The musical ancestors of death metal, Slayer mixed lightspeed punk simplicity with the majestic architectures of NWOBHM to create the evolving structural language of speed metal. The resulting foreboding, evil, subversive tunes worked against the normative impulse of the society around them.
flag of the United States Slayer - Show No Mercy (1983)
Slayer - Haunting the Chapel (1984)
Slayer - Hell Awaits (1985)
Slayer - Reign in Blood (1986)
Slayer - South of Heaven (1988)
Slayer - Seasons in the Abyss (1991)
Slayer - Divine Intervention (1994)
Slayer - Undisputed Attitude (1996)
Slayer - Diabolus in Musica (1998)
Slayer - God Hates Us All (2001)
Slayer - Christ Illusion (2006)
Slayer - World Painted Blood (2009)
Show No Mercy
Metal Blade

Production: Warm rigid guitars over a spectral but surgical drum presence in the background, a slightly echoed voice arched into the mix. The 1990s remasters have crisper, louder sound at the price of digital lossiness on drums and tone (the original version is superior).

Review: Coming after punk bands perfected the tremolo strum, Slayer helped invent the music behind death metal in this groundbreaking fusion of epic heavy metal with hardcore punk. Urgent surly howled vocals color the driving guitar rhythm hurled forward on precision pursuit beats which surge with violence through a sequence of linear structures to support protean riff shape mutations, like most of death metal to follow holding together through the interlocked narrative of simple abstract structures.

1. Evil Has No Boundaries (3:09)
2. The Antichrist (2:49)
3. Die By The Sword (3:37) mp3 sample
4. Fight Till Death (3:38)
5. Metal Storm/Face the Slayer (4:53)
6. Black Magic (4:03) mp3 sample
7. Tormentor (3:45)
8. The Final Command (2:33) mp3 sample
9. Crionics (3:29)
10. Show No Mercy (3:06)
Length: 35:04

Slayer - Show No Mercy - Death Metal/Speed Metal 1983 Metal Blade
Copyright © 1983 Metal Blade

What makes this music breathtaking is what makes death metal intriguing: how riffs follow one another and at first seem contorted and angular in their abstraction, but fuse together into an organic form of ring composition that builds like a snowball, adding layers until it explodes in classic metal denouement with a concluding riff that unites motives in a sense of epic contrast, or "heaviness."

Slayer fuse the surging power riffing of punk Discharge or D.R.I. with the graceful and majestic longer phrasal riffs of NWOBHM bands like Iron Maiden or Judas Priest, expressing as if in poetry a journey between points of awareness without ever referencing the individual having that experience. Slayer adapt nihilistic, centerless phrases into moveable pieces which fit into each song like a codex, underlined with a sense of melody as the basis for structure, much as how Mozart's pieces boiled down to a child's song at the heart of thundering complexity.

Abstracting basic relationships of music to states of intense tension in opposition, Slayer surgically manipulate note position and strumming rhythm, creating simultaneously a style of phrase building and a technique for embedding ambient rhythm: high-speed strumming of notes or basic power chords to shape columnar structures of sustained harmonic intensity, like a tremelo in the liquid overwash spaciotemporal haze of LSD. Component riff structures pair and evolve, splitting to form transitional riffs that abruptly alter context, placing previously heard riffs into a new silhouette of meaning.

Escaping the idea of fixed patterns of scale and harmony, Slayer reconstruct music by pairing melody with phrase shape and make a new language of it; it breathes a raw power that makes us want to find beauty in darkness and horror, and even more to re-inhabit a world possessed by such things so we can experience its unchained will. Like simple vectors of this transcendent vision, each song is a nihilistic gestalt formed of structural similarity to nature that bypasses the human perspective for the freedom of a chaotic, resonant, living system of metaphor emerging unfettered to evoke our imaginations.

Haunting the Chapel
Metal Blade

Production: Practice room muted and distorted production produces nonetheless a nice atmosphere, despite lack of clarity on guitar and ill-distinguished bass and drums.

