Totally True Memoirs of a Metal Producer: Slayer’s Repentless
In 1975, I had lunch with Gene Simmons in his private booth at the Russian Tea Room to discuss producing the Kiss album that would come to be known as Destroyer.
In 2015, I watched Kerry King eat lunch in his usual parking spot outside the Chick-fil-A drive-through on La Cienega to discuss producing the Slayer album that would come to be known as Repentless.
Some people were worried that Slayer couldn’t make another album because Jeff Hanneman, who wrote all the songs anyone cares about, had died. They’d also been forced to fire Dave Lombardo after he’d asked Kerry about expensing his drum sticks.
But Ker Bear wasn’t worried. He argued that people had been ripping off Hanneman’s style for years; there was no reason he couldn’t do it, too. For the solos, they had a guy who could play as fast and incomprehensibly as anyone. I didn’t even ask about Dave because of the Lars Law: people only pretend to care about drummers. You can’t lose your singer, though, unless it’s to death, and Kerry still had Tim Araya on board. So I was sold.
Still, I played it tough during the negosh. I wasn’t setting foot in a studio until they gave me a piece of the merch pie. Slayer albums are made to sell Slayer t-shirts.
Once we got that all worked out, we began to work on the album in earnest. Kerry wrote the most milquetoast Slayer songs ever, which was smart, because the audience for this record was going to be old fans stuck in back in the days when they could still get it up without a pill, and young fans just getting into metal who hadn’t yet had their “own” Slayer album. I tried to make the production match by sanding off all the edges and going for the warmest tones. I basically did everything I could to make it not sound like Reign in Blood.
The recording process was mostly smooth. I never learned the drummer’s name but Kerry called him “Staph Infection” for some reason. “Staph Infection, more double bass,” “Staph Infection, play it more like Dave would have,” “Staph Infection, I told you no creamer in my coffee,” etc. I think it was affectionate. It’s hard to tell with Ker Bear. Everything he says is in the same tone. Anyway the drummer was a pro.
Kerry did all the guitars and all the bass and then the guy from Exodus who didn’t get picked to be in Metallica came in and did a bunch of solos. He was fabulous. Except I remember he tried to tell me he wrote part of “Creeping Death.” I thought, Honey, if you had written “Creeping Death,” you would have written “Creeping Death.” Anyway the guitarist was a pro.
As usual, the singer was the real problem. Tim was getting a little long in the tooth. He had some health issues and his mind wasn’t so sharp. He took Metamucil and Dulcolax by the handful. One day he says to me, “I’ve been heavy into Rush recently.” “Oh yeah? Which album?” I ask him. He shook his head. He meant Limbaugh. “Terrific,” I told him and tried to move things along as quickly as I could.
But we finally managed to finish the album. Ker Bear called me while I was stuck in traffic to say he wanted to name the album Repentless, which I signed off on because I assumed I had a bad cell connection and he’d said Relentless, which is a real word.
But it didn’t matter. The reviews said the record wasn’t bad as people assumed it would be, which was a home run in my book. And we sold a lot of t-shirts — a lot of t-shirts. So everybody who wasn’t Dave Lombardo won.