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One of the heaviest, fastest and generally more extreme outfits to emerge from the initial wave of thrash-metal, Californians SLAYER are the evil entity that makes up your “Big 4”-a-day, alongside, in no particular disorder, METALLICA, MEGADETH and ANTHRAX. A largely unfocused blur of manic drumming and power-drill guitar shredding, early efforts also showcased a lyrical excess to match the “music”, heralding a new era, in which, initially thrash outfits, then death-metal merchants, trawled new depths of Satanic goriness – the PMRC would probably use the term depravity.
Formed in Huntington Park, late 1981, the twin axe-assault of Messrs Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman were soon up and running, when original Dave Lombardo (drums) – from Cuba! – invited the latter guitarist, plus Chilean-born frontman/bassist, Tom Araya, into the fold. From IRON MAIDEN and JUDAS PRIEST covers band to supporting BITCH at the Woodstock Club in Anaheim, SLAYER were spotted by music journo Brian Slagel, a man with a mission to bring fresh acts to his newly-founded Metal Blade imprint. On the strength of one track, their reading of IRON MAIDEN’s `Phantom Of The Opera’ (plus `Aggressive Perfector’; added to the label’s “Metal Massacre III” V/A compilation), their new boss offered them a place on the MB roster – on the premise that they’d self-finance their debut LP, SHOW NO MERCY (1983) {*6}. Described as a volatile VENOM, King and Hanneman’s “Lucifer”-infested dirges – although slightly amateurish in er… execution – were best served on live faves, `Die By The Sword’, `The Antichrist’ and `Black Magic’. Originally released separately but added on subsequent CD re-issues, the demonistic and nihilistic `Haunting The Chapel’, highlighted three earth-pounders: `Chemical Warfare’, `Captor Of Sin’ and the title track.
Araya stepped up to the mark to add lyrics on a couple of tracks for SLAYER’s sophomore serving, HELL AWAITS (1985) {*7}; their barrage of oi!-styled metal never letting up on the harsh and hostile thrashers of the almost subliminal `Kill Again’, `At Dawn They Sleep’, `Crypts Of Eternity’ and `Necrophiliac’.
Cannily signed up by producer Rick Rubin to the ultra-hip Def Jam roster (home to such ground-breaking rap outfits as LL COOL J, BEASTIE BOYS and PUBLIC ENEMY), SLAYER not only benefitted from the added kudos of a “street” label, but were touted by the rock press as having pulled off the ultimate speed-metal album – the epochal REIGN IN BLOOD (1986) {*10}. SLAYER began to assume the status of metal demi-gods. From its trademark black-period Goya-esque artwork to the breakneck precision of the playing and the wildly controversial lyrical fare (`Jesus Saves’, `Criminally Insane’, `Raining Blood’, et al), the half-hour set was a landmark metal release, which in many respects has never been bettered in its respective field. The biggest fuss, however, was reserved for `Angel Of Death’, a track detailing the horrific atrocities of Nazi butcher, Joseph Mengele. Def Jam’s distributor, Columbia refused to handle the album, although Geffen stepped in to facilitate the group’s first Top 100 (UK Top 50) entry.
While SLAYER allegedly hold right-wing political views, the disturbingly soft-spoken ARAYA maintains that his lyrics do not promote war or violence but merely reflect the darker aspects of humanity. Whatever, there was no denying the power of SLAYER’s music, especially on the more phlegmatic SOUTH OF HEAVEN (1988) {*8}. No doubt finally realising that only too often they sacrificed effectiveness for speed, SLAYER took their proverbial foot off the accelerator. Sure, there were still outbursts of amphetamine overkill, but with the likes of the apocalyptic title track, the chugging fury of `Mandatory Suicide’ (complete with chilling spoken word outro) and a raging cover of JUDAS PRIEST’s `Dissident Aggressor’, SLAYER had at last harnessed the malign potential which they had always promised. The record brought the band an unprecedented UK Top 30 chart placing (US Top 60), proof that the group were now being taken seriously as major thrash contenders alongside their aforementioned “Big 4” peers.
The acclaimed SEASONS IN THE ABYSS (1990) {*9} confirmed that SLAYER were not merely contenders but challengers for the thrash throne. With “Seasons…”, the group succeeded in combining their instinct for speed with a newfound maturity, resulting in one of the most intense yet accessible metal records ever released. The doom-obsessed, bass-crunching likes of `Expendable Youth’, `Skeletons Of Society’ and the brooding title track, recalled the intensity of prime 70s ‘Sabbath, while even the harder tracks such as `War Ensemble’ and `Blood Red’ displayed entrails of melody. The obligatory lyrical shock tactics came with `Dead Skin Mask’, an eerie meditation reportedly inspired by serial killer, Ed Gein. Again produced by Rubin and released on his fledgling Def American label, the album dented the UK Top 20 and finally broke the group into Billboard’s Top 40.
