Roaring out of Huntingdon Park, California in the early 1980s friends King and Lombardo knew they were on to a good thing when they hooked up with Hannemann and Chilean-born Araya. Specialising at first in hard core cover material they won a reputation for fast metal in the local clubs and featured on the independently financed Metal Massacre II compilation. Pretty much broke at this stage the early Slayer relied on their underground popularity and the test the waters opener Show No Mercy was defined as the blueprint for death metal and praised for it’s punk attitude and mean musical muscle.
1984’s Haunting the Chapel EP was influenced by King’s love of the band Venom and showcased Lombardo’s double bass drum technique. Thrashy and dark this disc laid the groundwork for Hell Awaits, a sound that captivated the folks at Def Jam. Signed by Rick Rubin afterf a tussle with many other majors Slayer suddenly had proper studio facilities and a budget and they made the most of their new-found luck to create the almighty din that is Reign in Blood (1986). Five years of solid roadwork on they were equipped to deliver their first masterpiece and now reached a mainstream metal audience who heard them thrash and took them to their mosh pit driven hearts. With Rubin’s production, honed on hip hop stars like Run DMC and LL Cool J, matching the passion of his new charges the team delivered a clean, fresh atmosphere that allowed the songs to live. It is rated one of the greatest examples of the thrash genre and still sounds like an incendiary device.
Stand out cuts are everywhere but mention has to be made of “Raining Blood” and “Angel of Death” and the overall intensity of “Criminally Insane”. Mostly short and punchy, Slayer didn’t hang around but delivered right off the bat. Suitably confident South of Heaven really got them noticed and went Gold faster than it’s predecessor. Araya chipped in with a lot of lyrics and the band covered Judas Priest’s “Dissident Aggressor” in glory. Elsewhere the slower tempos confused some fans but the disc is a grower and a worthy arrival at Rubin’s new Def American imprint.
With thrash metal peaking worldwide Slayer and Megadeth headlined the European Clash of the Titans tour (Anthrax and Alice in Chains joined on the US leg) and then released their career spanning double live album, Decade of Aggression.
Lombardo’s departure dismayed the faithful but new man Paul Bostaph dispelled any doubts with his powerhouse rhythms and the Divine Intervention disc (1994) charted at #8 and raced to Gold, fuelled by metallic slabs of Slayer-dom like “SS-3”, “Killing Fields” and the Jeffrey Dahmer inspired “213”. Not for the faint-hearted, the grizzly nature of the material and the artwork polarised the press but delighted the following, fanatical by now.
If you’ve never experienced Slayer this is a great introduction to their world and well worth discovery.
Diabolus in Musica (1998) maintains Slayer’s output with their most considered disc to date. Mostly written by Hannemann the thematic concept is experimental and introduces a new vocabulary of groove riffs and features Paul Bostaph’s syncopated rhythms at the front of the mix. Another classic quartet offering this disc takes a step back on “Bitter Peace” and “Overt Enemy”, not as appeasement to the critics but as a way of telling the world Slayer are not a cliché.
Evidently fired into action Kerry King bosses God Hates Us All and he adopts another change of tack with a brutal realism informing “God Send Death” and “Payback”. Lombardo returned to promote the album and producer Matt Hyde (with Rubin still in the room for gravitas) elicits sharp performances while King debuts his seven-string guitar to grand effect.
Following a five year hiatus Christ Illusion is another ground breaker with far-sighted items like “Jihad” (a response to September 11) and “Eyes of the Insane”. This is one of Slayer’s most popular discs – it entered the Billboard 200 at #5 and made heavy inroads into the European market. This is certainly one to discover again.
World Painted Blood is the final album to feature the original four piece, since Lombardo left after the sessions and Hannemann would die from alcohol related illness in 2013. It’s a great way to bow out though because the reviews were positive and the songs are top notch, suggesting a return to the heyday of the mid 1980s but with a more aged up lyrical style that embellishes “Beauty Through Order” and the epic closer “Not of This God.”
Despite the necessary uncertainty following the Lombardo and King episodes Slayer regrouped for a new tour in 2014 and played some brand new songs as well with featured guitarist Gary Holt. An album is mooted for this summer of 2015 that may well feature unreleased and unheard Hannemann cuts with band archivist Araya adding flesh to the bone. “One is a song we didn’t finish for ‘World Painted Blood.’ That song is actually complete. Jeff and me were working on melody and lyric ideas for that song. We weren’t really happy with what we were doing or what was becoming of that song, so it didn’t make it on the album. it’s done, it’s ready to go. I don’t want to use the term ‘typical’ but it’s Jeff, it’s obvious who put the song together. It’s Jeff music. He created a certain way and he put music together a certain way; it’s signature Jeff.”
