Slayer was an American Thrash metal band from Huntington Park, California, formed in 1981 by guitarists Kerry King, Jeff Hanneman and drummer, Dave Lombardo. Slayer rose to fame with its 1986 release Reign in Blood, and is credited as one of the "big four" thrash metal bands, along with Metallica, Megadeth, and Anthrax. Since its debut album in 1983, the band has released twelve studio albums, two live albums, a box set, six music videos, two extended plays and a cover album. Four of the band's studio albums have received gold certification in the United States. The band has received five Grammy nominations, winning one in 2007 for the song "Eyes of the Insane", and one in 2008 for the song "Final Six" (both from 2006's Christ Illusion). Slayer has also played at several music festivals worldwide, including Unholy Alliance, Download and Ozzfest.
Slayer's musical style involves fast tremolo picking, double bass drumming, riffs in irregular scales and shouted vocals. In the original line-up, King, Hanneman, and lead vocalist/bassist Tom Araya contributed to the band's lyrics, and all of the band's music was written by King, Hanneman and Lombardo. The band's lyrics and album art, which cover topics such as murder, serial killers, necrophilia, torture, genocide, human experimentation, Satanism, hate crimes, terrorism, religion, antireligion, Nazism, and warfare, have generated album bans, delays, lawsuits, and criticism from religious groups and the public. However, its music has been highly influential, often being cited by many bands as an influence musically, visually, and lyrically. Between 1991 and 2013, the band sold 4.9 million albums in the United States.
Early years (1981–1983)
Slayer was founded in 1981, when drummer Dave Lombardo met guitarist Kerry King. Upon meeting, the two quickly discovered they had similar taste in music and in their aspirations. King soon introduced guitarist Jeff Hanneman and recruited Chilean-born bassist and vocalist Tom Araya, who had played with King before in the band Quits (previously known as Tradewinds).
The band played cover versions of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest songs at clubs and parties in Southern California. Early shows relied on a Satanic image, which featured pentagrams, make-up, spikes, and inverted crosses.
Rumors that the band was originally known as Dragonslayer, after the 1981 movie of the same name, were denied by King, as he stated: "We never were; it's a myth to this day."
The band was invited to open for Bitch at the Woodstock Club in Anaheim, California, performing eight songs, six of which were covers. While playing a gig, the band was spotted by Brian Slagel, a former music journalist who had, at the time, recently founded the label Metal Blade Records. Impressed with Slayer, he met with the band backstage and asked them to record an original song, "Aggressive Perfector", for his upcoming Metal Massacre III compilation. The band agreed and the song created underground buzz, which led to Slagel offering the band a recording contract with Metal Blade.
Show No Mercy, Haunting the Chapel and Hell Awaits (1983–1986)
Without a recording budget, the band was forced to self-finance its debut album. Combining the savings of Araya, who was employed as a respiratory therapist, and money borrowed from King's father, the band entered the studio in November 1983. The album was rushed into release, hitting shelves three weeks after tracks were completed. Show No Mercy, released in December 1983 by Metal Blade Records, generated underground popularity for the band, and the group began its first national club tour in 1984 to promote the album traveling in Tom Araya's Camaro towing a U-Haul trailer. The tour gave the band additional popularity; sales of Show No Mercy reached more than 20,000 in the US and another 20,000 worldwide.
In August 1984, Slayer released a three song EP titled Haunting the Chapel. The EP featured a darker, more thrash-oriented style than its predecessor, and laid the groundwork for the future direction of the band. The opening track, "Chemical Warfare", has become a live staple, played at nearly every show since 1984. After the release of Haunting the Chapel, Slayer made its live European debut at the Heavy Sound Festival in Belgium opening for UFO, returning to the US to begin the Haunting The West Coast tour.
Following the tour, King joined Dave Mustaine's new 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. Following King's return, the band embarked on the 1984 Combat Tour, with Venom and Exodus, and released a live album titled Live Undead in November.
Slayer released its first live home video in 1985, dubbed Combat Tour: The Ultimate Revenge. The video featured live footage filmed at New York City's Studio 54 club, on the band's 1984 tour with Venom and Exodus. By early 1985, Show No Mercy had sold over 40,000 copies, which led to the band returning to the studio to record a second full-length album. Metal Blade financed a recording budget, which allowed the band to hire producer Ron Fair.
