Show No Mercy(Metal Blade - 1983)
Ahh these were the formative years of extreme metal, with Black Sabbath laying the groundwork for dark and heavy music for already a decade, Maiden and other bands bringing speed into the arena, Venom taking this music to a more raw and extreme form, and Metallica and Slayer developing the combination of all the above into a separate genre of music: thrash metal. But while Metallica came from a slightly more musical background with melodic and softer touches increasing over the years, Slayer came with punk and pure aggressive attitudes without a care for musical theory. These differences would only be clearer in later releases however; this album is still a product of their influences and the developing sound of the time, basically sounding like a cleaner and more advanced Venom or a more brutal Maiden, and containing remarkably similar riffs to Metallica's debut. This album was undeniably at the front of extremity though, with a more unrelenting, aggressive approach and no 'epic' technical constructs. The vocals were also reaching for new extremes, roaring and yelling with throat-killing conviction or punctuating with piercing high-pitched screams. The first steps of chaotic death metal guitar solos were taken here, played with frantic talent by King and Hanneman. Instant classic riffs and songs abound. With or without music theory, the compositional talent, grip and flow of the songs are obvious and one clear superiority they have over Metallica is Dave Lombardo, who's drumming talents and fierce pounding were evident even at the time. A thrash classic that only gains from its raw and fledgling sound and variety, and one of my favorites.
Haunting the Chapel(Metal Blade - 1984)
This little 4 song EP (only 3 new ones) is arguably the one album that created death metal. Although it's still under the thrash category, its extremity reached unheard of levels at the time and there are prototypical death riffs and chaotic solos brutalizing the soundscape. The vocals are even more Venom sounding this time, with slight growls and screams rearing their head as well. Lombardo beats his drums to a pulp with astounding fierceness and precision; the booming (but still somewhat muddy) production turning the bass drums into wall shakers. Trailblazing brutality.
Live Undead(Metal Blade - 1984)
A fake live album recorded at the studio with a handful of fans. This gave the sound a better quality of course, but failed to add much energy and ambience of a typical open live setting. The fact that their repertoire and collection of 'hits' was also very limited at the time doesn't help either. Well played (usually sped up), but it doesn't add enough over the originals, and it's not varied enough to justify a purchase. Still, it's a good album if you just can't get enough of Slayer.
Hell Awaits(Metal Blade - 1985)
This release sees development in complexity and changes, and increased dark and chaotic effects in the music. The opening song takes its time to build up the speed and brutality this time, allowing for more involvement and structure rather than the quick aggressive bursts that dominated previous songs. The length of the songs here have increased as well, a corollary of the deeper explorations into dark nihilism. Now blending prototypical death metal riffs and speed/thrash metal (some call it holocaust thrash or simply 'Slayer') with controversially dark lyrics dealing mostly with death, Slayer push the envelope again into extremity and trailblaze the way for other contemporary fledgling bands like Possessed, Bathory and Death. Rather than build upon a blend of tonal musical or melodic phrases and the aggressive advancements and rhythms of thrash as Metallica were doing, Slayer go their own way into more chaotic explorations, with sudden changes, atonal guitar solos, and an emphasis on dark brutal riffs, all enhanced by intense drumming and somewhat monotonous barking yells. The production is well balanced, although not rich like on more modern releases, and it is less vibrant than previous ones to my ears. A pioneering, underrated classic, if somewhat limited in range, but solid and grippingly effective.
Reign in Blood(American - 1986)
The Slayer masterpiece and considered by many to be the ultimate metal classic and a benchmark for all other thrash and early death releases. This is merely a logical progression in brutality from their last album though, the only other differences being the reversion back to short songs and the fuller production. Other than the first and last 4 minute tracks, the songs here are in-and-out bursts of brutality that all but drown out the thrash elements in the music and turn this into pure death metal. With this, clearly their most extreme release, Slayer take their explorations into brutality as far as they can without changing their sound. The richer production drowns out the bass but otherwise does wonders for the music and accentuates the roaring guitars and powerful drumming. Araya is still bark-yelling in quick, staccato vocals using the now rarer high pitched screams as well. The dynamics and flow of the songs are superb as usual but this is a rather short release clocking at under 30 minutes. The riffs are rather simplistic and less varied and epic in style than on other releases, the focus being more on speed and aggressiveness this time. So as such, I can't say that this is my favorite Slayer album, notwithstanding it being an undeniable brutal classic. The song Angel of Death is worthy of mention for the high controversy it caused over the misunderstood nazi-related lyrics.
