Sunday Old School: Slayer
Band Photo: Slayer (?)
Today marks the 150th official column in the Sunday Old School series (we’re not counting the April Fools article which looked at Limp Bizkit) and to celebrate, we’ll be taking a look at a band that we’ve been asked to feature for years. If you haven’t worked it out from the title, this week's Sunday Old School will be examining Slayer, one of the most controversial bands in the history of metal music, with a fan base more akin to the characters in One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest than the average head banger.
Slayer was founded in 1981 by guitarists Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman, who met when they went to audition for the same band. They soon completed the group when they recruited singing bassist Tom Araya, a native of the South American country Chile, and drummer Dave Lombardo, who met King while working as a pizza delivery man. The quartet initially performed at local parties, covering songs by the likes of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, as well as using a "Satanic" image, influenced by such bands as Mercyful Fate and Venom. In 1983, the band pooled money saved by Araya and borrowed from Kings father to record their debut album, "Show No Mercy," which was released through Metal Blade Records in December of that year. Although some had criticised the record for its production quality (or lack thereof,) it became the biggest selling album on Metal Blade at the time, shifting over 20,000 copies in the United States alone. They followed the album with a three song EP entitled, "Haunting The Chapel," which featured the live staple, "Chemical Warfare" and soon performed in Europe for the first time, including opening for UFO in Belgium and a show at Londons infamous 100 Club, where the band were upset about being spat on by the audience (though this was actually a sign of approval from British punks.)
Following an American tour, King made the somewhat controversial decision to join former Metallica guitarist Dave Mustaine’s new band, Megadeth, leaving the rest of Slayer to wonder if they’d need to find a new guitar player. Their fears were put aside when King left Megadeth after performing five shows with them, which caused a feud between the two groups lasting over twenty years. Slayers next course of action was to tour the United States with fellow Californian thrashers, Exodus and British extreme metal forefathers, Venom, as part of the Combat tour. The trek was reportedly as wild as one would expect and the next year a home video was released, featuring live footage and interviews with all three bands. After the tour, Slayer released a "live" album named, "Live Undead," which has had its authenticity questioned since its release, with many claiming the sound of the audience was dubbed in. They released their second studio album, "Hell Awaits" in September 1985, which is arguably their most progressive sounding record to date, featuring longer compositions and complex arrangements. The album was very well received and earned the band several awards from metal media, including Best Band and Best Album from Metal Forces.
Despite some apprehension, Slayer left Metal Blade after "Hell Awaits" to sign with Def Jam Records, which was primarily a hip-hop record label and got to work on their biggest album to date, "Reign In Blood." The album faced controversy before it was even released, with Columbia Records (who distributed Def Jam music) refusing to release the record due to its lyrical themes and graphic cover artwork, and so was distributed through Geffen Records instead (though it did not appear on their release schedule.) The album entered the Billboard Charts at number 94 despite little airplay and became the groups first Gold album. They promoted the album by embarking on a U.S. tour with New Jersey thrashers Overkill and later toured the U.S. again as direct support for W.A.S.P.. Today, "Reign In Blood" remains one of the most influential and acclaimed heavy metal albums of all time, owing to its imaginative lyrics and classic riffs, particularly on the title track. One month into the tour with W.A.S.P., Lombardo decided to leave the group for financial reasons and was replaced by Whiplash drummer Tony Scaglione, though he returned to the group soon afterwards.
A change of direction came with their fourth album, "South of Heaven," which was released in the Summer of 1988. Although it featured the superb title track and the live favourite, "Mandatory Suicide," it received a mixed response from fans and critics alike, due to its slower tempos and Araya making more of an attempt to sing. Nevertheless, it became their most commercially successful record at that point, entering the Billboard Charts at number 57. They returned to a much faster approach to song writing for their fifth album, "Seasons in the Abyss," which was released in October 1990 through Def American Records. Promotion for the album saw the band recording their first music video for the title track, filmed in front of the Giza pyramids, before setting out to co-headline the Clash of the Titans tour in Europe, which also featured Megadeth, Suicidal Tendencies and Testament. Although the tour featured several confrontations (most, if not all, of which involving Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine) it was successful enough to warrant a North American version of the tour, which again featured Slayer and Megadeth, though this time Suicidal Tendencies and Testament were replaced by Anthrax and then emerging act, Alice In Chains. To celebrate the well received tours, Slayer released a double live album entitled, "Decade Of Aggression," before Lombardo once again announced his departure.
