Slayer (1981-2019): a Thrash Metal band from Huntington Park, California, USA.
he band that never lost their hard edge and set standards for the thrash metal flavor is Slayer. Although their recording production and lyrical style would mature, they stayed "puritan" to the thrash style from the very beginning, wavering not an inch from it. Very few bands in this extreme form of music ever make it big but Slayer did manage to gain wide popular appeal. Record collectors consider Slayer publications as some of the most valuable and challenging to find because of its extreme sound that caters to a very specific ear.
Originally to be called by their full name Dragon Slayer (the "Dragon" part was quickly, and rightfully so dropped), Slayer formed in 1981 with Tom Araya (bass/vocals; originally a respiratory therapist at the local hospital), founder Kerry King (guitar), Jeff Hannerman (guitar) and Dave Lombardo (drums). Although officially dubbed Slayer they would become known locally as "The Huntington Hooligans".
Slayer's recording debut would be on the 1983 compilation album Metal Massacre III. They got the spot when Brian Slagel (founder of 'Metal Blade Records') saw them play at the Woodstock Club. This led to 'Metal Blade' signing them as was part of the deal struck between the two at the bar, and releasing two albums and an EP, Show No Mercy (1984), Haunting The Chapel EP (1984) and Hell Awaits (1985). Unfortunately, poor production saw much of the album intricacies lost in blasts of Metallic noise. Their redeeming factors, however, was the lyrical excess that that brought in anew era of goriness to music, matched by the power of the drumming and riffing.
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Reign In Blood would follow in 1986 on 'Def-Jam', the first heavy metal album to be published on that label. The album took the idea of thrash to new extremes and featured 10 tracks in 28 minutes. It landed in the US top 100 with tracks like Angel Of Death, which was about Joseph Mengela - the notorious Nazi "Doctor Of Death", as well as the legendary standard-bearer title track Reign In Blood; the result was a sure hit in the heavy metal world. It also raised the ire of the PMRC, but not much missed their notice in this genre during the 1980s. Major label 'CBS' refused to distribute it so 'Def-Jam' handled it alone. Too bad for 'CBS' and the PMRC (Parents Music Resource Center) lobby group for it sold over 500,000 copies and got Slayer their first gold album! Live Undead (1987), however, did not meet the same standards. It was nothing more then a compilation of their earlier works, marking the end of the first phase of their career.
Personal conflicts caused Lombardo to leave to be replaced by Tony Scaglione (ex-Whiplash), but this relationship didn't last and Lombardo returned soon after.
South Of Heaven (1988) corrected more problems with their sound, and saw them slow down and incorporate more bass riffs but still offering plenty of aggression. It was finally a clean production without a question, allowing Araya's vocals to be clearly heard. The album also advanced their writing skills beyond simple blood guts and gore to political issues of war and TV evangelism. It would be Seasons In The Abyss (1990), however, that would put Slayer in the same league as their thrash peers, Metallica. This release would prove to be the band's most skilled production, even if it was deliberately commercial. It mixed both Slayer's old and new style and featured more political tracks against war, as well as Dead Skin Mask, a track influenced by the activities of serial killer Ed Gein. Seasons In The Abyss proved to be their best selling ever by going platinum in the US The double live album, Decade Of Aggression (1991), recorded on their 1990-1991 tenth anniversary tour, would celebrate Slayer's first decade. It would also mark the end of their relationship with Lombardo, who was apparently kicked out and subsequently formed his own outfit, Grip Inc. Paul Bostaph (ex-Forbidden) would step in to take his place by invite from the band.
In 1994 Slayer worked with Ice-T on the Judgement Night soundtrack by performing a cover of The Exploited's Disorder. Their sixth release would be Divine Intervention (1994), once again a heavy record and the most promoted of their discography. Finally Slayer had harnessed their sound and achieved a US top 10 (making 8). SS-3 was the track that received the most controversy by rearing the ugly head of nazi-ism again. It would be Max Cavelera of Sepultura who threw the first verbal punch this time by accusing them of such, with members of Slayer likewise retorting live on a French TV show; it all became a media spectacle. Ever since their Reign In Blood album, Slayer had been accused of courting the neo-nazi crowd with many neo-nazi groups supporting that claim. Truth is, Slayer never did, but SS-3 once again covered that subject, this time about S.S. Hangman Reinhard Heydrich. The album's act two was the controversy over a picture on the inner sleeves of the CD depicting the arm of a devoted fan that scraped "SLAYER" into his bloody arm. It was discovered other fans had done similar acts of mutilation.