Promoting the record with the legendary “Clash of the Titans” tour (also featuring MEGADETH, SUICIDAL TENDENCIES and TESTAMENT), SLAYER had finally made it into the metal big league and summing up the first blood-soaked chapter of their career, the group duly released the live double set, DECADE OF AGGRESSION (1991) {*6}; taking in recent recordings from Lakeland Coliseum, Florida (on disc one) and both the Orange Pavilion, San Bernardino and London’s Wembley Arena (on disc two).
Amid much rumour and counter-rumour, Lombardo finally left the band in spring ’92 (for GRIP INC.), with ex-FORBIDDEN sticksman, Paul Bostaph, drafted in as his replacement. A long-awaited sixth set, DIVINE INTERVENTION {*6}, finally arrived in 1994, a consolidation of SLAYER’s hallowed position in the metal hierarchy and the group’s first assault on the Top 10 (UK Top 20). Heavy metal had gone through a dramatic facelift since the quartet’s previous studio outing, but the grunge and industrial head-waving spearheaded by NIRVANA and NINE INCH NAILS respectively, were not for screecher Araya and Co, as they played hangman to the four horsemen of the apocalypse on the malevolent and menacing `Serenity In Murder’, `Killing Fields’ and `Circle Of Beliefs’.
The heaviest band ever – as Kerrang! readers acclaimed them! – spewed back with UNDISPUTED ATTITUDE (1996) {*5}. Having previous covered the likes of IRON BUTTERFLY’s `In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’ and an EXPLOITED medley (with ICE-T) `War’, `UK ‘82’ and `Disorder’ (from the “Judgment Night OST), SLAYER completed a near full set by way of songs by VERBAL ABUSE, PAT SMEAR, D.I., MINOR THREAT, TSOL, D.R.I., Dr. Know and The STOOGES (`I Wanna Be Your Dog’ was “God” in this instance). Note too, that TESTAMENT drummer, Jon Dette, was briefly in place for a subsequent Ozzfest appearance, until Bostaph was back in tow after his replacement was fired.
1998’s DIABOLUS IN MUSICA {*5} – apparently a “devilish” musical scale banned by churches in the 15th century! – brought forth their brutal gore back to the fans. While it seemed KORN and contenders SLIPKNOT and SYSTEM OF A DOWN were in place to gate-crash SLAYER’s metal party, there was still a bit of bite and adrenalin in uncompromising pounders such as `Stain Of Mind’, `Death’s Head’ and `Love To Hate’.
Surely a contender for album title of the year GOD HATES US ALL (2001) {*7}, nailed SLAYER’s brutal musical colours to their upside down mast once and for all. As unrelenting, savage, nihilistic and downright nasty as you could possibly ask a metal album to be, SLAYER went back to their roots with a maniacal vengeance that showed the young pretenders up as the lightweights they were; check out or check in to `Disciple’, `New Faith’ and `Payback’.
Although not in hiatus indefinitely (Bostaph had to retire due to an elbow injury), SLAYER re-recruited Lombardo and continued their juggernaut gore-fest on “comeback”, CHRIST ILLUSION (2006) {*7}, a Top 5 album that marked 25 years in the business. Raging against the machinations of government politics, religion and of course… war, SLAYER showed no mercy on killer thrash/speed/black metal rippers like `Flesh Storm’, `Eyes Of The Insane’ and `Jihad’; did someone mention SOAD.
WORLD PAINTED BLOOD (2009) {*6} was more of the same punishing pounding, unrelenting and uncompromising as any loyal fan would expect. Reprising a little of their “Reign In Blood” blasts from the past, the Greg Fidelman-produced set was a war of attrition all on its own; raucous riffs, tense thrash and intense anti-idolatry found their way on to genuine masters of rawk tracks, `Hate Worldwide’, `Americon’ and `Psychopathy Red’. A subsequent “Big 4” tour in Sofia, Bulgaria, was SLAYER’s next objective in 2010. It was indeed tragic news that long-serving co-founder Jeff Hanneman died of liver failure due to cirrhosis on May 2, 2013.
Meanwhile, Gary Holt (of EXODUS) had been enlisted in 2011, while a fired Lombardo took off in 2013 to continue with PHILM, full-time; Paul Bostaph was reinstated as his successor (Jon Dette had deputised briefly). Six long years in the making, 2015’s REPENTLESS {*6} – their first for Nuclear Blast Records – was a hard-hitting workmanlike set of gut-wrenching cuts. Nothing inventive but for the odd crunching riff, its highs the hostile title track, the fist-pumping `Take Control’, the doom-laden `Cast The First Stone’ and the grinding schizoid `When The Stillness Comes’.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/BG/MCS // rev-up MCS Aug2013-Sep2015

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