Fingers crossed and hand on heart we’re looking forward to this one. Much maligned Slayer are due reappraisal. They told it how they saw it and they play it that way too. Not to everyone’s taste maybe but for those with a love of the esoteric side of thrash metal they are hard to beat and impossible to upstage.
Also consider the live discs: Live Undead, Decade of Aggression and The Big 4 Live from Sofia, Bulgaria (with Metallica, Anthrax and Megadeth). As well as that mash-up there’s the weighty Soundtrack to the Apocalypse box set from 2003, a 4-CD trawl through the Best Of material, rare and live tracks and an updated to 5-CD set that includes Slayer returning to roots for the Live at The Groove in Anaheim so-called Bloodpack, a resume of their many classics. In many ways this latter anthology is a vindication for Slayer. It gave critics time to reassess their work and confirmed the band’s standing amongst the fan base. Was there ever any doubt?
Words: Max Bell
Widely considered the pinnacle of speed metal, Reign in Blood is Slayer's undisputed masterpiece, a brief (under half an hour) but relentless onslaught that instantly obliterates anything in its path and clears out just as quickly. Producer Rick Rubin gives the band a clear, punchy sound for the first time in its career, and they largely discard the extended pieces of Hell Awaits in favor of lean assaults somewhat reminiscent of hardcore punk (though distinctly metallic and much more technically demanding). Reign in Blood opens and closes with slightly longer tracks (the classics "Angel of Death" and "Raining Blood") whose slower riffs offer most of the album's few hints of melody. Sandwiched in between are eight short (all under three minutes), lightning-fast bursts of aggression that change tempo or feel without warning, producing a disjointed, barely controlled effect. The album is actually more precise than it sounds, and not without a sense of groove, but even in the brief slowdowns, the intensity never lets up. There may not be much variation, but it's a unified vision, and a horrific one at that. The riffs are built on atonal chromaticism that sounds as sickening as the graphic violence depicted in many of the lyrics, and Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman's demented soloing often mimics the screams of the songs' victims. It's monstrously, terrifyingly evocative, in a way that transcends Reign in Blood's metal origins. The album almost single-handedly inspired the entire death metal genre (at least on the American side of the Atlantic), and unlike many of its imitators, it never crosses the line into self-parodic overkill. Reign in Blood was a stone-cold classic upon its release, and it hasn't lost an ounce of its power today.
Words: Steve Huey
When it comes to death metal, no band is more convincing than Slayer. For other bands, focusing on death, Satanism, the supernatural, and the occult became a cliché; but Slayer's controversial reflections on evil always came across as honest and heartfelt. The group's sincerity is the thing that makes South of Heaven so disturbing and powerful -- when the influential thrashers rip into such morbid fare as "Spill the Blood," "Mandatory Suicide," and "Ghosts of War," they are frighteningly convincing. With their fourth album, Slayer began to slow their tempos without sacrificing an iota of heaviness or incorporating any pop elements. South of Heaven would be Slayer's last album for Def Jam. When Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons (brother of Joseph "Run" Simmons of Run-D.M.C.) parted company, Slayer went to Rubin's new company Def American, while LL Cool J, Slick Rick, and other rappers recorded for Simmons at Def Jam.
Words: Alex Henderson
After staking out new territory with the underrated South of Heaven, Slayer brought back some of the pounding speed of Reign in Blood for their third major-label album, Seasons in the Abyss. Essentially, Seasons fuses its two predecessors, periodically kicking up the mid-tempo grooves of South of Heaven with manic bursts of aggression. "War Ensemble" and the title track each represented opposite sides of the coin, and they both earned Slayer their heaviest MTV airplay to date. In fact, Seasons in the Abyss is probably their most accessible album, displaying the full range of their abilities all in one place, with sharp, clean production. Since the band is refining rather than progressing or experimenting, Seasons doesn't have quite the freshness of its predecessors, but aside from that drawback, it's strong almost all the way from top to bottom (with perhaps one or two exceptions). Lyrically, the band rarely turns to demonic visions of the afterlife anymore, preferring instead to find tangible horror in real life -- war, murder, human weakness. There's even full-fledged social criticism, which should convince any doubters that Slayer aren't trying to promote the subjects they sing about. Like Metallica's Master of Puppets or Megadeth's Peace Sells...but Who's Buying, Seasons in the Abyss paints Reagan-era America as a cesspool of corruption and cruelty, and the music is as devilishly effective as ever.
