Slayer Drummer Paul Bostaph on Playing Without Jeff Hanneman and What to Expect From New Album 'Repentless'

Slayer's Tom Araya, Gary Holt, Paul Bostaph and Kerry King photographed in 2015.
Andrew Stewart

Slayer's Tom Araya, Gary Holt, Paul Bostaph and Kerry King photographed in 2015.

Joining Slayer for a second time has been a different kind of reign for drummer Paul Bostaph.

When Bostaph first replaced founding drummer Dave Lombardo in 1992, the group had completed its first decade and released its first five albums. "It was very intimidating," Bostaph tells Billboard. But there was a big difference: "The Internet did not exist. There was no social media. If people didn't like (the switch) we weren't hearing about it all the time. We only heard through word of mouth, and I just had to go out and deliver to shut everybody up."

Not so this time around, however. "People are pretty brutal with their opinions sometimes, so I guess you have to have thicker skin now," says Bostaph, who began his second tenure with Slayer in 2013, after an acrimonious schism with Lombardo, who'd returned and replaced Bostaph in 2001. "At least I had been with the band for 10 years when I left, so I had equal tenure as the drummer at that point. I have a history of recording and touring with the band, so I think that's actually helped win people over -- again."

Slayer to Release New Album 'Repentless' This Fall

Bostaph did not have to win over his bandmates, particularly the late Jeff Hanneman -- who fellow guitarist Kerry King has said mandated Bostaph's return before Hanneman died in May of 2013 of alcohol-related cirrhosis -- and King himself, who immediately began recording tracks with Bostaph for the upcoming Repentless, Slayer's first new album in six years. Bostaph found there was a stockpile of ideas, which he and King slogged through while waiting for producer Greg Fidelman -- who helmed 2009's World Painted Blood and was slated for Repentless -- to become available, though the group ultimately went with Terry Date.

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"We've been grinding on this record for two years," Bostaph says of Repentless, which comes out Sept. 11. "When I came back to the band we were supposed to go in the studio, and for two years we were like, 'Yeah, this album's gonna come out some day.' The good thing was we really kept working on the songs and refining them. And I had a huge advantage, probably, over most people who would come in the room 'cause I've worked with Kerry a million times before. When I joined the band the first time Kerry and I roomed together. We shared an apartment, and I learned how he likes things. So when he shows me a song I almost know what he wants for it; 99 percent of the time I'm right. So I think the dynamics of him trusting me and trusting my opinion when it comes to the songs really helped."

Bostaph assures us that Repentless "sounds like Slayer. Anything other than that, it would be a failure." But he adds that some of the material "is very punky. It really reminded me of some of the Undisputed Attitude material. I really like that attitude." Hanneman is represented on Repentless by one track he wrote, "Piano Wire," but Bostaph says the guitarist's presence was felt throughout the sessions.

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"When I came back I fully expected to start working with Jeff," the drummer says. "Jeff was part of the decision-making process of bringing me back. Kerry and I got to work and I assumed I'd see (Hanneman) sooner or later, probably sooner. But he passed away a couple weeks after I rejoined the band, which was devastating. I really loved the dude. As great as a songwriter as he was, he was also a great guy. When we go on stage every night I think of Jeff because we play a lot of his songs." 

Slayer is currently headlining the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival through Aug. 2 in Dallas and the group will play on Motorhead's Motorboat cruise Sept. 28 out of Miami, stop at the Loud Park Festival on October 10 in Japan and then go on to Europe during October and November.

The group has been playing three songs from the album, including the title track, and Bostaph says he's looking forward to adding more once it's out. "It's going to be nice to actually start playing something that's different and new," he says. "Sonically it's different than the older stuff. Part of that is it's stuff I played on, so I'm actually playing my on parts, which is nice. I play so many songs that I have to cop somebody else's style on, which is a challenge and I'm happy to do that. But it's nice and refreshing to play my songs sometimes too."