Slayer Through the Years

Slayer Through the Years

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Formed in Huntington Park, California in 1981 by guitarists Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman, drummer Dave Lombardo, and vocalist/bassist Tom Araya, Slayer has become one of the most influential/controversial heavy metal bands in existence. “The band’s lyrics and album art, which cover topics such as murderserial killerstorturegenocidehuman experimentationSatanismhate crimesterrorismreligionantireligionNazismracismwar, and prison, have generated album bans, delays, lawsuits, and criticism from religious groups and factions of the general public.” They are part of a group known as the “Big 4” which consists of famous bands Metallica, Megadeth, and Anthrax. Slayer is considered the most extreme of those bands considering the fact that they influenced the entire genre of death metal. This is apparent by the many Slayer songs that have been covered by various death metal bands such as Malevolent Creation, At the Gates, Necrophobic, Vader, Monstrosity, Decapitated, and others. Slayer’s illustrious career came to a close late last year, but their influence on millions of people worldwide has left Slayer a permanent mark in the history books.

Slayer’s first step to significance was signing to Metal Blade Records with Brian Slagel (who also signed death metal legends Cannibal Corpse). With his help, Slayer released their first album Show No Mercy on December 3rd, 1983, a little over four months after Metallica’s monumental first release, Kill Em’ All. Slayer’s first album doesn’t come close to topping Metallica’s first effort in terms of heaviness as Slayer kept their sound rather close to their influences, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. Iron Maiden’s influences especially can be heard on their song “Crionics” which can be best described by YouTube commenter lynchie137 who says, “This song is like Iron Maiden on crack.” There was a lot of experimenting around this time for Slayer, as they were still a new band, and this included what they wore to concerts. Slayer was sporting all the new spiked arm sleeves, spiked leather tops barely counting as clothing, bullet belts, and eyeblack in order to seem as evil as possible. However, Slayer soon realized that wearing these costumes would not make them extreme. They needed the music to speak for itself. After all, Slayer’s purpose was to be the most extreme band on the planet as explained by Tom Araya in that same 1988 interview.

Slayer immediately took their sound to a whole new level when they released their only true EP Haunting the Chapel about a year after Show No Mercy. The first song on the EP, “Chemical Warfare,” showcases what Slayer’s signature sound would become. The riffs were darker, heavier, and thrashier, the vocals were raspier, the lyrics were harsher, the solos were ridiculously fast and dissonant, and the production was less polished to create a raw sound, almost as if they recorded it in a garage. The sound became even rawer on their second album, Hell Awaits, released a half a year later. This album is what influenced all the underground death metal bands to come. The lyrics and album art became more gruesome, as can be seen in the lyrics of “Kill Again.” Tom Araya began using growls as part of his vocal techniques, and the entire album was full of fast, dissonant riffs especially prevalent on songs “Hell Awaits” and “At Dawn They Sleep.” The song “Crypts of Eternity” showcases the evil third and fifth step harmonies that Slayer would become known for in their future.

Fast forward another year, and Slayer releases Reign in Blood, considered by many to be the pinnacle of thrash metal. Loudwire, a website/YouTube channel dedicated to metal, ranked Reign in Blood #2 in their “Top 50 Thrash Metal Albums of All Time” list. Metal Hammer magazine ranked Reign in Blood #1 in their “20 Best Thrash Albums of All Time” list. Kerrang! Magazine, a British weekly magazine dedicated to rock and metal (first issue in 1981), ranked Reign in Blood #1 in their “25 Greatest Thrash Albums Ever” list. Finally, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked Reign in Blood #6 in their “100 Greatest Metal Albums of All Time” list. These rankings are quite impressive, considering that 7 months prior to the release of this album, Metallica’s Master of Puppets was released, and for many at that time, they thought that Master of Puppets was the pinnacle of thrash. Reign in Blood reached #94 on the Billboard 200 chart (the official weekly US album ranker), and surprisingly this is not their most popular album in terms of sales, but certainly a breakthrough album for the wave of hardcore Slayer fans to come. 