Review: Showing the heavy metal traces of earlier works fuse more easily into the less rockish future, Haunting the Chapel revels in the power of combined primitive punk styles and the more flamboyant excesses of heavy metal to create primal extremity with simple but organized and artistically relevant music.

The EP opens with "Chemical Warfare," a classic three-chord song paced with emotion and violence in a story of human helplessness in the face of alien manipulation and, eventually, chemical genocide. In a citation of older Black Sabbath lyrics, Slayer have Satan laughing consume the victims of this toxic holocaust, putting a mythological or perhaps even gnostic significance on top of petty human combat.

1. Chemical Warfare (6:01) mp3 sample
2. Captor of Sin (3:30)
3. Haunting The Chapel (3:56) mp3 sample
4. Aggressive Perfector (3:28) mp3 sample
Length: 16:57

slayer haunting the chapel
Copyright © 1983 Metal Blade

After that "Captor of Sin," an archetypal early Slayer song, trudges and bashes through its paces, followed by "Haunting the Chapel," a dark epic masterpiece of gloom. Through all of these songs insurgent energy, rebellious intellect, and miscreant uprising permeate as a method of living.

The remastered version of this release concludes with "Aggressive Perfector," a Judas Priest style composition from their early career. Moving more slowly than their stirring live performances of this work, the recording here sounds more like their heavy metal influences but the rest of the EP is excellent, high-class work which reveals the developing intellect of a groundbreaking metal band.

Hell Awaits
Metal Blade

Production: Representative of the production values of the time the soundstyling here captures the essence of guitars, drums, bass and then kicks the voice out over the top, this time with a chilly overtone of echo.

Review: Fast and terrifying violent music fused from the alienated self-contrast of thrash and the accelerating rhythms of extreme speed and black metal, Slayer came hybrized but full of vigor. The clean-sung but entrenched, riot-shouted vocals of Tom Araya guide a pugilistic network of respondent drumbeats upholding a harangue of ambient fast-strummed riffs and nervous, erratic, chaotic metaspoken lead guitar.

Noise-based as much of the lead guitar pyrocuneiform is, the power of Slayer's composition is to amplify a simple virus through breakdown into multiple variations of a core rhythm in architectural riffs built from fragmented scales and basic harmonic ideas to emphasize basic mathematical concepts behind the apocalyptic lyrics and budding nihilistic aesthetic. Even the faster songs and the savage self-combative moments of self-conflicted rhythm carry a complexity borrowed from the progressive rock gods of the previous generation and the metal masters who bestowed their creations with the complex metaphorical language of imagination.

1. Hell Awaits (6:15)
2. Kill Again (4:56)
3. At Dawn They Sleep (6:17) mp3 sample
4. Praise of Death (5:20)
5. Necrophiliac (3:46)
6. Crypts of Eternity (6:38) mp3 sample
7. Hardening of the Arteries (4:00) mp3 sample
Length: 37:14

Slayer - Hell Awaits - Death Metal 1985 Metal Blade
Copyright © 1985 Metal Blade

Rhythmic emphasis comes entirely through guitars, which lead drums because the linear complexity tracking of the song moves fluidly through the variations of riffing which migrate, ambient, through patterns over the percussive components of the song, allowing drums to maintain greater simplicity and to unleash guitars to freedom of voicing over predictable rhythm upholding self-defined major components of each song. Slayer's composition is often called chromatic, meaning that it uses linear scales, but more appropriately it is nihilistic: a note or chord becomes the basis for invention of new recombinant pieces of information, creating a self-specialized centerless evolutionary compositional space for the conception of each song.

Nihilism pervades also the virulent lyrics and the haphazard, almost careless method with which guitarists K. King and J. Hanneman drop into a solo and work it through motions of noise toward architectural clarity. Slayer's obssession with the seat of control of violence and death, as well as from the alienated methodology of their major ancestors in hardcore and thrash creates musical nihilism not as aesthetic but origin. Without pretense they wrest beauty from the essential deconstruction of music, and from that beauty they create romantic epics of despair and oblivion that influenced all metal, and much of popular music, to follow.

Reign in Blood
Def Jam

Production: Simple, unfiddled-with but crisp production.