Words: Steve Huey
There will no doubt be a lot of hoopla concerning the name Slayer have chosen for World Painted Blood. In many ways, it could have been called Reign in Blood Revisited. But the word "revisited " is the key. Some compositions on this new recording have more of the band's early-style melody in them, with lightning flare-up riffs between verses; quick, unexpected guitar pyrotechnics; and blastbeat power drumming from Dave Lombardo (the band's original drummer who returned to the lineup for 2006's Christ Illusion) pushing it all into the red. But there are mannerisms and strategies from the band's later albums at work as well -- even if they are unconsciously employed. Christ Illusion reached deep into Slayer's old bag of tricks to reorient themselves to more speed-based playing after the midtempo records of the late '90s, and there was a fantastic concentration on riffs and call and response between the guitars and rhythm section. On World Painted Blood the focus is more on songs, and therefore the return of the "melodic" aspect of the band's past -- and let's face it, during the classic years Slayer were peerless in that department. The riffs make sense in the context of Tom Araya's sung verses, and so do the considerable beats. Check the opener with its intricate instrumental intro bracing the listener for the eruption of power that follows -- Araya's spoken word interludes notwithstanding. "Americon" combines wah-wah riff heaviness with thundercrack drumming and Araya's downtuned bassline. Check the speed and intense guitar exchanges in "Public Display of Dismemberment" and "Psychopathy Red" for the best evidence of Slayer at their most powerful on this set. Despite great songs and great playing, there are more midtempo tracks here than on Christ Illusion, and Greg Fidelman's production style takes a different tack altogether for this guitar-manic crew. Lombardo's drums are WAAAAAAAY up in the mix, as are Araya's vocals -- you can understand every word, even on the thrashers; the guitars are simply further down in the mix and sometimes it becomes difficult to discern Araya's bass. Therefore, the first listen or two to World Painted Blood might be a bit confusing for the seasoned Slayer fan, but that changes quickly, and the sound of those drums blasting in one's head will become a more than welcome presence in the mix. [There are two other editions of World Painted Blood: the Deluxe Edition comes with a bonus DVD containing a thematic narrative (and disturbing) animated video, and the other one is on vinyl with a copy of the CD enclosed in the sleeve.]
Words: Thom Jurek
Incredibly brutal, God Hates Us All is Slayer's most effective album since Seasons in the Abyss (1990), thanks in large part to Matt Hyde's raw production and a handful of killer songs. The previous few Slayer albums -- Divine Intervention (1994), Undisputed Attitude (1996), and Diabolus in Musica (1998) -- were relatively disappointing, at least for anyone familiar with the band's defining triptych of Reign in Blood (1986), South of Heaven (1988), and Seasons in the Abyss (1990). While God Hates Us All isn't on a par with those classics, without much argument one could call it a return to form for Slayer. A couple "War Ensemble"-style thrashers, "Disciple" and "New Faith," get the album off to vicious start; "Payback" concludes the album likewise. On the other hand, "Bloodline" is a slower-paced, evocative song in the style of "Reign in Blood" and "South of Heaven," including a melodic chorus. These are the highlights of God Hates Us All, and while there are some passable songs sequenced throughout the 13-track album, it's solid and well-balanced overall. Especially since it arrived after a long absence, God Hates Us All should be a relief for long-time Slayer fans who were afraid the band had fallen off during the '90s, and it well may surprise newcomers unfamiliar with the band's prime recordings from the mid- to late '80s.
Words: Jason Birchmeier
By 1998, it seems that Slayer has fully explored the possible variations on their signature style; they've had all the influence and impact they're going to, which means that in order to keep their fans' reverence and critics' respect, it's much more advisable for new Slayer material to offer competent retrenchments rather than experimentation with current trends. And they do indeed follow the former approach on Diabolus in Musica (Latin for "the devil in music"), an album that will certainly please fans while offering little that hasn't been heard before. If Divine Intervention tried (perhaps too hard) to re-create the full-on rush of the classic Reign in Blood, then Diabolus in Musica employs more of the in-between feel of Seasons in the Abyss, albeit with a thicker-sounding production and slightly more emphasis on texture than the formerly almighty riff. It may lack some of the spark and vitality of their 1980s recordings, but it's nothing to be ashamed of either. Even if their liner art keeps getting more and more graphic, the music is still the same old Slayer, and that's pretty much what sellout-wary diehards want to hear.
