The tattoos cult discovered during the ‘Seasons In The Abyss’ era. The Tribal trademark. His respect for Paul Booth, Dimebag Darrell, Jeff Hanneman and Oakland Raiders, of course: Kerry King reveals everything!

Slayer will start on May 10th from the Valley View Casino Center in San Diego (California) what should be their last world tour. The final concerts, in short, before a well deserved retirement.

To celebrate this epochal news for every heavy metal lover, we went to look for an old interview that their guitarist/founder Kerry King released us some time ago. So that the Slayer myth, even from a point of view of the relationship of King himself with tattoo art, continue to last a long time. Well beyond this very chatted farewell tour.

Kerry King, Slayer
Kerry King, Slayer

Welcome, Kerry. When you founded Slayer (with unforgettable Jeff Hanneman, in 1981) were you already thinking about tattoos? Or were Venom and Judas Priest all that was on your mind, at the time?
I obviously knew about tattoo art, but to be honest with you, in the early 80s I never thought that I would ever get a tattoo… I mean: that was a different era, very different from this one, and heavy metal was all I had as my daily mission. Ink became a phenomenon later on.

Is it better now, or worse, in your opinion?
Better: things are much better now. For example, now you can find truly talented tattooists all over the world, when a guy goes into a tattoo shop he’s more informed about this art, and women have become a part of the tattoo scene, too – hell, even my wife has got tattoos! (laughs). But it took time, a lot of time, to get to this point.

Is it true that your wife, Ayesha King, got a tattoo in your honor?
Yeah, she has my initials, ‘KFK’ (Kerry Fucking King, Ed.) tattooed on her left wrist, as I have hers on mine. Ayesha also has two lovely pentagrams that are ‘branded’ onto her underarms. And as you know, Slayer and pentagrams have always been a winning pair… (chuckles)

Slayer 2015, Tom Araya, Gary Holt, Paul Bostaph, Kerry King
Slayer 2015, Tom Araya, Gary Holt, Paul Bostaph, Kerry King

Do you think that someone like Kerry King has contributed to legitimizing tattoo culture in the metal scene?
Let’s just put it this way: when I got this enormous Tribal design on my right arm, I was looking for something that could substitute the famous spike-studded bracelet I used to wear. You see, I’d worn that iconic object for so long (I still dust it off and wear it sometimes!), and around the mid 90s – when our music was getting faster and more complicated to play – I wanted to find something else that could replace it. And so I chose a full sleeve with a Tribal theme!

And since then, your public image has grown incredibly.
I’d say that at the end of the game, nothing much has really changed: whether I’m playing in front of an audience of a hundred thousand, or ten, the response I get from fans is the same. With that tattoo running down my arm, I’m just shouting out my intentions to everyone, it’s like I’m saying: «Ok, whether you like it or not, this is who I am. This is Kerry King, who’s just doing his damn job!».

Would you let me in on what the Tribal style symbolizes for a person like yourself?
It’s just one of my favorite styles, that’s all. It’s as if Tribal has possessed me, over these past fifteen years: it’s everywhere – from my body, to my personalized guitar model (the B.C. Rich KKV, Ed.), all the way to my speakers… (smiles). I just wanted to pay homage to the Maori/New Zealand culture, but then this style became linked to my image: just call it ‘Kerry Tribal’!

Slayer 2016
Slayer 2016

Let’s take a step back: what was the first tattoo you ever got?
The first on the list was the Slayer logo (complete with an eagle, of course), which is near my left ear. I had it done in 1992 or ’94, I can’t remember exactly at this point… (reflects). ‘Seasons in the Abyss’ had already been released at that point, but not ‘Divine Intervention’, not yet. So it must have been some time around the release of ‘Decade of Aggression’, our first live album which we produced in the early 90s.

And then, towards the end of that decade, you met your great friend Paul Booth…
Well, if I hadn’t met Paul, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you! (chuckles) What more can I say? Paul is my guiding light in the universe of tattoo art. He’s a true friend, a great person and a faithful Slayer fan. I’ve said these things a million times before: when I talk about Paul, I simply can’t help but be rhetorical…

Could you tell me about any other tattoo artists you get along with, in particular?
My wife adores Nikko Hurtado: she’s one of his big Instagram fans. And I agree with her, because that guy makes truly awesome Realistic pieces. I also especially admire Kat Von D, Robert Hernandez and Jeremiah Barba. Plus Bob Tyrrell, another very faithful Slayer fan, who even tattooed Gary (Holt, the guitarist and main songwriter for Exodus who took Jeff Hanneman’s place after he died in 2013. Ed.).

Slayer, photo by Andrew Stuart
Slayer, photo by Andrew Stuart

Speaking of Mr. Booth: did it hurt very much when he tattooed that enormous, demonic face which goes down the nape of your neck?
Are you kidding? It hurt like hell! But that’s how it is with Paul: if you’re not suffering, then you’re not under the spell of his tattoo machine and needles! (laughs). As we say around here, “No pain, no gain”. In comparison, getting the black tooth in the center of my throat, right behind my beard, was a breeze.

That tooth is a tribute to the memory of Dimebag Darrell, right?
Yeah, that’s a ‘black tooth grin’, which is also the name of a cocktail created by poor Dime (Darrell – as everyone knows – was killed onstage in Columbus, on the evening of December 8, 2004, Ed.). You make it by mixing gin, whisky and Coca Cola together. Then you drink it in shots, one right after another.

Do you think you’ll ever get a Portrait done in memory of Jeff Hanneman?
I don’t think so, because I’m not exactly crazy about Realistic. Ok, I don’t want to judge people who get portraits tattooed on their bodies, but I’m just saying that I don’t need to look at myself in the mirror in order to remember friends who aren’t with us any longer. I didn’t do it in the past for Dime, not even for Ronnie James Dio, so I won’t do it for Jeff either.

I’d much rather honor his memory by playing his songs, night after night.

Have you ever gotten caught up in some silly controversy over the lettering ‘God Hates Us All’, which is on your inner left arm?
No, not at all. Actually, when I play in the United States or Great Britain, people in the pit will yell for me to raise my arm so that they can photograph it better. I hate to admit it, but that tattoo is slowly but surely becoming more popular than me…

Last question: what’s your opinion about an Oakland Raiders related tattoo?
It might seem strange, but I don’t have any. Of course I do belong to the ‘Raiders Nation’ as it’s called (the group of wild-eyed fans who follow the NFL’s black and silver team) and it’s certainly no coincidence that I had ‘Slayer Nation’ printed on my guitar picks. (The Raiders will leave Oakland and relocate themselves to Las Vegas in either 2019 or 2020, depending on the completion of the team’s planned new stadium, Ed)

(interview originally featured on Tattoo Life 101, July/August 2016)