South of Heaven(American - 1988)
I see this as their first mature release, which can be good or bad depending on what you're looking for. Evidently having enough of pushing brutality to its extreme, in this release Slayer focus on musical solidity and great riffs without sacrificing their sound in any way. The compositions take everything that was good in past releases and put it all together in a dynamic and mature manner. The only important change is with Araya's vocals: a relatively gentler delivery and often clean with a double layer. It's definitely more of a singing (or droning for that matter) style than a barking one, but it's actually quite good and doesn't detract from the aggressiveness. While the tempo is mostly of mid-paced thrash metal, there is plenty of variety, ranging from a brutal speedy track (Silent Scream), to a slower rocking one (Dissident Aggressor). What makes this album really shine though is the amount of superb and very memorable riffs in practically every song, and Lombardo, who drives the music forward as always. This album may have alienated some fans that liked to attach themselves to the most extreme band of the time, but there is more than brutality in metal and this is probably their best album in my opinion (unless I'm in the mood for a faster pace). Extremely recommended.
Seasons in the Abyss(American - 1990)
Basically South of Heaven with a slight increase in tempo overall and more bark-yelling from Araya again. But this one has problems. The material is starting to repeat itself here, Araya sounds tired relatively and can't seem to get the energy back into his voice as before, and this together with a couple of other subtle factors makes the music tired sounding. Otherwise, there are still great riffs here, the music is very much Slayer, and King and Hanneman play their creative solos as always (only a tad more relevant to the music when compared to the chaotic Reign in Blood). The dark mood is present but somewhat listless. The tempos vary again as before and there are a few great songs such as the immensely popular War Ensemble and the superb Seasons in the Abyss: the closest Slayer can ever come to writing a ballad (not that it is one) with its epic six and a half minute length and structure, harmonized vocals and dark acoustic guitars. So in summary, it's definitely worthwhile listening, but due to its weaknesses I would go elsewhere first.
Decade of Aggression(American - 1991)
A live album that ranks up there with Maiden's 'Live After Death' and Testament's 'Live at the Fillmore'. All of Slayer's best songs played with contagious energy and enthusiasm on two albums. As such, it is even better than a greatest hits album and works well as an introduction to their music or for people that aren't excited enough about Slayer to buy all their albums. The delivery is basically faithful with increased energy and sometimes speed, and Araya's vocals are roughened and yelled with gusto. Instantaneously recognized and classic riff after riff draw roars from the crowd - Slayer have more than enough of these. The only minor complaint I have is that the drumming should have been slightly louder in the mix but the roaring guitars do very well on the front in any case and the sound is wonderful for a live album. Araya encourages the fans to pick up their fallen brethren in the crowd and mosh pit, something non-metal fans could never synthesize with their ignorant stereotypes of metal related violence and something that mosh-pit skinheads and some newer bands seem to have forgotten.
Divine Intervention(American - 1994)
It seems like Slayer now take their turn to be influenced by the bands that they themselves inspired. The guitar sound and riffing style has changed very slightly to give this album a more contemporary death metal sound, yet it still has that Slayer thrash element of course. Araya goes back to monotone coarse yelling with a boost of energy, only slightly higher pitched and with an obnoxious hardcore quality. He also experiments with some successful industrial distortions and unsuccessful clean vocals. They succumbed to a demand for another Reign in Blood somewhat, the songs here being of a faster overall speed and containing simpler riffs and chaos. An important lineup change involves the drummer: Bostaph (from Forbidden) replaces Lombardo, whom they weren't getting along with, and fills in his shoes very nicely, even adding some fresh technical prowess to the sound. So what is the result of all these factors? Well at first listen I was very disappointed and bored, but I noticed that this is probably the first Slayer album that needs a few listens in order to fully sink in. However, even after these, I feel there is a lot missing. Slayer riffs used to be distinct and memorable and this is lacking here, making the overall effect of the album boring. This monotony is enhanced by the vocals that in the past were contrasted with bigger riffs. There also seems to be a lack of development in the songs, many of them just sticking to one dimension with a solo or two. Taken as individuals some songs are pretty good (especially the slower and different '213'), but overall I give this album my thumbs down.