Reign in Blood’s success can be attributed to the amazing guitar work on display by both Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King on famous songs such as “Postmortem” and “Raining Blood,” as well as their most infamous song, “Angel of Death.” After the album was released, Slayer got a lot of backlash for making this song, being labeled as Nazi sympathizers as the song talked about the atrocities committed by Josef Mengele during the Holocaust. Jeff Hanneman, the writer of the song, defends himself perfectly by saying, “People mistake exposure for glorification. We tell the world what people do to each other. They should be offended, but not by us.” The success can also be attributed to the work done by producer Rick Rubin. After Hell Awaits, Slayer was ready to move on up to a bigger record label, and drummer Dave Lombardo led the charge by working with Brian Slagel to sign a record deal with Rick Rubin of Def Jam Recordings. Many members of the band were unsure about Lombardo’s decision as Def Jam was known primarily as a hip hop record label, known for working with bands like Run DMC and LL Cool J at the time. Despite the apprehensiveness, Slayer signed with Def Jam Recordings, and Rick Rubin made the executive decision to remove a lot of the reverb out of the guitar tracks on the album, and all of the sudden the songs sounded much punchier and aggressive. Slayer has stated time and time again in many interviews how they had not thought about doing this and Rick Rubin was simply a genius. In late 1986, Dave Lombardo quit the band because of financial issues he had with the band (which is a common theme in his appearances and disappearances throughout the history of the band). However, Rubin was able to convince him to come back in 1987 and tour with the band once more and record more music. 

 Slayer’s next record, South of Heaven, was released on July 5th, 1988, a little less than two years after Reign in Blood. This was a highly anticipated release from Slayer after their success on Reign in Blood but what the fans got was a little unexpected. For the first time in their career, Slayer was not playing ridiculously fast. They slowed down the tempo and focused more on evil-sounding harmonies and heavy palm-muted chugs. In a 1991 MTV interview, Kerry King said, “Right after we did Reign in Blood after we toured for a while we said ‘Man, the next record we gotta do something way slower’ because fast was getting old for us and I didn’t wanna – Jeff or me – neither one wanted to get to the point where we never wanted to play fast again.” The feedback from the fans was mixed, with some absolutely loving this new approach, and some wishing it was faster. Despite it being another great Slayer album, Kerry King describes his performance on the album to be his “most lackluster” because of his recent marriage and move to Phoenix, Arizona at the time stating that he “didn’t participate as much because of that.” Hanneman said, “We go through dry spells sometimes, but the good thing about having two guitar players that can write music is that you are never gonna go without. I guess at that time, Kerry was hitting a dry spell.” King has also described South of Heaven to be one of his least favorite Slayer albums as he felt Tom Araya varied his vocal style too much and “added too much singing.” Ultimately, the album hit #57 on the Billboard 200, making it their best selling record yet, so they were still growing in popularity. 

 Roughly two years later on October 9th, 1990, Slayer was ready to release their new album Seasons in the Abyss which many people describe as Slayer’s most well-rounded album, taking the ideas of speed from Reign in Blood and the slow evil riffs from South of Heaven. For those who don’t consider Reign in Blood to be their favorite album, this would be their favorite because this is Slayer at their peak musicianship (also why it hit #40 on Billboard 200). This album is full of classics such as “War Ensemble” and “Seasons in the Abyss” both of which feature music videos with them, which are the first music videos Slayer had made. In an era where MTV was big, it was surprising to have such a popular band not release a single music video until their fifth record in their career. In a 1990 Headbanger’s Ball interview, when asked why they decided to release a music video almost ten years into their career, Kerry King responded, “Politics,” followed by laughter. Tom Araya responded saying, “Things move a little slow sometimes… so slow that we had to wait until this record to do the video,” followed by laughter as well. Slayer has always put the quality of their music first, and it is why they have remained so popular during their entire career. A year later, Slayer also released their first live album titled Decade of Aggression recorded at the Lakeland Coliseum in Lakeland, Florida. It was recorded to celebrate ten years being a band, and it featured all their most popular tracks. Slayer was still riding an upward trend, but unfortunately what fans knew to be the signature Slayer sound was going to change forever after Dave Lombardo left the band a second time in 1992 due to friction with other band members, particularly Kerry King. 

 Slayer’s impact on the metal community is unparalleled. Metallica may be the most popular metal band ever, influencing the most amount of people, but no other band has inspired as many metalheads as Slayer has to go out and create more extreme forms of music. The Beatles have been attributed to being the band that every rock band in existence has been influenced by, and the same can be said about Slayer to a lot of metal subgenres, especially death and black metal. “Noisey” a part of Vice Magazine released a video on youtube titled, “God, Guns, and Freedom: Noisey Shreds with Slayer.” In the video, the interviewer states that Slayer has “become almost a generational, like, family band” to which Tom Araya responds, “Recently we’ve seen a lot of that. When we do signings and stuff, usually you’ll get a father that comes with a son or a daughter or the whole family and they’re like ‘yeah! I’m gonna pass my Slayer records on down to him.’” A little farther in the video, the interviewer is walking around the streets outside the venue Slayer will be playing at later that day, and she asks a father and son why they love Slayer. The son responds, “Probably the intensity,” and the father responds, “The intensity, ya know, the drums, the guitar, all that’s great but, ya know, to me they represent more than just music it really is more about a way of life.” Despite ending the band late last year, Slayer will be heard for many more years to come, as the “way of life” will be passed down to future generations to come.