers point to the earliest work of New York act Overkill as contemporaneous while others, more misguided, even attribute the start of thrash metal to traditional HM acts such as Judas Priest. The template that Metallica established for a double-speed snare pattern beneath one- or- two-string riffs, picked with extreme precision and palm muting, was the major element of all subsequent thrash metal songwriting – an element that was to underpin most of Slayer's songs.

Brian Slagel: “When Metallica started, nobody knew what they were doing. People thought they were a punk band, but when they played in San Francisco, people loved it and understood exactly what they were doing – and of course the last straw for them was when Cliff said, ‘I'll join your band if you move to San Francisco'.”

If that's so, then why didn't Slayer – mere months behind Metallica in the thrash metal stakes – also up sticks and move to Northern California? One answer lies in the cataclysmic impact that Metallica's arrival in San Francisco made on the overall Californian scene: as Slayer's first tour manager Doug Goodman told the author, every other band on the SF scene was relegated to the status of also-rans when Hetfield, Ulrich et al made their move north. Metalheads began hearing of this crazy new band that played so fast – and the ripples spread back to Los Angeles, where the struggling thrash metal scene was trying to find its feet. Thus, Metallica's success in San Francisco meant success for Slayer in LA.

Secondly, Slayer had crossover appeal. The speed of their early songs, inspired by the hardcore punk that Hanneman had introduced to Lombardo, naturally attracted a punk audience – making Slayer the only band in 1983 who could pull punks and longhairs in to the same show. This kind of universal appeal remained at the heart of Slayer's dark, addictive appeal.

Slagel points out the relationship between Slayer and Metallica when both bands released their debut albums within months of each other in 1983. “I'm sure Metallica were an influence on Slayer in the early days, but I'm not sure that Slayer would admit that! Metallica were probably a year ahead of Slayer, but Slayer saw them and thought, ‘We can play faster and heavier than them'. I know that was definitely at the back of their minds when they started to write their own material.”

The fact that Slayer were trying to outdo their contemporaries was confirmed by Araya in 1999 when he told the author, “When we wrote ‘Aggressive Perfector', that wasn't the kind of music we played at the time. That became a Slayer template. The only reason we wrote it was because we'd heard what had been on the first two Metal Massacre records, and we thought, ‘Fuck, we're heavier than that!' So we wrote that song for the third album.”

Excerpt 2: Chapter 5 – Slayer's first European tour, 1985

The situation was almost farcical in retrospect: a bunch of Californian longhairs being flown to a foreign continent with very little finance, no foreign language skills, barely any support personnel and no experience of the world outside America. With 18 shows over six weeks in May and June 1985 to get through, the learning curve would be impossibly steep.

The tour didn't start well. Accompanied by KJ Doughton and Doug Goodman, Slayer landed at London's Heathrow Airport on May 26. A small hire bus came to pick them up from the arrivals hall, as Goodman recalls, “We were driven to the place where our rental gear was, and we're talking to the driver, thinking that he was our driver for the tour. We were a little bummed out by the size of this thing, because there was no place to sleep and the seats didn't pull down all the way… [Then] we realised that we would have to drive through Europe in this bus ourselves!”

The band got a further shock when they went to locate their hired amplifiers and other equipment. The large drum kit, two guitar amps, a bass amp and at least six guitars and basses plus numerous cases of cables, strings, effects pedals and stage clothes – as well as the personal luggage the six men had brought – appeared impossible to fit into the hired bus (which Doughton describes as “a hollowed-out bread van”).

At this point, King lost his cool. As Goodman remembers, “Kerry wasn't happy – he was like, ‘Fuck this, let's go home!' But this was the first time to my memory that the band put their foot down. Before that, pretty much everything Kerry said was what Slayer did. Kerry ran that ship. They did things as a group, but if there was a disagreement, ultimately they did what Kerry wanted to do. It wasn't because he was an overbearing taskmaster kind of guy – it was because he was the kind of guy who cared enough about it to argue until everybody gave up and said ‘OK, shut up, we'll do it your way!'”

The other members calmed King down and figured out a way of fitting the gear into the bus, largely by discarding the bulky flight cases housing the Marshall cabinets. The no doubt bemused rental store worker then provided the band with directions to their first show, the Poperinge Heavy Sound Festival in Belgium. The band were supposed to catch the ferry from Kent, although it wasn't made easy for them, as Goodman says: “The guy gives us a photocopy of a map that included London and included Belgium and suggested that we buy an atlas!”

KJ Doughton: “It was a tight, no-budget affair. We all took turns driving. In the UK, I can remember Dave Lombardo learning how to drive on the opposite side of the road from what he was accustomed to in America. I also have a vague recollection of arriving at a customs post without having our merchandise approved beforehand. We were afraid that they wouldn't let us take our T-shirts across the border. The band was hungry and lean at the time, reliant on merchandise sales to pay the bills, so it was imperative that we didn't get them confiscated. 

“We hid the shirts in the amplification bins, where they were never found during inspection. It was a good strategy, aside from the overlooked fact that amplifiers are laced with fibreglass. The band would wear the shirts later, and scratch violently. We thought the whole crew had scabies. Then, I'd notice people purchasing shirts at gigs, and scratching themselves. That's what happens when fibreglass shards work themselves into your torso. I'm sure all the sweaty headbanging only made it worse.”