Undisputed Attitude(American - 1996)
Not being a fan of punk in any way, I'm the wrong person to be reviewing this. But I'll be as courteous to their music as they are to anyone and state outright that I can't stand their obnoxious, anti-musical, in-your-face, mindless, crude and apathetic yammerings and riffs of negativity. That said though, I will give punk music a nod and admit its influences over Slayer and extreme metal in general with its aggressive riffing styles and vocal attitude. Now for the review: As you should already know, this is an album-full of punk covers covering Verbal Abuse, TSOL, Minor Threat, DI, GBH, Dr Know, DRI, Iggy Pop and Suicidal Tendencies. Add to this two Slayer original punk songs (Can't Stand You and Ddamm) and one totally different new song from the band (Gemini) - a taste of things to come. A gentleman by the name of Dette takes over the drumming for this release and does so adequately. The punk tracks are played with Slayer's roaring guitars instead of with a more grating punk quality and as far as I can tell they speed things up as well. 'I'm Gonna be Your God' (Iggy Pop) is the only track that interested me with its dark mood and actual song structure, but the rest of the punk covers didn't do anything for me. 'Gemini' is actually a very good track but very different and could alienate many Slayer fans. It starts slowly and thickly, bringing to mind Alice in Chains grunge and then Korn, then builds up to some heavy mid-paced almost-death metal. A very well structured, thick and interesting song but it can't save this album.
Diabolus in Musica(Sony - 1998)
Knowing full well that the time for change was more than ripe and evidently influenced by the current Korn and Pantera sound, Slayer decide to experiment in a more 'commercial' direction. But this isn't a sellout or a wimping out, nor is it a change for the worse in my opinion, and I for one applaud this successful progression and much needed refreshment in sound. It will undoubtedly turn off many fans however, the same fans that don't let bands experiment. Incorporating a roaring, thicker production together with quite a few 90s power groove riffs plus bass, this release has a monster sound that is kept constantly alive by dynamic composition and varied tempos. The vitality that came from speed in previous releases is replaced with some groove and texture this time, and they successfully merged this 'dangerous' commercial style with their own without compromising their art. And, there is plenty of speed and contagious aggression left over so there's no need to worry. The only problem is that it starts losing some of its steam and grip with some of the latter tracks, lowering the overall effect of the album and leaving you with a dull aftertaste when listening to the whole thing. Also, there is a lack of guitar solos and the ones present are quite ordinary or even unnoticable. Otherwise, Araya yells with plenty of energy, Bostaph is back on drums spurring the music forwards, and this one comes recommended.
God Hates Us All(American - 2001)
As was to be expected, the buzz around this release ranged from high praise calling it a return to aggressive form, to disdain, showering this latest slab with insults of selling-out and comparisons to nu-metal. The truth is though that Slayer has fallen into the horrible swampy pigeonhole of fallen-out-of-grace metal, and their popularity and modern progression only made things worse. Slayer is plagued by its past and the impossibly high expectations of its fans whose tastes changed without them admitting to such. I would go so far to say that even if Slayer would release Hell Awaits today, it would be treated with scorn by many. Slayer has not sold out. If anything, this album is much harsher and more hardcore than South of Heaven and many of the albums that were released since. If Slayer is currently releasing inferior material it is solely because they are stuck in a compositional rut and not because they went commercial. That said however, the popular modern influence does exist here. The sound is a culmination of Slayer's past and a blend of modern power grooves and down-tuned rhythmic riffing without the horrible repetition and overly bouncy sound of most nu-metal bands. Bostaph punishes his drums with precision, King plays well but hardly gets to display his prowess with guitar solos, and Araya is straining his lungs with monotone yells as usual. But this is where the problem with this album lies: Araya's monotonous yells together with power grooves gets tiring and dull very fast. Without guitar hooks, memorable riffs as in Slayer's glory days, and plenty of compositional dynamics and variety, the songs all blur together into a pounding noisy bore. Too much screaming and hammering and not enough breathing music. In other words, ironically enough, one of its problems is that this album is too unrelentingly heavy. I liked Diabolus in Musica because it sounded fresh then. Here, the riffs seem to be churned out by a power riff machine - there is no inspirational quality or uniqueness to them. Two or three songs out of the fifteen presented here are all you need and all one can enjoy in one sitting. And this is a pretty big gripe with Slayer who once dominated the memorable riff industry.