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Members include Tom Araya (born in Chile, 1962) bass, vocals; Paul Bostaph (replaced Dave Lombardo, 1993), drums; Jeff Hanneman, guitar; and Kerry King (born in Los Angeles, CA, c. 1967), guitar. Group formed in Los Angeles, 1981; released first album, Show No Mercy, Restless Records, 1983; released first Def Jam album, Reign in Blood, 1986; signed with Def American Records, c. 1988, and released Seasons in the Abyss, 1990. Addresses: Record company-- Def American Recordings, Inc., 3500 West Olive Ave., Ste. 1550, Burbank, CA 91505.
''There is nothing in all modern pop like the moment Slayer takes a stage," wrote Mikal Gilmore in a 1991 Rolling Stone article about the "Clash of the Titans" heavy metal tour. Slayer's fans are known for their frenzied, often violent reaction to the music. The band's songs are rife with depictions of satanism, murder, and disease; mere mention of albums like Reign in Blood raises the hackles of parents' groups and religious organizations. Indeed, talk show host Geraldo Rivera's notorious segment "Kids Who Kill" featured a group of young murderers linked by, among other things, their adoration of Slayer. But the group's speedmetal stylings are more than just hip to the homicidal; its thundering arrangements and disturbing lyrics offer a potent alternative to the image-obsessed and commercially focused glam-rock that dominates the metal scene. "Slayer is about the dark cloud that hangs over the world," explained bassist-singer-lyricist Tom Araya in a Def American Records publicity release, "and that's the image and intensity that I want people to understand."
The group was formed in southern California in 1981 when guitarists Kerry King--then 14 years old--and Jeff Hanneman met at an audition. King met drummer Dave Lombardo when the latter was delivering a pizza to his neighborhood. Tom Araya's family had fled political unrest in their native Chile and settled in the Huntington Beach area; Araya was a health care worker studying to become a nurse when he was invited to join the band. The quartet came up with their menacing moniker and began playing gigs, having stolen some lights as well as odd bits of lumber for drum risers. Araya's brother was the group's all-purpose technical assistant when Slayer made its inauspicious debut in a rented high school gymnasium.
It wasn't long before the band had built itself a following as a result of touring up and down the West Coast. By 1983 they had scraped together a few thousand dollars to record the independent album Show No Mercy. Featuring such songs as "The Antichrist," it sold an astonishing 60,000 copies and proved to the major labels that Slayer's bombastic satanism had access to a rich market. Mercy' s successor, Hell Awaits, contained songs with titles like "Necrophiliac" and "Crypt of Eternity"; a 1984 release, Live Undead, featured one studio song, "Chemical Warfare."
It wasn't until 1986, however, that the band released its first big-label effort, Reign in Blood, on Def Jam Records. With a mix of devil songs by King and more secular songs of evil and discontent from Araya, the album demonstrated that metal could achieve mass popularity without sacrificing its threatening content. Producer and Def Jam co-owner Rick Rubin encouraged the band to push the limits of acceptability in its songs while using the studio to capture the big-guitar intensity of the music, which he described to the Voice Rock & Roll Quarterly as "quintessential speed metal." Even so, Def Jam's distributor, CBS, did not want to handle Reign due to its content; Rubin's subsequent distribution deal with Geffen Records contributed to his eventual departure from Def Jam. Meanwhile, increasing mayhem at Slayer concerts climaxed in the death of a fan at a 1987 Hollywood Palladium show.
The savvy Rubin nonetheless urged the band to increase the satanic references in its songs for the 1988 album South of Heaven. That record includes "Mandatory Suicide" and the antiabortion anthem "Silent Scream," the title of which comes from a propaganda film vilifying abortion. The record sold impressively, despite--or perhaps with the help of--not-so-silent screams from parents' groups and others shocked by Slayer's material. The band's unflinching focus, however, appealed to fans as much as did the propulsive force of the music. As a fan mused in Esquire, "Have you ever wondered why it's evil you're attracted to? You know, I do wonder why. There's just so many people out there that are supposed to be on the good side, but they're not for real. Politicians, teachers, parents, ministers, Christians, everybody. They're hypocrites. The whole society. All the adults. They're so phony." The state of chaos in the world, she noted, reflects "the slayerness of it all."