The follow-up would be covers of punk rock tributes called Undisputed Attitude (1996). Although featuring covers, Undisputed Attitude featured three new Slayer tracks titled Can't stand you, Drunk Drivers Against Mad Mothers (DDAMM) and Gemini. The former two were originally written by Hanneman for a punk rock side project he proposed in 1994 that never materialized. Two tribute albums to Slayer would also emerge around this time titled Slatanic Slaughter I & II (1995 & 1996 respectively), but it wouldn't be until 1998 when Slayer offered something new in the form of Diabolos In Musika, which was so named when they had learned that their music was played in a scale ('E' to be exact) that had been forbidden as evil by the church in the 1700s.
The Diabolos In Musika effort would be without Bostaph, however, who left the heavy metal genre to join the band The Truth About Seafood; ex-Testament drummer Jon Dette would replace him. But Dette's tenure with the band would be a short one with Bostaph returning to the fold in time for God Hates Us All, their 2001 release. Although unconfirmed at time of writing, apparently Bostaph would depart again at the end of 2001 with Lombardo (ex-Slayer/ex-Testament/ex-Grip Inc.) standing in for the tour, but this relationship is likely only temporary until a permanent replacement is found. After an extended break from any releases, Slayer would return in 2006 after a 5 year break with Christ Illusion and World Painted Blood (2009) featuring the original band membership. The Big 4 Live From Sofia, Bulgaria came in 2010, a live album featuring them with Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax.
In early 2011, Hanneman contracted necrotizing fasciitis (the "flesh eating disease") on his arm believed to be contracted from an insect bite (presumably a spider). Since he was unable to play, the band decided to play their upcoming tour dates without him; Gary Holt (of Exodus was the temporary replacement, while Cannibal Corpse guitarist Pat O'Brien filled in during that tour in Europe. On April 23, 2011, at the American Big 4 performance in Indio, California, Hanneman did return to the band to play the final two songs of their set, South of Heaven and Angel of Death; this would be his final live performance with the band. Although he continued to work with them in the studio and survived the disease, it would be another illness, liver failure caused by alcohol-related cirrhosis, that finally got him on May 2, 2013.
In February 2013, Lombardo was fired moments before Slayer was to play at Australia's Soundwave festival due to an argument with band members over a pay dispute. Jon Dette returned to fill in for him for the show; Paul Bostaph rejoined the band in May.
Although he did not contribute to the song-writing, Gary Holt returned to Slayer as a permanent member to replace Hanneman for the 2015 release of Repentless.
January 2018 saw Slayer announce their farewell tour, a tour whose final leg would take place in late 2019. On December 2, 2018, Holt announced that he would not perform the remainder of the band's European part of the tour to be with his dying father; Vio-lence and former Machine Head guitarist Phil Demmel would fill in.
Slayer is an act cut from the same cloth as all of the influential early '80s thrashers, their latest releases, however, have proven to be less influential with a "been there done that" feel. During the later albums attempts at adopting a 'nu-metal' pattern have not panned out and Slayer returned to their true 'thrasher' roots on their latest. No less heavy and traditional to their style, it is clear their creative peak and influential period may be over.
Footnote: Would the real Slayer please stand up? Around the time that Araya and friends were starting out, another group from Texas named "Slayer" was also fighting for the same thrash style music market, they are listed separate in this encyclopedia as Slayer (Texas, USA).
In 2007, Slayer won a Grammy for the single, Eyes of the Insane in the category of Best Metal Performance.
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American band Slayer at the Fields of Rock festival, June 2007.
Photo by: Francis.
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