Released in September 1985, Slayer's second full-length release Hell Awaits expanded on the darkness of Haunting the Chapel, with hell and Satan as common song subjects. The album was the band's most progressive offering, featuring longer and more complex song structures. The intro of the title track is a backwards recording of a demonic-sounding voice repeating "Join us", ending with "Welcome back" before the track begins. The album was a hit, with fans choosing Slayer for best band, best live band, Hell Awaits as 1985's best album, and Dave Lombardo as best drummer in the British magazine Metal Forces' 1985 Readers Poll.
Reign in Blood (1986–1987)
Following the success of Hell Awaits, Slayer was offered a recording contract with Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin's newly founded Def Jam Records, a largely hip hop-based label. The band accepted and with an experienced producer and major label recording budget, the band underwent a sonic makeover resulting in shorter, faster songs with clearer production. Gone were the complex arrangements and long songs featured on Hell Awaits, ditched in favor of stripped down, hardcore punk influenced song structures.
Def Jam's distributor, Columbia Records, refused to release the album Reign in Blood due to the song Angel of Death. For example, "Angel of Death" detailed Holocaust concentration camps and the human experiments conducted by Nazi physician Josef Mengele. The album was distributed by Geffen Records on October 7, 1986. However, due to the controversy, Reign in Blood did not appear on Geffen Records' release schedule. Although the album received virtually no radio airplay, it became the band's first to enter the Billboard 200, debuting at number 94, and the band's first album certified gold in the United States.
In October 1986, Slayer embarked on the Reign in Pain world tour, with Overkill in the US, and Malice in Europe. The band was added as the opening act on W.A.S.P.'s US tour, but just one month in, drummer Lombardo left the band: "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." To continue with the tour, Slayer enlisted Tony Scaglione of Whiplash. However, Lombardo was convinced by his wife to return in 1987. At the insistence of Rubin, Slayer recorded a cover version of Iron Butterfly's, "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" for the film Less Than Zero. Although the band was not happy with the final product, Hanneman deeming it "a poor representation of Slayer" and King labeling it "a hunk of shit", it was one of their first songs to garner radio airplay.
South of Heaven and Seasons in the Abyss (1988–1993)
Slayer returned to the studio to record their fourth studio album. To contrast the speed of Reign in Blood, the band consciously decided to slow down the tempos, and incorporate more melodic singing. According to Hanneman, "We knew we couldn't top Reign in Blood, so we had to slow down. We knew whatever we did was gonna be compared to that album, and I remember we actually discussed slowing down. It was weird—we've never done that on an album, before or since."
1988's South of Heaven received mixed responses from both fans and critics, although it was Slayer's most commercially successful release at the time, debuting at number 57 on the Billboard 200, and the second album to receive gold certification in the United States. Press response to the album was mixed, with AllMusic citing the album as "disturbing and powerful", and Kim Nelly of Rolling Stone calling it "genuinely offensive satanic drivel". King said "that album was my most lackluster performance", although Araya called it a "late bloomer" which eventually grew on people.
Slayer returned to the studio with co-producer Andy Wallace in 1989, to record its fifth studio album. Following the backlash created by South of Heaven, Slayer returned to the "pounding speed of Reign in Blood, while retaining their newfound melodic sense".Seasons in the Abyss, released on October 25, 1990, was the first Slayer album to be released under Rubin's new Def American label, as he parted ways with Def Jam owner, Russell Simmons over creative differences. The album debuted at number 44 on the Billboard 200, and was certified gold in 1992. The album spawned Slayer's first music video, which was filmed in front of the Giza pyramids in Egypt.
Slayer returned as a live act in September 1990 to co-headline the European Clash of the Titans tour with Megadeth, Suicidal Tendencies, and Testament. During the sold out European leg of this tour tickets fetched up to 1,000 Deutschmark ($680 USD) on the black market. With the popularity of American thrash at its peak, the tour was extended to the US beginning in May 1991, with Megadeth, Anthrax and opening act, Alice in Chains. The band released a double live album, Decade of Aggression in 1991, to celebrate ten years. The compilation debuted at number 55 on the Billboard 200.
In May 1992, Lombardo quit the band due to conflicts with other members, as well as his desire to be off tour for the birth of his first child. Lombardo formed his own band Grip Inc, with Voodoocult guitarist Waldemar Sorychta, and Slayer recruited former Forbidden drummer Paul Bostaph to take his place. Slayer made its debut appearance with Bostaph at the 1992 Monsters of Rock festival at Castle Donington. Bostaph's first studio effort was a medley of three Exploited songs, "War", "UK '82", and "Disorder", with rapper Ice-T, for the Judgment Night movie soundtrack in 1993.