Words: Steve Huey
The rock & roll landscape changed dramatically between Seasons in the Abyss in 1990 and Divine Intervention in 1994. With the rise of alternative rock, many metal and hard rock bands that had been enormously successful at the dawn of the '90s were struggling by the middle of the decade. Instead of doing something calculated like emulating Nirvana or Pearl Jam -- or for that matter, Nine Inch Nails or Ministry -- Slayer wisely refused to sound like anyone but Slayer. Tom Araya and co. responded to the new environment simply by striving to be the heaviest metal band they possibly could. Less accessible than Seasons but equally riveting, Divine Intervention marked drummer Paul Bostaph's studio debut with the band. Bostaph proved to be a positive, energizing influence on Slayer, which sounds better than ever on such dark triumphs as "Killing Fields," "Serenity in Murder," and "Circle of Beliefs." Characteristically grim and morbid, Slayer focus on the violently repressive nature of governments and the lengths to which they will go to wield power. And true to form, Slayer's music is as disturbing as their lyrics.
Words: Alex Henderson
Decade of Aggression is Slayer's live double disc. It was recorded in 1990 and 1991, with mobile units in Lakeland, FL, at Wembley Arena in London, and in San Bernardino. A live set from this band is risky business because it's Slayer live that gained an international reputation for taking on all comers and ripping them to shreds on a stage. The fear is simply that the audio recording alone -- without the subsequent live DVDs they've issued -- won't capture the sheer overblown intensity of the unit in a concert setting. The bad news is that it doesn't; the good news is that it comes a lot closer than one might imagine before hearing it. It's a double live album that approaches the league of Ted Nugent's Double Live Gonzo!, the Who's Live at Leeds, and the Allman Brothers' At Fillmore East when it comes to representing a band perfectly. This is the original incarnation of Slayer with blastbeat progenitor Dave Lombardo beating hell out of the drum kit, guitarists Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman, and vocalist/bassist Tom Araya. They run through the material on virtually all of their studio albums to that point, going all the way back to 1983's Show No Mercy with the tracks "The Anti-Christ" and "Black Magic." While it's true that the majority of the tunes here come from South of Heaven, Reign in Blood, and Seasons in the Abyss, that's as it should be, reflecting live the band's compositional and overdriven blend of thrash, hardcore, and classic death metal. Producer Rick Rubin stays out of the way; his production seems to be in terms of shaping the live sound to make it sound like this is all one gig. It's exhilarating ("South of Heaven") and exhausting ("Dead Skin Mask"), and by the time they get to "Angel of Death" closing the first disc, most listeners will be drained. That said, disc two is just as furious, with classic Slayer performances of "Born of Fire," "Spirit in Black," and the closer, "Chemical Warfare." Decade of Aggression is a record for any serious Slayer fan to own, and one that serves as a fine -- if excessive -- introduction to any late bloomers out there.
Words: Thom Jurek
If ever a metal band deserved the box set treatment, it's Slayer. Love them or hate them, their accomplishments in the thrash metal subgenre is pretty much unequaled. For over 20 years, Slayer have remained doggedly and stubbornly persistent in their approach to playing the heaviest, loudest, and darkest metal in America. Compare them to the higher profile Metallica and Megadeth, and laugh: Slayer have grown musically without giving an inch to the populace, while the aforementioned bands have become artistically lost in increasingly MOR recordings, and hopelessly entrenched in their popular culture image -- Metallica -- or have imploded altogether -- Megadeth. Many of the Nordic black metal bands owe them their allegiance for influence and sustenance; Slayer broke open the door in America for underground music to be heard outside the small ghetto it began in, without sacrificing its street cred or audience Soundtrack to the Apocalypse's Deluxe Edition is a whopping four CDs and one DVD. Discs one and two feature tracks from Reign in Blood, and all the albums that proceed from it, and includes bonus cuts previously only released in Japan, and cuts from soundtracks -- "In-a-Gadda Da Vida" from Less Than Zero, "Disorder" with Ice-T from the film Judgment Night, "Human Disease" from Bride of Chucky, and more. Disc three is, appropriately, titled Sh*t You Never Heard because that's what it is -- 16 tracks that have been unissued anywhere -- from rehearsals, to in-concert recordings, demos, and one "No Remorse," a collaboration with Atari Teenage Riot, from the Spawn soundtrack. The fourth disc is a DVD of concert recordings, an electronic press kit video for Diabolus in Musica, and an appearance at the Kerrang magazine awards. The first three cuts on the DVD are live in California from 1983, and document Slayer's earliest live appearances. The set comes packaged in standard CD-size format, in a plastic sleeve that folds out into a single rectangle. The enclosed booklet, though smaller in size from the deluxe version's, nonetheless contains dozens of rare photographs, and quotes from the band and media, with fantastic and exhaustive liner notes -- including a full biography and fans' appreciation of the band by Marc Pasche and Eric Braverman. Don't expect either to win a Grammy for liner notes, or for the set to, either. Herein lies a document and a testament to the grand rebel tradition in American underground rock; it will gain no acceptance outside its niche, but that niche is growing, and it is here to stay. This is the very item Slayer fans have been waiting for, and it is worth your hard-earned cash.
