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History & Biography


There was a revolution afoot in heavy metal in late 1983 and early 1984. The most extreme branch of music was undergoing a transformation which would make the previous generation sound normal and mainstream in comparison. Leading the charge was Los Angeles’ Slayer and its debut album, Show No Mercy. The title could be taken literally.
There are no words to describe the overwhelming feeling of evil and power that permeated the scene in general and the individual listener once Show No Mercy would be played on the record player. This was something new, something different and the whole paradigm was about to change. Everyone into heavy metal knew it.
Add to the extremeness, the speed, the heaviness, the edge, the aura of danger embedded in the riffs, the foreboding menace of the vocals, the ultra-Satanic lyrics which made the previous generation of devil worshippers sound like a bunch of dowagers on a trip to church on Sunday and the blood was on the wall. Slayer is the final word in heavy metal. Slayer knew exactly how to interplay a rhythm guitar with a lead axe, combine high and low vocals, throw one heavy rhythm change after the other and sing the praises of Lucifer in poetry. That is how it turned out in 1984 when a friend spinned the LP on the turn table.
Show No Mercy explodes with Evil Has No Boundaries and a blood-curdling scream. The song has the album’s best chant ('Eviiiilll') and establishes the tone of devilish savagery. The Antichrist is a classic in cruel catchiness and a band mainstay. Die By The Sword features higher screams, a great guitar rhythm and amazing fast/heavy guitar interplay. The time change a minute into the track is not to be denied. Fight Till Death is more power, more destructive drumming and an early example of crazed use of bass drums. Interestingly, drummer Dave Lombardo would complain years later that engineer Bill Metoyer had recorded the toms and the rest of the drums separately. One would be foolish not to believe the band’s insistence, “to reign in hell”. Hear the guitar feedback under singer Tom Araya’s dry scream. Metal Storm/Face The Slayer is a combination instrumental and lyriced song with the former betraying an NWOBHM feel (on speed) and the latter both self referencing and narrating a night of Luciferian doom. Black Magic is another of the songs to which the band still treats its audience and another album classic. Listen for the trade-offs, the bass guitar and infectious melody akin to the grip of evil. Tormentor is a title that will soon be copied many times. The same could be said of the Slayer trademarked soloing one hears on the track and the rest of the album of course. Final Command is neither the last song nor the only time the phrase is used on the album. Fight Till Death features the line, “Reign of death what is the final command” earlier on the LP. The song narrates the story of Nazis and their war tactics and is a harbinger of one of the band’s favourite themes. The song’s speed certainly lends to the feeling of a blitzkrieg. The Final Command is delivered in 2:32 minutes, although other bands would probably complete it in ten. Such is the band’s speed and the wealth of riffs on each song. Crionics (sic) is the band’s most under-rated track ever. The nearly instrumental song has the speed, originality, high screams and brutality to be a classic and is about the notion that a terminally diseased person can be frozen until a cure becomes available. The album ends with the title track. This is really fast and crushing (again). The band ends the album as it begun, namely in rapid-fire style.
Slayer’s Show No Mercy is timeless and the model for all thrash metal albums to come. It would immediately seize the throne from Metallica whose debut album, Kill 'Em All, had emerged half a year earlier, establish the band as the world’s most extreme, scare the competition and Christians alike and etch itself into metal minds world-wide. The CD re-release has a few edits and is not true to the LP’s liner notes and designs and even mixes up the order of the lyrics. Furthermore, some versions depict red flames instead of orange and so forth, but the music will never be denied.
To paraphrase an old fan, Show No Mercy is true evil. One doesn’t have to be in the mood for it. It puts one in the right mood as soon as it is in play. - Ali “The Metallian”

Slayer has two things in common with Metallica. The band’s debut album came out in 1983 and the group is from Los Angeles. The two bands were among the first thrash metal acts in the United States, but the parallels end there. Metallica never had an occult or Satanic image, while Slayer had plenty of it. The opener’s title Evil Has No Boundaries says it all. In a frenzy of double-bass drums and guitars, Tom Araya sings about “blasting his way through the boundaries of hell”, and this topic continues in songs like The Antichrist, Die By The Sword, Fight Till Death, Metal Storm/Face The Slayer and especially on the album’s highlight Black Magic (a band classic). The riffs in this song are vintage Slayer, and only Iced Earth (though more power metal than thrash) have ever come close to creating a similarly dense atmosphere with different riff segments and fast alternate picking. Tormentor, The Final Command and Crionics are a bit weaker, but the title track is a killer again. This album is a must-have for thrash fans, but the band’s Reign In Blood is even better. - Andreas Herzog

Slayer’s third album (released in 1986 and produced by Rick Rubin) was immediately hailed as one of the most brutal metal recordings of all time. The album has a total playing time of just 29 minutes, only the opener Angel Of Death (4:50) and the title track Raining Blood (4:23) exceed the three-minute mark, while the rest are well below that mark. Still, this is not punk, but thrash. The vocals feature hardly any grunts or growls, but mostly screams and fierce mid-range singing. This is what sets Slayer apart from bands like Pestilence - their vocals are a lot easier to understand, which is a bad thing for the opener Angel Of Death. The song was and still is heavily criticized for glorifying Nazi experiments in Auschwitz. Yet, has anyone ever taken Slayer seriously? Like Venom, the band is pure image, although light years ahead in technique. Just listen to the music and ignore the stupid lyrics. The shorter songs are all good and feature unique riffs, but you cannot write much about them except quote some of the generally sarcastic lyrics (“The only way to exit is going piece by piece”). Postmortem blends over into Raining Blood (a nice pun on the album title), which features a sampled thunderstorm and some of the most creative Slayer riffs and solos ever. No other thrash band has since surpassed the album’s level of aggressiveness and brutality. - Andreas Herzog

Reign In Blood was one hell of an album for Slayer to have to follow up. What makes Slayer great is that instead of doing the wrong thing, which would be to try and make Reign In Blood again, or go even faster, they made probably the best decision of their career and added different tempos, longer songs, and more ideas to their sound for South Of Heaven. This resulted in one of the best thrash albums around.
But screw history. The real question is, is South Of Heaven worth getting? And the answer is yes. It's not as good as its predecessor, but hey, what is? It's definitely as good as Seasons In The Abyss, and it's better then Show No Mercy. What makes South Of Heaven great is that they were able to build and expand on their sound with losing their trademark cutthroat brutality. Each song has its own new idea to bring to the table, which is something you can't say about Reign In Blood, and some of them are just plain phenomenal. Like the title track or Live Undead or Mandatory Suicide. That's why they're Slayer.
And it's got a bunch of those Slayer Moments too, you know, those moments that are just so Slayer that it's perfect. For instance, the drum fill leading into the guitar break in Angel Of Death or the phrase "modulistic terror". There's some of those here, and they're just great. Slayer at their peak were one of the tightest, most brutal bands around, and this album lives up to that. I'd say the only problem would be Tom Araya's voice, which definitely isn't as good as it was on Hell Awaits and Reign In Blood. I dunno, on those albums he had something no one else did, like he was spitting out his lyrics. His tone isn't quite as good here.
But really, this is honest-to-God Slayer at the peak of their powers. The Lombardo plays some incredible stuff, King and Hanneman shred, and it really is just awesome. Definitely worth getting if you're into thrash, and honestly, you should be. - Max V.