Not many bands came lay the claim that they were at the forefront of a musical movement. Music is more often imitated rather than innovated. In the copy-cat profession of songwriting, the majority of music creators, distributors and performers would rather stick with their current time’s proven blueprint for success, instead of boldly forging a sound of their own or expanding on a fresh, new genre. It is clear why so many songs are created in this fashion; the allure of the almighty dollar. Many musical acts resign genuine personal creativity in order to ensure that the bottom line is as lucrative as possible. Not all bands and musical acts are as such. Count trash metal behemoths Slayer as on of those acts.
In 1981 guitarist Kerry King met drummer Dave Lombardo. Both musicians shared the same taste in music and aspirations for a professional career. Soon after, King recruited guitarist Jeff Hanneman and bassist Tom Araya to the fold. Araya had played previously with King in a band that went by the names Quit, and formerly, Tradewinds. The earliest incarnation of the band played Iron Maiden and Judas Priest songs and relied on a Satanic influenced image for early shows. When seeing Slayer at a show at Anaheim’s Woodstock Club, former music journalist and founder of Metal Blade Records Brian Slagel was impressed and asked Slayer to record an original song backstage to the show for his Metal Massacre III compilation album. Slayer recorded “Aggressive Perfector” for the record and was eventually signed to Metal Blade Records.
The self-financed debut album, Show No Mercy, was released in December 1983. it generated a good underground buzz for Slayer, which the band took advantage of by embarking its first national club tour, using Araya’s Camaro and a towed U-Haul trailer as transportation. Slayer would then release a three song EP entitled Haunting the Chapel, which featured a darker, more thrash-oriented style than its predecessor, and laid the groundwork for the future direction of the band. This was around the time when trash metal was still new, with only Metallica leading the charge. Following the Haunting the West Coast tour King joined Dave Mustaine’s band Megadeth. Hanneman was worried about King’s decision, stating in an interview, “I guess we’re gonna get a new guitar player.” While Mustaine wanted King to stay on a permanent basis, King left after five shows, stating Mustaine’s band was “taking too much of my time”. The split caused a rift between King and Mustaine, which evolved into a long running feud between the two bands.
In September 1985 Slayer released their second full length release Hell Awaits. The album expanded on the darkness of Haunting the Chapel, with hell and Satan as common song subjects. Hell Awaits was Slayer’s most progressive album featuring complex song structures and long time lengths. Expanding their Satanic based themes, the book Legends of Rock Guitar, defines Hell Awaits as “a psychotic exploration into the depths of Satanism and physical torture.” Pantera and Down vocalist Phil Anselmo stated that “Hell Awaits just holds the entire thing. Every bit of everything to do with heavy music. [Slayer] are gods, the best band from California, for sure.”
Slayer would go on to release four gold albums between 1986 and 1994: Reign of Blood (1986), South of Heaven (1988), Seasons in the Abyss (1990) and Divine Intervention (1994). As trash metal lost some of its popularity their subsequent releases did not fair as well. Since their last Gold album they have released Undisputed Attitude (1996), Diabolus in Musica (1998), God Hates Us All (2001), Christ Illusion (2006)and World Painted Blood (2009). The band would also see two lineup changes involving drummer Dave Lombardo. During Slayer’s 1986 “Reign in Pain” tour to promote the album Reign in Blood, Lombardo left the band and stating “I wasn’t making any money. I figured if we were gonna be doing this professionally, on a major label, I wanted my rent and utilities paid.” The band enlisted Tony Scaglione of Whiplash as his replacement; Discontented with the change, Rick Rubin repeatedly called Lombardo asking him to return. After refusing several times, Lombardo finally decided to return in 1987. Lombardo recorded drums on the Slayer albums South of Heaven (1988) and Seasons in the Abyss (1990), then parted ways with the band again in 1992. Lombardo’s decision to leave Slayer was due to conflicts with band members and his desire to witness the birth of his first child. Dave gave the band members the full nine months notice of his wife’s pregnancy, stating he would be unable to tour in September. He soon received a phone call from manager, Rick Sales; “Dave, big shows coming up in September…” The manager said it would be detrimental to Slayer’s career if they did not tour. Lombardo stood firm in his decision, reiterating he would not miss this paramount moment in his life. December 2001 Lombardo received a phone call from Slayers manager asking him if he’d be interested in returning to the band. With 10 years behind them it couldn’t have been a better time. Lombardo agreed. The rehearsals felt like no time had passed. When asked about Lombardo’s return, Tom Araya said, “Playing with Dave is like putting on an old pair of shoes.
Though their mainstream popularity and commercial success waned beginning in the mid-1990’s, Slayer was still well respect, revered and influential for many metal musicians. Steve Huey of Allmusic believes the musical style of Slayer makes the band stronger than the other members of the “Big Four” thrash metal bands Metallica,
Megadeth and Anthrax, all of which rose to fame during the 1980s. Reign in Blood has been an influence to extreme and thrash metal bands since its release. The album was hailed the “heaviest album of all time” by Kerrang! Magazine, a “genre-definer” by Stylus Magazine, and a “stone-cold classic upon its release” by Allmusic. It was names the best metal album of the last 20 years by Metal Hammer in 2006. The band’s musicianship and playing styles, especially the drums and guitars, have influence many musicians.
With their trailblazing career, and numerous controversies to be mentioned another time, Slayer has remained a fixture in the minds, hearts and souls of metal enthusiasts world-wide. Let’s hope that they continue to pump out trash metal jams for many years to come!