Review: At some point in the career of every metal band, the temptation to create an epic album emerges, and Slayer fulfill one vision of it with this short and intense blast which defined the songwriting style for the coming generation of death metal. Framed between two epic songs with melodic underpinnings, the bulk of this album are ripping speed anthems which make use of the tremolo strum to create phrasal riffs, eschewing the muted strum rhythm-riding riffs popularized by speed metal at the time.

1. Angel of Death (4:51) mp3 sample
2. Piece by Piece (2:02)
3. Necrophobic (1:41)
4. Altar of Sacrifice (2:50)
5. Jesus Saves (2:55) mp3 sample
6. Criminally Insane (2:22)
7. Reborn (2:12)
8. Epidemic (2:23)
9. Postmortem (3:27) mp3 sample
10. Raining Blood (4:16)
Length: 28:25

Slayer - Reign in Blood: Death metal 1986 Def Jam
Copyright © 1986 Def Jam

Instead of gaining power from rhythmic expectation, this album gains strength from riding its texture in a continuous blur where change comes from the phrases themselves, making each like a sigil a leitmotif in its own right which appears as the song narrates a change in thought from the perspective of the listener as a participant in events unconcerned with that listener's survival. As a result, this album has the feel of a travelogue through hell, in which successive horrors and denunciations of false innate value cartwheel past in a deepening mood of horror, aggression and reverence.

With the liberation of song structure that comes from entirely riff-based music, Slayer approach Ornette Coleman's free jazz ideal that "the pattern for a tune, for instance, will be forgotten and the tune itself will be the pattern" but do so not through randomness but intensely structured, ritualistically planned songs that encode themselves in noise but distill down to a clarity of change in experience expressed like poetry as an ironic reversal evolving into a higher context which places their initial state in a new and restorative light. Songs are journeys from the most elemental of riffs through a sequence of motives commenting on those riffs, through the changing phrase shape changing the context which gives them meaning, and in doing so altering the meaning of the song.

As with earlier Slayer work, the frenetic lead guitars that sound like bats unleashed over a twilight horizon are there, and vocalist Tom Araya hounds us with his most terrifying scream, all to the expert cadences of drummer Dave Lombardo, but these elements are intensified by their careful placement in these thoughtful but effortless songs. Emblematic of the album in both music and nihilism is the first track, "Angel of Death," which without judgment reveals the horror in history -- and revels in how intense the possibilities it suggests are, completely reversing conventional morality as easily as this band have reversed heavy metal and pointed it like an arrow toward the heavens.

South of Heaven
Def Jam

Production: Slim and full, not sterile yet clean.

Review: The most darkly imposing of the Slayer albums, South of Heaven achieves a demonic sound through a breakdown of music to pure patterning, in which harmony serves a dark spirit rising only occasionally from the ripping chromatic riffs and chaotic solos that surge from one end of the spectrum to the other conducted by ingenious reinvention of inertia. The musical style lingers toward the more abstract end of the speed metal and death metal movements, with fast riffing that presages the work of Morbid Angel and Massacra balanced by intricate lead riffing in which grand visual aspects to a rhythmic sequence of notes are established.

1. South of Heaven (4:58)
2. Silent Scream (3:06) mp3 sample
3. Live Undead (3:50)
4. Behind the Crooked Cross (3:14)
5. Mandatory Sucide (4:05)
6. Ghosts of War (3:53) mp3 sample
7. Read Between the Lies (3:20)
8. Cleanse the Soul (3:02) mp3 sample
9. Dissident Aggressor (2:35)
10. Spill the Blood (4:51)
Length: 36:57

South of Heaven by Slayer was a formative mature speed/death metal album for many Hessians in 1988
Copyright © 1988 Def Jam

Nearly mystical in its hypnotic surging of rhythm and disturbingly abrupt shaping of sound, this album gains its technicality from the adept rhythmic changes and precision it employs, fashioning its own earful from power chords and forthright fretboard patterns under muffled strum. Tom Araya's spread vocals drape over the percussive foundations of each phrase, expanding as the rapid but detailed in texture drumming of Dave Lombardo accompanies movement in tone and impact. Dual rhythm/lead guitarists not only sketch individual portions of the riffscape but provide a spatial depth to the use of tone in soloing.

