Slayer were a prolific thrash metal band from LA County, California. The original lineup consisted of guitarists Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman (RIP 2013) vocalist/bassist Tom Araya and drummer Dave Lombardo. Paul Bostaph would later replace Lombardo for duties behind the kit, Exodus’ Gary Holt would carry the legacy of Hanneman after his death.
Covering almost four full decades across eleven studio albums, it’s impossible not to mention important heavy metal music without Slayer’s name passing your lips, with no need for any further introduction, let’s take a closer look at the band’s extensive history, ranked!
#11 – Repentless (2015)
Slayer’s final album as a band and one that gets a lot of negative attention for reasons both deserved and not. Repentless was an album written lyrically by Kerry King, one of the only times that he had sole songwriting credit on a record, as primarily it would be the double act of King and Hanneman, and it’s safe to say that the writing here is the weakest in their history.
Musically Repentless plays it very safe but there are some highlights that elevate the material higher than you would expect from the stigma stuck to the album. The title track and Pride and Prejudice are great examples of aggression and that classic ruthless nature of the band’s earlier spirit. However, there are a lot of filler tracks and songs in the list that do absolutely nothing but diminish the legacy violently, to just being plain boring and passe. See: Implode, Take Control or Piano Wire for instance.
Does that make Repentless lazy or by the numbers? Maybe.
Arguably this is a record that Slayer shouldn’t have even made according to many fans, It’s clear that listening to it that the omission of Hanneman’s input is sorely missed, may he rest in peace.
#10 – World Painted Blood (2009)
No sanctuary. World Painted Blood is a completely fine album with no real high points or obvious lows. The title track itself is a great time, but it’s a struggle to commit much more to memory from this 2009 effort. The musicianship is completely fine, vocals are good. It is business as usual, almost like the band are on autopilot, and that’s the reason this album ranks so low compared to some of their riskier efforts that we will get to later down the list.
#9 – Diabolus In Musica (1998)
Slayer go nu-metal and it was something that probably should never have happened but this record yielded some surprising diamonds amongst a lot of rough. For the most part, it doesn’t work. Though, Diabolus In Musica’s strong suit came in its oppressive atmosphere and the grinding and fierce nature of tracks such as Stain of Mind and In The Name of God.
The latter song especially has such a slick and sublime opening with a rioting, thick chugging guitar pulsating into a vile eruption of powerful snarls from frontman Tom Araya over that stunning infectious main riff. These kind of moments are peppered all throughout Diabolus In Musica, that seductive groove just rocks so fucking hard that it’s impossible to resist, hence why I can’t rank the record any lower.
#8 – Divine Intervention (1994)
What more can really be said about Divine Intervention apart from the fact that it’s Slayer’s sixth album? That may sound reductionist but hear me out. How the fuck do you follow up genre masterpieces from the late 80s such as: Hell Awaits, Reign In Blood and South of Heaven? It seems the answer with this record was simple, replace Lombardo behind the kit and try and speed up a little following Seasons In The Abyss infatuation with everything slow and heavy.
By no means a bad record, Divine Intervention just seems a little underwhelming when compared to the wealth of records that came before it and had large boots to fill. There is a lot to love here: The Killing Fields, 213 and Fictional Reality are incredible songs in and of themselves, but do they really match the heights of their predecessors alone? Not really. This album just didn’t do enough different to stand out in a positive or risky way.
#7 – God Hates Us All (2001)
Here’s where things get fucking controversial. Before I’m dragged out into the streets by raving fans and hogtied to the railway tracks, let me try to justify this entry for you. There’s a reason why songs like Payback and Disciple remained live staples for the band even when this record seemed to underperform critically and commercially, because they are powerful, aggressive and catchy as all hell tracks.
From the chanting chorus on the latter, to the formidable way that War Zone seems to entrance you into fighting an entire army bare handed (especially that opening riff) God Hates Us All remains to be Slayer’s most underrated album that they have ever produced. There is so much that is stellar about this one, it sounds grandiose and overpoweringly omnipresent with a modern touch that differentiates itself from Slayer’s early work.
#6 – Christ Illusion (2006)
With their tenth album, Slayer somehow managed to channel their unholy powers into creating a record that touched on elements of not only Seasons In The Abyss but the groovier parts of God Hates Us All too, whilst still harkening back to their roots all at once.
