Slayer is an American thrash metal band from Huntington Park, California, formed in 1981 by guitarists Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King. 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 most of the band’s music was written by King and Hanneman, with additional help from Araya and drummer Dave 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, anti-religion, 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.
Writing and Style
Slayer’s early works were praised for their “breakneck speed and instrumental prowess,” combining the structure of hardcore punk tempos and speed metal. The band released fast, aggressive material. The album Reign in Blood is the band’s fastest, performed at an average of 220 beats per minute; the album Diabolus in Musica was the band’s first to feature C♯ tuning; God Hates Us All was the first to feature drop B tuning and seven-string guitars tuned to B♭. AllMusic cited the album as “abandoning the extravagances and accessibility of their late-’80s / early-’90s work and returning to perfect the raw approach,” with some fans labeling it as nu-metal.
Hanneman and King’s dual guitar solos have been referred to as “wildly chaotic” and “twisted genius”. Original drummer Lombardo would use two bass drums (instead of a double pedal, which is used on a single bass drum). Lombardo’s speed and aggression earned him the title of the “godfather of double bass” by Drummerworld. Lombardo stated his reasons for using two bass drums: “When you hit the bass drum, the head is still resonating. When you hit it in the same place right after that, you kinda get a ‘slapback’ from the bass drum head hitting the other pedal. You’re not letting them breathe.” When playing the two bass drums, Lombardo would use the “heel-up” technique.
In the original line-up, Hanneman, King and Araya contributed to the band’s lyrics, and King and Hanneman wrote the music with additional arrangement from Lombardo, and sometimes Araya. Lombardo has never received any writing credits in Slayer’s history. Araya formed a lyric writing partnership with Hanneman, which sometimes overshadowed the creative input of King.
When writing material, the band would write the music first before incorporating lyrics. King or Hanneman used a 24-track and drum machine to show band members the riff that they created, and to get their opinion. Either King, Hanneman or Lombardo would mention if any alterations could be made. The band played the riff to get the basic song structure, and figured out where the lyrics and solos would be placed. Hanneman, King and Araya tended to have different lyrical influences. Hanneman’s lyrics dealt with Nazis, religion, warfare and similar topics; King’s lyrics are generally anti-religious; Araya’s lyrics usually dealt with topics that could be considered less controversial than Hanneman’s and King’s, such as serial killers and warfare.
Slayer is one of the most influential bands in heavy metal history. 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. Slayer’s “downtuned rhythms, infectious guitar licks, graphically violent lyrics and grisly artwork set the standard for dozens of emerging thrash bands” and their “music was directly responsible for the rise of death metal” states MTV, ranking Slayer as the sixth “greatest metal band of all time”, ranking number 50 on VH1’s 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock.
Hanneman and King ranked number 10 in Guitar World’s “100 greatest metal guitarists of all time” in 2004, and were voted “Best Guitarist/Guitar Team” in Revolver’s reader’s poll. Original drummer Lombardo was also voted “Best Drummer” and the band entered the top five in the categories “Best Band Ever”, “Best Live Band”, “Album of the Year” (for Christ Illusion), and “Band of the Year”.
Music author Joel McIver considers Slayer very influential in the extreme metal scene, especially in the development of the death and black metal sub-genres. According to John Consterdine of Terrorizer, without “Slayer’s influence, extreme metal as we know it wouldn’t exist”. Kam Lee of Massacre and former member of Death stated : “there wouldn’t be Death Metal or Black Metal or even extreme Metal the likes of what it is today if not for Slayer”. Johan Reinholdz of Andromeda said that Slayer “were crucial in the development of Thrash Metal which then became the foundation for a lot of different sub-genres. They inspired generations of Metal bands”. Alex Skolnick of Testament declared : “Before Slayer, metal had never had such razor-sharp articulation, tightness and balance between sound and stops. This all-out sonic assault was about the shock, the screams, the drums, and […] most importantly the riffs”.
The band’s 1986 release ‘Reign in Blood’ has been an influence to extreme and thrash metal bands since its release and is considered the record which set the bar for death metal. It had a significant influence on the genre leaders such as Death, Obituary, Cannibal Corpse and Morbid Angel. 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. In 2006 it was named the best metal album of the last 20 years by Metal Hammer. According to Nielsen SoundScan, Slayer sold 4,900,000 copies in the United States from 1991 to 2013.
Year Nominated Work Award Result
2002 “Disciple” Best Metal Performance Nominated
2007 “Eyes of the Insane” Best Metal Performance Won
2008 “Final Six” Best Metal Performance Won
2010 “Hate Worldwide” Best Metal Performance Nominated
2011 “World Painted Blood” Best Metal Performance Nominated