Divine Intervention and Undisputed Attitude (1994–1997)
In 1994, Slayer released Divine Intervention, the band's first record with drummer Bostaph. The album featured songs about Reinhard Heydrich, an architect of the Holocaust, and Jeffrey Dahmer, an American serial killer and sex offender. Other themes included murder, the evils of church, and the lengths to which governments will go to wield power, Araya's interest in serial killers inspired much of the content of the lyrics.
Slayer geared up for a world tour in 1995, with openers Biohazard and Machine Head. A video of concert footage, Live Intrusion was released, featuring a joint cover of Venom's "Witching Hour" with Machine Head. Following the tour, Slayer were billed third at the 1995 Monsters of Rock festival, headlined by Metallica. In 1996, Undisputed Attitude, an album of punk covers, was released. The band covered songs by Minor Threat, T.S.O.L., D.R.I., D.I., Verbal Abuse, Dr. Know and The Stooges. The album featured three original tracks, "Gemini", "Can't Stand You", "Ddamm"; the latter two were written by Hanneman in 1984–1985 for a side project entitled Pap Smear. Bostaph left Slayer shortly after the album's recording to work on his own project, Truth About Seafood. With Bostaph's departure, Slayer recruited Testament drummer Jon Dette, and headlined the 1996 Ozzfest alongside Ozzy Osbourne, Danzig, Biohazard, Sepultura, and Fear Factory. Dette was fired after a year, due to a fallout with band members; Bostaph returned to continue the tour.
Diabolus in Musica (1998–2000)
Diabolus in Musica (Latin for "The Devil in Music") was released in 1998, and debuted at number 31 on the Billboard 200, selling over 46,000 copies in its first week. The album received a mixed critical reception and was criticized for adopting characteristics of nu metal music such as tuned down guitars, murky chord structures, and churning beats. Blabbermouth.net reviewer Borijov Krgin described the album as "a feeble attempt at incorporating updated elements into the group's sound, the presence of which elevated the band's efforts somewhat and offered hope that Slayer could refrain from endlessly rehashing their previous material for their future output", while Ben Ratliff of The New York Times had similar sentiments, writing on June 22, 1998 that: "Eight of the 11 songs on Diabolus in Musica, a few of which were played at the show, are in the same gray key, and the band's rhythmic ideas have a wearying sameness too."
The album was the band's first to primarily feature dropped tuning, as featured on the lead track, "Bitter Peace", making use of the tritone interval referred to in the Middle Ages as the Devil's interval. Slayer teamed up with digital hardcore group Atari Teenage Riot to record a song for the Spawn soundtrack titled "No Remorse (I Wanna Die)". The band paid tribute to Black Sabbath by recording a cover of "Hand of Doom" for the second of two tribute albums, titled Nativity in Black II. A world tour followed to support the new album, with Slayer making an appearance at the United Kingdom Ozzfest 1998 alongside Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne, Foo Fighters, Pantera, Soulfly, Fear Factory, and Therapy?.
God Hates Us All (2001–2005)
After delays regarding remixing and artwork, including slip covers created to cover the original artwork as it was deemed "too graphic", God Hates Us All was released on September 11, 2001. The band received its first Grammy nomination for the lead track "Disciple", although the Grammy was awarded to Tool, for "Schism". The September 11 attacks on America jeopardized the 2001 European tour Tattoo the Planet originally set to feature Pantera, Static-X, Cradle of Filth, Biohazard and Vision of Disorder. The dates in the United Kingdom were postponed due to flight restrictions, with a majority of bands deciding to withdraw, leaving Slayer and Cradle of Filth remaining for the European leg of the tour.
Pantera, Static-X, Vision of Disorder and Biohazard were replaced by other bands depending on location; Amorphis, In Flames, Moonspell, Children of Bodom, and Necrodeath. Biohazard eventually decided to rejoin the tour later on, and booked new gigs in the countries where they missed a few dates. Drummer Bostaph left Slayer before Christmas in 2001, due to a chronic elbow injury which would hinder his ability to play. Slayer's "God Hates Us All" tour was unfinished so Manager, Rick Sales, contacted original drummer Lombardo, and asked if he would like to finish the remainder of the tour. Lombardo accepted the offer, and stayed as a permanent member.