Jihad is a phenomenal that fits the description above in every respect. The slow acoustic intro leading into that thundering rhythm guitar main riff and mesmerising guitar solo. It sounds completely and utterly massive. Look no further than Skeleton Christ if you’re in any doubt that Slayer can’t make you fucking move on this record, it may sound simple musically, but it’s heavy as all sin and it is one of my personal go-tos when the band’s name is mentioned in conversation. Goes without saying that Araya shouting ‘Hail Satan’ is an absolute win too.
#5 – Seasons In The Abyss (1990)
Slayer started the new decade revitalized with this masterclass in pacing, progression and power oozing from every pore of this disgusting beast. As mentioned above, this was the album that the boys took a different approach on compared to their 80s efforts, slowing down and being more atmospheric and sinister in a way that paid off greatly.
Seasons In The Abyss is now thirty years old but stands the test of time beautifully for its simply flawless lineup of incredible songs. Choose literally anything featured on this record and you’re in for a winner. There are no low points, I have virtually nothing bad to say about Seasons and that’s because with outstanding tracks like: Dead Skin Mask, War Ensemble, Expendable Youth, Hallowed Point and Born of Fire, how could I?
That’s simply the caliber of the material that we’re dealing with here from this point on. Really, consider everything onwards as effectively completely interchangeable with one another. This is the Grade A stuff.
#4 – Reign In Blood (1986)
Widely considered by many to Slayer’s most brutal album, if not the most savage record ever at the time, what can I really add to the conservation about Reign In Blood that hasn’t already been said? It’s been dissected to death over the last three decades and for good reason, it’s one of if not the great thrash metal albums ever forged.
From the chilling album art to songs about Joseph Mengele (Angel of Death) and that unstoppable all-time classic Raining Blood, there’s frankly nothing new I can say, so what’s the point in trying? It’s Reign In Blood and it’s amazing, but you already knew that.
#3 – South of Heaven (1988)
South of Heaven was the fourth record that the band put out following a two year absence from Reign In Blood, and that time was used to strip back and refine their core sound into something darkly magical.
It might not be as immediately overt as the likes of what came before but the more primal yet controlled rage from Tom Araya and the steady, trance-like drumming from Lombardo are arguably a career best to this day. This record contains some of the most well written songs in the band’s history, included but not limited to: Behind The Crooked Cross, Ghosts of War and Cleanse The Soul.
Heaven feels like the culmination of their classic sound. It is not as violent as later entries, and it shares more in common with speed/heavy metal than the gut wrenching thrash it would later inspire, as it stands though with an album as well made as this, I can’t help but love every single second.
#2 – Show No Mercy (1983)
A bonafide classic for the ages to be sure. The original and many would say the best. A rare case where the origins of how this album came to be is nearly as interesting as the end result itself. Show No Mercy is an institution and it changed the face of not only thrash metal but shook the landscapes of the music world and pop culture for decades, even to this very moment in time.
Containing the almighty Die By The Sword, the spellbinding Black Magic and the insidious Evil Has No Boundaries, among others. I find myself often unabashedly praising this release almost every time the topic of metal music is brought up in any regard. Here was a record that single-handedly birthed so many genres and inspired so many generations of musicians across the world, it’s unbeatable.
#1 – Hell Awaits (1985)
Take everything that I’ve just said about Show No Mercy and amplify it by a million. Whilst Slayer’s debut is a landmark victory in music to be sure, their true prowess was unleashed masterfully in their sophomore record Hell Awaits.
Cast your mind back to the year 1985 and what were the hottest heavy metal records releasing at the time? Sure, there were strong efforts by the likes of Saxon, Exodus, Celtic Frost and Possessed, but there was nothing that matched the face melting speed or scorching brutality of Hell Awaits.
This was the album where Slayer shed their NWOBHM skin and struck out on their own with something incontestable, in every sense of the word an unadulterated monolith of sound that would not be caged or rivalled by mortal man. On a less hyperbolic note however, the track list is simply marvellous and nails everything you could ever possibly want in a heavy metal/thrash record from the surreptitious villainy of Necrophiliac, to the incinerating guitar solo of At Dawn They Sleep and beyond.
Slayer were and always will be an incredible band and a shining example of music as art. Sure, they had their missteps over the decades, but I would be remiss to deny them their rights as an irresistible force of nature. They will be missed, but they left one hell of a legacy!