The end result is straightforward, extreme metal with a distant hardcore background that is used to construct truly placeless and centerless riffs, in which motion becomes the creator of pattern and pattern defines tonal shape and thus any harmonic characteristics the song will have as arrayed in narrative, making an undeniable rhythm move with a careful and compact integration of drum patterns and guitar motion. A cover of Judas Priest's "Dissident Aggressor" fits in revealingly well among these basic sonic motions in complicated arrangements with an unyielding energy only tamed, not muted.

Slayer were an important connective tissue of metal, bringing together the most disturbed neo-prog NWOBHM concepts and the most extreme minimalist conceptions of music from hardcore and crossover, creating an aesthetic foundation upon which other artists built, most notably in the death metal movement, producing a palette of techniques added to the voices of popular music. Slayer's influence can be found in the choice of classical music presented to young people, the riffs of over 100,000 metal bands, and the pirate radio stations in countries under collapsing democracy.

This album shows a clear lexicon of Slayer styles, but like the later albums from formative heavy metal bands, attempts to pattern in deliberate musical action what in youth had become too emotively uncontrolled music. Dreaded maturity? That and raging spirit toward making songs of Hell.

Seasons in the Abyss

Production: Turgid and strong, surface-level treatment.

Review: Falling into a midlife crisis, a somewhat reluctant Slayer returns with an album that is powerful in its emotive instinct but unfocused in its construction and theme, producing an ambivalence and a sometimes forced aggression mixed in its urgency. Songs eschew some of the subtlety of previous releases, preferring to whip out the powerful riffing right away and use like grindcore bands longer even phrases of whole intervals and longer chromatic extensions to rhythm riffs.

The bulk of the music as in previous Slayer albums is the adept riffing of Hanneman and King interlaced with the spacious but precise drumming of Dave Lombardo holding a quick perceptual framework over the changing narrative of the music. Tom Araya attacks his vocals with a more consistent aggression and attempts melodic radio sleekness during the start of the second side, but this is restrained by a seemingly iconographic imperative of rushing speed and E power chord chomping on the downstroke.

1. War Ensemble (4:52)
2. Blood Red (2:50)
3. Spirit In Black (4:07) mp3 sample
4. Expendable Youth (4:10)
5. Dead Skin Mask (5:17) mp3 sample
6. Hallowed Point (3:24)
7. Skeletons Of Society (4:41)
8. Temptation (3:26)
9. Born Of Fire (3:08) mp3 sample
10. Seasons In The Abyss (6:32)
Length: 42:31

Slayer - Seasons in the Abyss 1991 death metal
Copyright © 1991 American

The bottom line is an onslaught of sonic distortion that is capped and highlighted by its chaotic solos, twisting through a wasteland of abrupt two-string chord barrage and a rippling roar of unleashed tremolo strumming. This hummingbird wingbeat technique allows Slayer to achieve a simple harmonizing effect as Discharge did in 1982, making a searing connection between notes that emphasizes their melody without detracting from rhythm and power riffing.

While this album carries all the basic elements of the Slayer formula, it loses some of the momentum and wisdom behind previous choices, creating an album that was not fully ready and not really where the band wanted to take their music, but still a strong contender in the way the late middle albums of Iron Maiden remained solid despite some disorganization. This was the last of the Slayer albums to contain any strength of will or spirit, so it is romanticized by many, yet seems in some ways a removal from the intensity of previous Slayer attempts which so profoundly influenced death metal as an emerging genre.