Words: Thom Jurek
The reunion of the original Slayer lineup appears for the first time in the studio since 1990's Seasons in the Abyss (a record that topped off one of the great four-album stands in metal history: Hell Awaits, Reign in Blood, and South of Heaven preceded it). Drummer Dave Lombardo's retaking of the drum chair places the band back on the edge, pushing themselves and the genre to look back at where they've been and where they go from here. For a band that has been together as long as Slayer has, they have never made concessions and have stubbornly refused to sound like anyone but themselves. Christ Illusion is a raging, forward-thinking heavy metal melding with hardcore thrash; this is what made them such a breath of fresh air in the first place. And while they no longer sound terrifying, that was never their point anyway. Slayer rips through these ten songs, complete with lightning changes, off-kilter rhythms, and riff invention, together with plodding crescendos, sick-as-hell guitar breaks, and dark, unrelentingly twisted-as-f*ck lyrics that reflect a singular intensity. The big themes on Christ Illusion center on the perverse myth of religion and its responsibility for, and cause of, war. One can talk about the power big-money has at stake in the Middle Eastern havoc, but the root, according to some of these songs, is the culture war between two competing myths, Christianity and Islam, that this time out could result in the apocalypse. On the opener, "Flesh Storm," Tom Araya roars the refrain above the guitars and frantic drumming: "It's all just psychotic devotion/Manipulated with no discretion/Relentless/Warfare knows no compassion/Thrives with no evolution/Unstable minds exacerbate/Unrest in peace...only the fallen have won/Because the fallen can't run/My vision's not obscure/For war there is no cure/So here the only law/Is men killing men/For someone else's cause." Elsewhere, such as "Eyes of the Insane," the story comes in the first person from the point of view of a soldier who is suffering the effects of PTSD, yet he may or may not still be on the battlefield. Lombardo's drums open it slowly, then the Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King guitar gods create an intensely harrowing and angular riff that changes from verse to verse, through the refrain and bridge, and comes back again. Yeah, Slayer actually crafts and writes songs. Check the little skittering vamp that leads into "Jihad," where Lombardo just shimmers his hi-hat before the band begins to enter and twist and turn looking for a place to create a new rhythmic thrash that's the most insane deconstruction of four/four time on tape. The indictment of "holy war" is possible only through the telling of the narrative from a Jihadist's point of view. The blazing, low-tuned heaviness of "Consfearacy" turns the entire principle of patriotism's blind ideals into an evil joke. Araya's voice is mixed way up this time, every utterance is understandable, thanks to producer and mixer Josh Abraham and label boss Rick Rubin. This scathing rejection of religion as the cause for world conflict is best characterized in "Cult." The low-tuned, two-string vamp that slithers into the foreground creates a tension as Lombardo's cymbals call the band into the riff that opens the tune. It's slow, meaty, unrelenting in its tautness. When Araya's voice comes in, the whole track is off the rails and stays there: "Oppression is the holy war/In God I distrust...Is war and greed the Master's plan? The Bible's where it all began/Its propaganda sells despair/And spreads the virus everywhere/Religion Is hate/Religion Is fear/Religion is war...." Whether you agree with Slayer's anti-religion militancy is one thing, but their view that it underscores this war and so many preceding it has to be taken with some seriousness. And musically, they are in a league of their own. Christ Illusion creates an interesting dilemma for people of faith who like heavy metal: the stance against war here is unreproachable, but can one hang with the conflicting point of view that faith in a god is responsible for it? Given the defined presence of the vocals, one cannot simply listen to the voice as another instrument, as in much of heavy metal. One has to deal with the music and the words this time out, and yes, they're printed in the lyric booklet. Christ Illusion is an antiwar record that asks people to think for themselves. At one point Araya makes his choice, "six six six," but even that's in reaction, an irony. Christ Illusion is brilliant, stomping, scorched-earth thrash metal at its best. Lyrically, it may offend people, but getting the listener to think and make choices is what this music is all about. An anti-Christian/anti-Islam/anti-theocratic, antiwar album, Christ Illusion is essential for anyone interested in the genre.
Words: Thom Jurek