IT’S HARD TO OVERSTATE Slayer’s impact on modern metal. But last year’s death of founding guitarist Jeff Hanneman left many wondering whether the band’s 30-year-reign had ended—especially since they’d recently parted ways with original drummer Dave Lombardo.

"Whenever I’d get pushed away from the drums, it felt like my soul was being torn out. I can’t allow that to happen."

But Slayer lives on, with drummer Paul Bostaph providing the pulse. It’s actually the second time he’s filled Lombardo’s double-bass shoes: Bostaph was Slayer’s drummer from 1992 through 2001, a period that included such influential Slayer albums as Divine Intervention and Diabolus in Musica.

This time, the San Francisco Bay Area-native is approaching his role with a new attitude. “I have a greater appreciation for the gig,” he says. “I’m at a different point in my life. My drumming is different. I’ve traveled more and played with more bands. Now I just want to have fun playing the drums.”

The “fun” part is important for Paul, who pushed himself so hard during his first Slayer stint that he sometimes forgot to enjoy the ride. “You have to consider that I was lucky enough to join one of the legendary heavy-metal bands of all time, replacing a legendary drummer,” he says. “I knew what the fans’ expectations would be, being a fan myself. I placed a lot of pressure on myself to excel. I wanted fans to be able to close their eyes at our shows and not hear any difference. I pushed myself to a point of impossibility, but now I just trust myself more.”

slayer-sideJoining Bostaph in the current lineup is guitarist Gary Holt of Exodus, the influential Bay Area thrash metal band with whom Paul performed after leaving Slayer. He also gigged with Testament during those years. “Testament and Exodus are as legendary in thrash metal as Slayer,” notes Paul. “They weren’t as big, but they were equally important to the style. And before I joined Slayer the first time, I was in Forbidden, and we also played a role.”

Those experiences gave Bostaph a ringside seat to the evolution of modern metal drumming, especially the emergence of virtuosic double-bass technique. “When I first came up, you had guys like Pete Sandoval, Gene Hoglan, Charlie Benante, and of course Dave Lombardo. They were pushing the envelope with double bass, doing things that just hadn’t been done before. It’s evolved so much now, with the use of triggers and snapping everything to a grid in the studio. Now it’s become expected to play perfectly, and the more perfect the recordings sound, the more kids get influenced by that sound.” Paul also cites classic rock drummers such as Cozy Powell and Tommy Aldridge as double-bass influences.

Naturally, Bostaph’s Yamaha drum kits include dual bass drums, sized 22" x 18". His main kits are Oak Customs and Live Customs. “We actually have three or four complete rigs because of all the leapfrogging Slayer does when we’re on tour,” he explains. “I’m also getting a new Absolute Hybrid kit for our upcoming run. I’d always been a maple guy, but I’ve had sound guys complain to me that maple drums aren’t bright enough. With these drums I have warmth, brightness, and power. I recently recorded two songs with Slayer using the Oak Customs, and they sounded and tracked great.” Paul’s kits also include 10", 12", and 14" rack toms, 16" and 18" floor toms, and sometimes a 20" gong drum.

Bostaph has acquired the habit of practicing with a metronome. “I never used to,” he admits, “but now I never practice without one. It’s reeled me in a bit and given me more understanding of when I need to control my energies. Not necessarily to play in absolutely perfect time, because I’ll never be able to do that. But it’s corrected my tendency to play too fast. The metronome and the click track don’t lie. Now, when I record, I sound in the pocket—not all over the pocket.”

When he’s not working with Slayer, Bostaph performs with Hail!, an all-star heavy-metal cover band. “The idea,” says Paul, “was to get a bunch of guys from known bands and play a bunch of our favorite songs. We get to play places where bands don’t usually perform.” For example, Hail! has toured Siberia—twice. “We spent 12 days on the Trans-Siberian Railroad,” recalls Paul. “The audiences were incredibly enthusiastic, because not many bands travel to where they live.”

Paul has also gained perspective from working full-time day jobs during the non-Slayer years. “I’ve done what I had to do to survive, but I never put drums on the back burner,” he insists. “The fire was always burning. Whenever I’d get pushed away from the drums, it felt like my soul was being torn out. I can’t allow that to happen. It’s what I do. It’s what I am. If it’s in your blood, it’s in your blood. And it’s definitely in mine.”