Slayer - Divine Intervention - Death Metal 1995 American Recordings

1. Killing Fields (3:57)
2. Sex, Murder, Art (1:51)
3. Fictional Reality (3:37) mp3 sample
4. Dittohead (2:31)
5. Divine Intervention (5:34)
6. Circle of Beliefs (4:29)
7. SS-3 (4:07) mp3 sample
8. Serenity in Murder (2:36)
9. 213 (4:52)
10. Mind Control (3:05) mp3 sample
Length: 36:41

Divine Intervention (American Recordings 1994)
The tight speed metal structuring of Seasons in the Abyss gives way to a restatement of older albums using a style designed to fit into the evolving market of later speed metal, which ditched the complex and bizarre song structures for stable riffs with chorus changes and a bridge or two before a concluding riff. Many of these riffs resemble previous material. Tom Araya sings in an overdriven sung shout similar to that of James Hetfield, and lyrical concepts center around horrors and extremity instead of metaphor. Probably it was hard for Slayer to watch Metallica and Pantera rise where arguably Slayer should have been, and this album is a tight competitor in that arena. "Simple, fast" and with shock value, these songs keep the volume high and the tempo driving but do not peel back the conscious mind like previous Slayer works.

1. Disintegration / Free Money (Verbal Abuse cover) (1:41)
2. Verbal Abuse / Leeches (Verbal Abuse cover) (1:57)
3. Abolish Government / Superficial Love (T.S.O.L. cover) (1:47)
4. Can't Stand You (1:27)
5. Ddamm (1:01)
6. Guilty Of Being White (Minor Threat cover) (1:06) mp3 sample
7. I Hate You (Verbal Abuse cover) (2:16)
8. Filler / I Don't Want To Hear It (Minor Threat cover) (2:28)
9. Spiritual Law (D.I. cover) (2:59)
10. Mr. Freeze (Dr. Know cover) (2:23)
11. Violent Pacification (D.R.I. cover) (2:37) mp3 sample
12. Richard Hung Himself (D.I. cover) (3:21)
13. I'm Gonna Be Your Dog (The Stooges cover) (2:58) mp3 sample
14. Gemini (4:53)
Length: 32:54

Undisputed Attitude (American, 1996)
As a way of drawing a line between their past and future, Slayer go back to their roots -- or rather, half their roots, since "British heavy metal and punk is what we are," as Jeff Hanneman said prophetically at the time. These high-speed covers of punk songs sound boxy in the hands of these immensely competent musicians, with their sloppiness and swing replaced by a precision strike that turns them into a more foreboding, less human version of what they once were. In addition, their song structures seem hollow, although we can see influences on Slayer with some of the riff-centric structural tributaries that interrupt the verse-chorus staple of punk. Three new Slayer tunes written in the style of actual "thrash," or that punk/metal hybrid from the early 1980s, round out the mix with a more muscular voice as if trying to show us how these songs sounded in the fertile imagination of a younger Slayer. Among other things, this CD gives Slayer purists half of the shopping list they need to understand this vital band, with KISS, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Venom rounding out the rest.

1. Bitter Peace (4:32)
2. Death's Head (3:29) mp3 sample
3. Stain of Mind (3:24) mp3 sample
4. Overt Enemy (4:41)
5. Perversions of Pain (3:30)
6. Love to Hate (3:05)
7. Desire (4:18)
8. In the Name of God (3:38)
9. Scrum (2:18)
10. Screaming from the Sky (3:12) mp3 sample
11. Point (4:12)
Length: 40:19

Diabolus in Musica (American, 1998)
Approximating some ideas from new bands who rose while Slayer was enduring fifteen years in the music business, this new album features riffs that sound more like later death metal during verses, and chanted choruses over bouncy riffs that are more like what Metallica was shipping five years previous. A few chords create motion, and then the riff rides a single chord in a single rhythm to allow drums and vocals to take center stage, accomodating a new vocal style that incorporates more melody and a compositional style that is more like rock in its use of rhythmic expectation. This combination of foreboding riffs and jaunty emotional choruses transitions Slayer toward the cutting edge of nu-metal where it meets the underground, and shifts into the public eye an album that may not delight fans of the older material but approximates what a younger audience recognize as the norm.