Fortunately, the shows themselves were a triumph. Slayer, on peak form and hungry for the prize like never before, completely devastated the festival crowds where they appeared that summer in Belgium, Holland, Germany and the UK. The last show was a single date at London's legendary Marquee club on June 24, one of the most important gigs Slayer had yet played. To this day, the amount of punters who claim to have been at the gig easily exceeds the now defunct venue's limited capacity.

Back home, gigs extended from August all the way through until the end of the year, with the band travelling from Canada back to California, up through Oregon and Washington, back to the Sunshine State before playing more dates in New York and New Jersey.

Slayer were now a full-time proposition and thanks to the album they were about to record, they would redefine the metal landscape permanently.

Thanks for reading. There's another 100,000 words of this stuff, including 60 interviews I carried out over a period of about five years with everybody who is anybody on the metal scene. Foreign rights for the book are being picked up already and I have to say, with your help world domination could be a step closer.

In other news this month, I've been interviewing the usual mixed bag of musos, including Andy McCluskey of OMD, Stone Gods (the Darkness minus Justin Hawkins), Jeff Berlin, the miraculous Dillinger Escape Plan, Eric Peterson of Testament, Rudy Sarzo, Billy Duffy and Chris Wyse of the Cult, Rob Miller of Amebix, Slash and Duff from Velvet Revolver... tons of others.

Just bought one of these. Perfect for the car bonnet.

February 2008

Well, NAMM was insane. For four days I walked around the massive Anaheim Convention Center, interviewing musicians and playing basses. Nice work if you can get it, I thought as I fell exhausted into bed every night, having failed to explore LA in any meaningful way. Still it was cool to see David Ellefson, Paolo Grigoletto, Jeff Berlin, Stuart Hamm, Larry Hartke, Yves Carbonne, Frank Bello, Charlie Benante, Jason Bonham, Victor Wooten, Steve Morse, Kerry King, TM Stevens, Dave Mustaine, Michael Angelo Batio, Rita Haney, King Ov Hell, Yngwie Malmsteen, Carmine and Vinny Appice, Andy Galeon and tons of other musicians, most of whom I interviewed. Pics here.

Other interviewees done recently: Peter Hook (no longer of New Order), Gallows, Tony Iommi, Max and Iggor Cavalera, Thomas Fischer of Celtic Frost, Stone Gods... more added every day, it seems. Film reviews in DVD Review, albums in Metal Hammer, Rhythm and Record Collector and various stuff that I've forgotten about too.

I signed a very, very cool book deal this month but will wait until the press for my forthcoming Slayer biography is all done in April/June before announcing it. Three more book deals to sign shortly, which will keep me busy until the middle of 2009 at least.

Can't wait to see Mayhem in London on 21 Feb... their recent album, Ordo Ad Chao, was my album of the year in Metal Hammer's end-of-year roundup. It's terrifying.

January 2008

Happy New Year and thanks for visiting. Global domination is a step closer with the addition to the 20,000 things I already do of the features editor's post at Bass Guitar Magazine, the UK's only bass mag (left). They're sending me to NAMM in LA later this month to meet the four- (and five, six, eight, twelve, etc) stringers of the world and rub shoulders with rock celebrity. I'll be meeting Glenn Hughes and Gene Hoglan there, as well as my esteemed journalistic colleagues Steven Rosen and Bob Nalbandian and members of Morbid Angel, Possessed, Lupara and the usual cast of metal nutters. If you want to meet up, email me.

Cool magazine stuff coming your way: Alexi Laiho of Children Of Bodom in Total Guitar, M Shadows of Avenged Sevenfold, John K of Biomechanical and one of the crazed Finns out of Apocalyptica in Metal Hammer. The current Bass Guitar is a rock and metal special and includes my interviews with Rex Brown, Jon Lawhon of Black Stone Cherry and Dickie Peterson of Blue Cheer. I also wrote a tribute to the late Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy. Buy it here.

Here's a cool story for you: during my interview with Rex Brown, he told me that one thing he'd always wanted to do was interview Geezer Butler of Black Sabbath for a bass mag. As it happened, I knew that Geezer was interviewing (I'd spoken to him for Bass Player, the American magazine) and thanks to some cunning logistical tweakery by Roadrunner and Noble PR we made it happen for Rex. His interview with Geezer is also in the current issue.

The current Metal Hammer (with Dimebag on the cover) also tells the full story of the interview with Phil Anselmo which it ran shortly before Dimebag's death. Some of the comments Phil made about his erstwhile bandmate were rather unpleasant: he initially denied ever doing the interview, a slightly tricky position to adopt as the tapes were sent to Dimebag's brother Vinnie Paul, who later confirmed their content. Anselmo then changed his mind, claiming that he'd been misquoted. Again, not true, as Vinnie Paul stated. Anselmo then fell silent about the whole issue.

Anyway, I was the writer of that feature. I'd made a strict point of quoting from the interview absolutely verbatim and so the fuss died down fairly quickly. I've never commented on the issue, even when offered a chunk of cash by a certain music-TV station to do so: the new issue of the magazine sets the record straight at last. Hurrah!

Onto more cheerful matters. I've just been asked to co-write the autobiography of a certain rocker, as well as a major guitar book that I reckon will be the first of its kind. Both books subject to contract, but it looks like 2008 will be another busy busy year. My Metallica book is out in Bulgarian shortly and the Slayer biog I've just finished is attracting some overseas attention already. (By the way, thanks to whoever keeps reading this and updating my Wikipedia entry -- you're very diligent.)

Read this, it makes a lot of sense!