Paul Bostaph, formerly the drummer of another Californian thrash metal band named Forbidden, was hired as their new drummer and made his live debut with Slayer performing at the legendary Monsters of Rock festival at Castle Donington, before making his recording debut with the band for the Judgement Night soundtrack, where they covered three songs by Scottish punk band, The Exploited with rapper and Body Count frontman, Ice-T. Slayers first release of new material with Bostaph came in 1994 when they unleashed their sixth album, "Divine Intervention." The band were praised for sticking to their sound in a time when some of their contemporaries were experimenting with the popular alternative rock sound and the record became their first top ten entry into the Billboard Charts. Another appearance at Monsters of Rock followed, as well as a tour with up and comers Machine Head and Brooklyn natives, Biohazard, before the band recorded a covers album entitled, "Undisputed Attitude," which was originally going to feature songs from big name heavy metal and hard rock bands such as UFO and Deep Purple, before the band decided their style was more suited to covering the punk bands they enjoyed, and so the album featured covers of bands such as Minor Threat, D.I., Verbal Abuse, The Stooges, Pap Smear, Dr. Know and D.R.I., as well as a new original song named, "Gemini." The record received a mixed response but was still a Top 40 chart entry in the United States. Following its release, Bostaph quit the band to focus on his own group, The Truth About Seafood, being replaced by Testament drummer Jon Dette, though like Lombardo before him in 1987, he rejoined the band to record their next album, "Diabolus in Musica." Before the album could be recorded however, the band were taken to court by the parents of Elyse Pahler, a teenager who was drugged, raped and murdered by three Slayer fans. The court case lasted five years before the judge dismissed it, claiming, "I do not consider Slayer's music obscene, indecent or harmful to minors," which no doubt earned him some respect from the heavy metal community.
"Diabolus in Musica" was released in 1998 and saw something of a backlash towards the group, with some fans accusing them of embracing the then popular nu metal sound, though it was still able to reach number 31 on the Billboard album charts. The record contained some interesting ideas and music though, with "Stain of Mind," of particular note due to its groovy rhythm and "Scrum" being a love letter to the sport of rugby, of which Kerry King is a big fan.
It would be three years before their next album was released due to issues with the artwork and remixing, but eventually, "God Hates Us All" hit the shelves on one of the darkest days in recent memory, September 11th 2001. The terrorist attacks on that day resulted in severe flight restrictions which endangered Slayers planned "Tattoo the Earth" tour in Europe with Pantera, Biohazard and other bands, causing a number of acts scheduled for the trek to pull out, though Slayer still made it. The album itself entered the Billboard Charts a week later at number 28, having sold over 50,000 copies. The record received a generally positive response and earned the band their first Grammy nomination for the song, "Disciple," though they lost to Tool. Whilst touring in support of the album, Bostaph was forced to leave Slayer after sustaining a severe elbow injury. With commitments needing to be fulfilled, King contacted Lombardo to fill in behind the drum kit, and he soon became the permanent drummer of the group once more.
Touring took up most of the bands time for years after "God Hates Us All," including slots at the biggest European metal festivals, as well as two live DVD releases, "War at the Warfield," (which featured Bostaphs last performances with the band) and "Still Reigning," which documented a show in which Slayer performed "Reign In Blood" in its entirety, in addition to a five disc box set entitled, "Soundtrack to the Apocalypse." Eventually, a new album finally came within sight, when the band revealed that their long awaited follow up to "God Hates Us All," entitled, "Christ Illusion," (previously, "The Final Six,") would be released on June 6th 2006, though they later delayed its release until July because the band felt they were above using such a gimmick as the 6/6/06 date. "Christ Illusion" became Slayers first Top Five position on the Billboard charts, selling over 62,000 copies in its first week and received generally favourable reviews, though some felt a little disappointed. "Cult" was the first single from the album, though it was, "Eyes of the Insane" which became a notable song, mostly because it earned Slayer their first Grammy win, as well as "Jihad," a song about the 9/11 attacks, written from the point of view of the extremists who carried them out.
After much touring, the band reconvened to record their tenth studio album, "World Painted Blood," which was released in November 2009. Whereas the previous albums had usually been met with controversy for one reason or another, this release was surrounded more by concern, as the group admitted they were unsure how much longer they could continue, owing partly to numerous injuries they had sustained over the years. Nevertheless, King was adamant that they had at least two more albums left in them, cautiously easing the panic amongst fans. "World Painted Blood" was a commercial success, entering the Top 40 worldwide, including number 12 in the United States and earned the band another Grammy nomination for the song, "Hate Worldwide," though they lost to Iron Maiden. They promoted the album by embarking on their third edition of their Unholy Alliance tour, this time featuring Trivium, Mastodon and Amon Amarth, with small opening slots being handed to unsigned bands, before realizing the dreams of thrash metal fans and performing shows with Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax as part of the Big Four package, first in Europe, then select shows in the United States. In 2011, Hanneman contracted a serious condition called necrotizing fasciitis after being bitten by a poisonous spider, leaving Exodus guitarist Gary Holt to fill in for him (his place being taken by Cannibal Corpse guitar player Pat O’Brien when unavailable.) The band are currently touring as part of the Mayhem Festival with Slipknot and Motorhead, whilst working on material for their next album, which is expected to be released next year and promises to be another addition to a catalogue few can match in terms of quality, and a legacy which can be beaten by even fewer.
Slayer - "The Antichrist"
Slayer - "Hell Awaits"
Slayer - "Raining Blood"
Slayer - "South Of Heaven"
Slayer - "Seasons In The Abyss"
Slayer - "Stain Of Mind"
Slayer - "Cult"
Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com for four years and has been a metal fan for ten years, going so far as to travel abroad for metal shows.
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