1. Darkness of Christ (1:30)
2. Disciple (3:36) mp3 sample
3. God Send Death (3:46)
4. New Faith (3:05)
5. Cast Down (3:27) mp3 sample
6. Threshold (2:29)
7. Exile (3:56)
8. Seven Faces (3:41) mp3 sample
9. Bloodline (3:37)
10. Deviance (3:09)
11. War Zone (2:46)
12. Here Comes the Pain (4:32)
13. Payback (3:05)
Length: 42:39

God Hates Us All (American, 2001)
Continuing the quest to meld the old with the new, Slayer mix the melodic riffing of European speed metal bands like Destruction with a rock-rhythm take on older Metallica, making their most listenable album ever albeit at the expense of the topographic power of their older, more discursive song structures. The rhythms on this CD are jubilant, provocative, and more akin to heavy metal and rock than death metal, which in turn causes riffs to mutate more toward the later speed metal ideal (think: Pantera) of a bouncy chord and a rippling, offtime melodic fill. The arch vastness and epic grandeur of previous albums has been replaced by a gritty confrontation like protestors shouting among the tear gas while large machines collide nearby.

1. Flesh Storm (4:16) mp3 sample
2. Catalyst (3:09)
3. Skeleton Christ (3:25)
4. Eyes of the Insane (3:32)
5. Jihad (3:30) mp3 sample
6. Consfearacy (3:09)
7. Catatonic (4:53)
8. Black Serenade (2:58)
9. Cult (4:42) mp3 sample
10. Supremist (3:51)
Length: 38:42

Christ Illusion (American, 2006)
Somewhat of a return to form, this album shows Slayer trying to mix the styles of Diabolus in Musica with older material in the vein of Divine Intervention and Seasons in the Abyss. The result is a rushing linebacker assault of fast chord changes and slamming, skid-stop rhythms announcing the return of drummer Dave Lombardo, who knows how to seat an offtime phrase within a dead-mans-hand cadence, then top it off with a fill that crushes its own rhythmic expectation with a structure like the silent falling of buildings under a nuclear shockwave. From newer albums, Slayer keep the jaunty bounce and two-chord rhythm riffs, but into it they adroitly mix their older lead guitar fills, chaotic solos and song structures that seem displaced by internal earthquakes. Near-quotations from older riffs and solos pop up periodically. It's a difficult balance, trying to keep older fans happy while adding the contemporary rock/metal hybrid known as "nu-metal," but Slayer pull it off as well as anyone can.

Slayer - World Painted Blood

1. World Painted Blood (5:53) mp3 sample
2. Unit 731 (2:39)
3. Snuff (3:42)
4. Beauty Through Order (4:36)
5. Hate Worldwide (2:55)
6. Public Display of Dismemberment (2:34) mp3 sample
7. Human Strain (3:09)
8. Americon (3:22)
9. Psychopathy Red (2:26)
10. Playing With Dolls (4:13) mp3 sample
11. Not of This God (4:20)
Length: 39:49

World Painted Blood (American, 2009)
For any artist, finding a voice may be the hardest task. Trying to unite what needs to be expressed with a form, and the conventions that will cushion specific artistic statements in the familiar, defines how that artist is known to fans. Early Slayer had mythological Satanism and a hatred of a world that used God as an excuse to check out and ignore reality; starting with Divine Intervention, the band launched into a more literal direction and have been struggling to find their artistic voice ever since. With World Painted Blood, Slayer find a voice in this new style, and while this is their best album since Seasons in the Abyss, it shies away from the prog-influenced complex song structures of early Slayer and sticks with the verse/chorus construction of Divine Intervention and beyond. However, it also loses the nu-metal bounce, ranting Pantera-style choruses, and other conventions Slayer have tried out and kicked to the curb in the past. It's like a slimmed-down, simplified Seasons in the Abyss made to compete with the later albums from Metallica and Megadeth, using the speed metal pace, the distinctive Slayer style of riffing (indeed, you can hear quotes from Hell Awaits, Reign in Blood and South of Heaven in the new songs) and the infallable pop song structure of verse/chorus/bridge, where in this case the bridge is an interlude defined by rhythmic and dynamic contrast. This new album is important because it's Slayer finding a style they can work with, and conveniently, this style is closest to their most vibrant works of anything they've done since 1992. Even for those who do not like this particular record, it's important to support their return to a voice they can expand upon, and celebrate the end of their wilderness wandering through voices (Pantera on Divine Intervention, nu-metal on Diabolus in Musica) that do not fit their psychology and artistic aims.

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