The band has remained philosophical about the apparent excesses of its fans. "Obviously, a lot of our fans do identify with evil--or at least they think they do," guitarist Hanneman told Rolling Stone. But usually, he ventured, satanism is only "cool because it's evil, and evil is rebellion." Furthermore, "if some kid goes overboard, I can't take responsibility for that." Even so, as Gilmore noted, Slayer's songwriters "are amazingly adept at depicting terrible deeds without giving any indication of how they view the moral dimensions of those deeds." This, according to their loudest critics, makes the band partially culpable for the violence committed by their fans. In fact, the group shared with Esquire a fan letter from a soldier in the Persian Gulf during the war there in 1991: "Being a grunt [soldier] is pure motivation--like your music. It puts me in the right state of mind for war. You can count on four dead Iraqis for you guys. Keep kickin' ass, dudes!" In the Voice Rock & Roll Quarterly piece on Rick Rubin, the producer referred admiringly to the "nothing-to-live-for Slayer audience," joking with a companion that the group ought to sell nooses at concerts so "two or three kids could hang themselves every show."
1990 saw the release of Seasons in the Abyss on Rubin's Def American Recordings. It sold well and further demonstrated the band's musical versatility; Stereo Review noted, "The elemental impact of this music ... never lets up," while Entertainment Weekly called the record "very heavy metal of the thrash kind" and awarded it a B+. Slayer continued playing around the world, joining fellow headbangers Anthrax and Megadeth for the 1991 Clash of the Titans tour. Rolling Stone' s Gilmore described the "dense, pummelling quality" of the band's live sound, reporting, "The bass rumbles, the drums explode at a rat-a-tat clip, and the guitars blare in buzz-saw unison--but it's all played with a remarkable precision and deftness." Other musicians shared this admiration: "I think that Slayer is, without a doubt, probably one of the best live bands in the world--I can't overstate that," Megadeth leader Dave Mustaine remarked during the Titans tour.
A double live disc, Decade of Aggression, hit the stores in 1991. It consisted of material performed at Wembley Arena in London and shows in Florida and California, including a version of the notorious "Dead Skin Mask," a song about serial killer Ed Gein. The record is a pure document of the Slayer sound, recorded without overdubs or other refinements. "The riffs will trample your body, the solos will split your skull, there's never been a live album like it," enthused John Duke in Rock Power. A review in Q magazine called the album "excellent" and dubbed Slayer "the loudest and fastest band in the world," noting, "no one does it scarier." The group began work in 1992 on an album slated for release in the spring of the following year. They also announced in 1992 that Lombardo would sit out the band's summer tour due to his wife's pregnancy. Drummer Paul Bostaph, of the band Forbidden, sat in for the tour.
Slayer stormed the heavy metal scene in the 1980s by pushing the limits of acceptability and flouting the glamorously dark conventions of the form. Since then they've amassed a large, dedicated and--to some--disturbed and desperate following of young fans even as they've earned the veneration of critics for their musicianship. Controversy notwithstanding, Lombardo may have best summed up Slayer's appeal when he told Esquire, "I'm more of a fan than I am a player in the band. I'm just like the kids I play for, I guess. I mean, I enjoy listening to the music. I get into it so much. The energy. The energy. There's no weak point. It's just, the music, the way I feel it. When I play, I give it everything. I know every kid in that arena would love to be doing the exact same thing if they could. I'm just one of the lucky ones."
Gold album for Seasons in the Abyss, 1993.
- Selective Works
- Show No Mercy (includes "The Antichrist"), Restless, 1983.
- Hell Awaits (includes "Necrophiliac" and "Crypt of Eternity"), Restless/Metal Blade, 1984.
- Live Undead (includes "Chemical Warfare"), Restless/Metal Blade, 1984.
- Reign in Blood Def Jam, 1986.
- South of Heaven (includes "Mandatory Suicide" and "Silent Scream"), Def Jam, 1988.
- Seasons in the Abyss Def American, 1990.
- Decade of Aggression (includes "Dead Skin Mask"), Def American, 1991.
- (Contributors, with Ice-T) "L.A. '92 Disorder," Judgment Night (soundtrack), Immortal/Epic, 1993.
- Entertainment Weekly, November 9, 1990.
- Esquire, February 1992.
- Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, March 24, 1989.
- Los Angeles Times, April 16, 1989.
- Music Express, March 1991.
- Q, December 1991.
- Rock Power, September 1991.
- Rolling Stone, July 11, 1991.
- Stereo Review, March 1991.
- Voice Rock & Roll Quarterly, fall 1990.
- Additional information for this profile was obtained from Def American Recordings publicity materials, 1991.
- --Simon Glickman
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