Slayer toured playing Reign in Blood in its entirety throughout the fall of 2003, under the tour banner "Still Reigning". Their playing of the final song "Raining Blood" culminated with the band drenched in a rain of stage blood. Live footage of this was recorded at the Augusta Civic Center in Augusta, Maine, on July 11, 2004 and released on the 2004 DVD Still Reigning. The band also released War at the Warfield and a box set, Soundtrack to the Apocalypse featuring rarities, live CD and DVD performances and various Slayer merchandise. From 2002 to 2004 the band performed over 250 tour dates, headlining major music festivals including H82k2, Summer tour, Ozzfest 2004 and a European tour with Slipknot.
While preparing for the Download Festival in England, Metallica drummer, Lars Ulrich was rushed to a hospital with a mysterious illness, and was unable to perform. Metallica vocalist James Hetfield searched for volunteers at the last minute to replace Ulrich; Lombardo and Slipknot drummer Joey Jordison volunteered, with Lombardo performing the songs "Battery" and "The Four Horsemen".
Christ Illusion (2006–2008)
The album Christ Illusion was originally scheduled for release on June 6, 2006, and would be the first album with original drummer Lombardo since 1990's Seasons in the Abyss. However, the band decided to delay the release of the record as they did not want to be among the many, according to King, "half-ass, stupid fucking loser bands" releasing records on June 6, although USA Today reported the idea was thwarted because the band failed to secure sufficient studio recording time. Slayer released Eternal Pyre on June 6 as a limited-edition EP. Eternal Pyre featured the song "Cult", a live performance of "War Ensemble" in Germany and video footage of the band recording "Cult". Five thousand copies were released and sold exclusively through Hot Topic chain stores, and sold out within hours of release. On June 30, Nuclear Blast Records released a 7" vinyl picture disc version limited to a thousand copies.
Christ Illusion was released on August 8, 2006, and debuted at number 5 on the Billboard 200, selling over 62,000 copies in its first week. The album became Slayer's highest charting, improving on its previous highest charting album, Divine Intervention, which had debuted at number 8. However, despite its high positioning, the album dropped to number 44 in the following week. Three weeks after the album's release Slayer were inducted into the Kerrang! Hall of Fame for their influence to the heavy metal scene.
A worldwide tour dubbed The Unholy Alliance Tour, was undertaken to support the new record. The tour was originally set to launch on June 6, but was postponed to June 10, as Araya had to undergo gall bladder surgery.
In Flames, Mastodon, Children of Bodom, Lamb of God, and Thine Eyes Bleed (featuring Araya's brother, Johnny) and Ted Maul (London Hammersmith Apollo) were supporting Slayer. The tour made its way through America and Europe and the bands who participated, apart from Thine Eyes Bleed, reunited to perform at Japan's Loudpark Festival on October 15, 2006.
The video for the album's first single, "Eyes of the Insane", was released on October 30, 2006. The track was featured on the Saw III soundtrack, and won a Grammy-award for "Best Metal Performance" at the 49th Grammy Awards, although the band were unable to attend due to touring obligations. A week later, the band visited the 52nd Services Squadron located on the Spangdahlem U.S. Air Force Base in Germany to meet and play a show. This was the first visit ever to a military base for the band. The band made its first network TV appearance on the show Jimmy Kimmel Live! on January 19, playing the song "Eyes of the Insane", and four additional songs for fans after the show (although footage from "Jihad" was cut due to its controversial lyrical themes).
Slayer toured Australia and New Zealand in April with Mastodon, and appeared at the Download Festival, Rock Am Ring, and a Summer tour with Marilyn Manson and Bleeding Through. The band released a special edition of Christ Illusion, which featured new cover art and bonus track, "Final Six", which was given a Grammy Award for "Best Metal Performance". This is the band's second consecutive award in that category.
"Slayer's Kerry King - Fact or Fiction? (Part 2)," Loudwire, April 29, 2015 video
Show No Mercy (1983)
Haunting the Chapel (1984)
Live Undead (1984)
Hell Awaits (1985)
Reign in Blood (1986)
South of Heaven (1988)
Seasons in the Abyss (1990)
Divine Intervention (1994)
Undisputed Attitude (1996)
Diabolus in Musica (1998)
God Hates Us All (2001)
Christ Illusion (2006)
World Painted Blood (2009)
Tom Araya – lead vocals, bass guitar (1981–present)
Kerry King – guitars (1981–present), backing vocals (1984-1991)
Paul Bostaph – drums (1992–1996, 1997–2001, 2013–present)
Gary Holt – guitars (2011–present)