Slayer is an American thrash metal band, founded in Huntington Park, California (not Huntington Beach, as has often been reported), in 1981 by Tom Araya (bass guitar and vocals), Kerry King, Jeff Hanneman (guitars) and Dave Lombardo (drums). Lombardo has been in and out of the group three times, but the other members have been permanent members. Hanneman and King are the group's main songwriters.
Slayer (along with Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth and others) is often credited with creating American thrash metal by speeding up the sound of NWOBHM bands like Iron Maiden. Slayer also drew from hardcore punk influences like Minor Threat, Dead Kennedys and The Misfits; borrowing some of that music's emphasis on extremely quick tempos in many of their songs. Some of Slayer's music can be quite progressive, as they often change tempos and arrangements multiple times through the course of a single track.
Slayer has found moderate commercial success and are known for their devoted cult following. Their lyrics (touching on subjects like serial killers, the Holocaust, warfare, and Satan) and their graphic album art content have generated strong criticism.
Though Araya has never used the "death grunt" vocal style usually associated with death metal, Slayer's music (most notably on the albums Hell Awaits (1985) and Reign in Blood (1986)) is generally regarded as a major influence on death metal. However, due to the higher pitched vocals in their songs (compared to the lower death metal range), their influence on black metal must also be noted. Several premier black metal acts such as Emperor and Mayhem name Slayer as an influence.
The band was originally known as Dragonslayer before shortening its name to Slayer. Contrary to what some believe, the name was not chosen as an acronym for Satan Laughs As You Eternally Rot; rather, this wording, found on the liner notes to Divine Intervention, was added as a backronym after the name was shortened. Araya has jokingly stated that they chose Slayer because "it was cool, easy to chant".
Slayer's first album, Show No Mercy, was released in 1983 on Metal Blade Records. Today it is regarded as second-rate compared to later albums, but it is still considered a classic by some and contains fan favorites such as "Die By the Sword", "The Antichrist" and "Black Magic." It was essential in gaining the band a cult following and respect in the metal community.
The band's second release, the Haunting the Chapel EP, was considerably darker and more thrash-oriented than its predecessor, and it is considered to have laid the groundwork for what the band's classic sound would become. It contained the now classic "Chemical Warfare," which is typically the song the band plays at the end of its live shows.
The band's second full-length release, Hell Awaits, expanded on the darkness of Haunting the Chapel, as hell and Satan were common song subjects. Musically it was probably the band's most progressive offering, containing only seven tracks, three of which clocked in at over six minutes. The opening track has a demonic-sounding voice saying "Join us" backward, and may be partly responsible for the idea of backmasking being used to subliminally spread harmful messages through popular music.
After being offered a recording deal by Rick Rubin's Def Jam Recordings, the band signed and quickly began working on its third album with Rubin as co-producer.
The result, 1986's Reign in Blood, has been called a "thrash metal masterpiece" and even credited with almost single-handedly inspiring the entire death metal genre, at least in North America. Kerrang! described Reign in Blood as "the heaviest album of all time". In 2003 Slayer played the album in its entirety throughout their full tour (something they never did on the original album tour). A DVD of one of these performances was released with the title Still Reigning. The "Raining blood" portion of the show concluded with the band being drenched in a rain of fake blood.
South of Heaven, released in 1988, marked a slight musical departure. To contrast the aggressive assault put forth on Reign in Blood, Slayer slowed down the tempo on a few tracks. They also added elements like undistorted guitars and toned-down vocal styles not heard on previous albums. Some critics praised the album as demonstrating Slayer's desire to grow musically and avoid repeating themselves. But the new sounds disappointed some of the band's fans who were more accustomed to the style of earlier releases. Even though fans remain divided on the subject, two songs from the album ("Mandatory Suicide" and "South of Heaven") have become almost permanent additions to the band's live setlist. Following the release of South of Heaven, the band recorded a thrash-metal cover of Iron Butterfly's signature song, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. This song was included on the soundtrack to the movie Less Than Zero.
The follow-up album, Seasons in the Abyss, was more of a return to the sound of Reign in Blood and was greeted warmly by fans. A video clip for the title track had the band playing in the Middle East, shortly before the start of the Gulf War. It uses the doubling of Tom Araya's vocals on "Temptation" and a child's voice pleading underneath the track "Dead Skin Mask" (about necrophile Ed Gein), showing Slayer continuing to expand on their ideas and music.
A double live album, Decade of Aggression, followed in 1991, with a three-year hiatus (except for a brief tour of California, Arizona and Baja California, Mexico, as a warm-up for their appearance at the 1992 Castle Donington "Monsters of Rock" festival) until 1994's Divine Intervention. This new studio album showed Slayer had not lost their edge, with songs about Jeffrey Dahmer ("213," his apartment number) and Reinhard Heydrich ("SS-3," the license number of his car) amongst other themes of murder and the evils of church and government. Live Intrusion, a video of concert footage, was released about this time and features a joint cover of Venom's "Witching Hour" with Machine Head, who were Slayer's support at the time. Relations between Kerry King and Robb Flynn have since badly deteriorated.
Undisputed Attitude (1996) found Slayer reaffirming their love for hardcore punk, covering songs by Minor Threat, T.S.O.L., D.R.I. and others. The album closer was an original song titled "Gemini".
Diabolus in Musica (The Devil in Music) was released in 1998 and marked, along with an altered logo, a change in compositional style for the band. This style incorporated a new groove into some song structures and fan reaction was divided. Nevertheless, a successful world tour followed.
God Hates Us All was released on September 11, 2001. They have also released a live DVD (War at the Warfield) and box set (Soundtrack to the Apocalypse) featuring rarities, live CD and DVD performances and various Slayer paraphernalia.
The band received their first Grammy nomination for "Best Metal Performance" on January 8, 2002.