It should go without saying that Slayer's announcement that they would be ending their career after 37 years was a bit surprising to most, their fans in particular. The Big Four metal acts (Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax) - known as the four acts that harbor the most influence over the 80s' boom of thrash and heavy metal - all stick in our minds as bands that will be there until the bitter. But on January 23rd of this year, the band's website and social media pages all stated the following:
"After making some of the most brutal, breathtakingly aggressive, all-hell’s-breaking-loose music ever created, being one of four bands that defined an entire musical genre, and being the band that other heavy acts are measured against and aspire to...after nearly 37 years, releasing 12 studio albums, multiple live recordings, compilations, live video and two box sets, playing nearly 3000 concerts in all corners of the world, receiving countless awards including five Grammy nominations and two Grammy awards, Gold records, and other accolades, having its own exhibit in the Smithsonian Institute, gracing hundreds of magazine covers, experiencing the devastating loss of a founding brother, and even appearing on "The Tonight Show," the age of Slayer, one of the greatest thrash/metal bands of this or any age, is coming to an end.
Slayer announces that it will do one last concert tour around the globe to thank their fans for all of their support over the years, for making the last three-and-a-half decades so packed with good times and unforgettable experiences, and will then move on."
With twelve albums under their belt, countless world tours, box sets, five Grammy nominations (with two of them being wins), numerous other awards from press outlets all over the world, and notoriety as one of the greatest metal bands of all time, Slayer is bowing out while leaving behind a legacy of epic proportions. This last tour is not only a testament to their longevity within the heavy metal community, but to their fans that have continued to fill amphitheaters and arenas around the world over the past three-and-a-half decades.
It's impossible to document everything there is to know about Slayer in one article, but we felt that it was appropriate to put something together given that the band's final North American tour date will be here in the Bay Area (at San Jose's SAP Center this Sunday, August 26th). Read more below as we take a look at the band's beginnings, their career trajectory album after album, and a closer look at their 2015 twelfth studio album, Repentless, and how it stacks up against previous releases from throughout their undeniably epic career.
Slayer was formed in Huntington Park, CA in 1981. While guitarist Kerry King was a full-time guitarist at age 17, vocalist/bassist Tom Araya was working as a respiratory therapist in a hospital when he was 20, guitarist Jeff Hanneman was a rehearsal studio employee at age 17, and drummer Dave Lombardo was only 16 years old, delivering pizzas. Their first show occurred later that year at the Southgate Park Auditorium, with a set comprised mainly of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest covers. The following year, the band were discovered by Metal Blade founder and president Brian Slagel, who saw the band perform at a small club in Anaheim. Slagel signed the band in 1983, and in that same year, record and release Show No Mercy, their first ever studio album, as well as an EP entitled Haunting The Chapel. Their first major US tour soon followed, and the band began to pick up serious momentum.
By 1985, their second album, Hell Awaits, is released and sells over 100,000 copies in the United States alone. Their success sends them along the European touring circuit, while also garnering the attention of hip-hop producer Rick Rubin. While perceived as an odd pairing to the casual listener, their combination worked in ways unimaginable, as their collaboration led to the release of Reign In Blood, their 1986 twenty-three minute long third album. Hailed as the best thrash-metal album of all time by many, Reign In Blood separated the men from the boys, and put Slayer at the top of their game. With its haunting artwork, brutal sound, and songs that dealt with topics such as those surrounding Nazis and the Holocaust ("Angel of Death", for example), Slayer began to generate some serious attention. It was the band's first gold album, selling well over half a million copies in its first year.
But while Reign In Blood went very fast, their follow-up South of Heaven (released in 1988) slowed things down. Araya sang more, instruments were tuned lower, instrumental sections became utilized far more than the iconic thrash-heavy moments the band were known for. While it wasn't "traditional" Slayer, the doom metal sound that was explored on South Of Heaven made it a classic album in the band's catalogue, spawning doom-infused tracks like "Mandatory Suicide" and the title track. The tour that followed the release led to Slayer being banned from two separate venues (which they would later return to in 2013): Los Angeles' Hollywood Palladium, in which the band's show was massively oversold and led to riots due to ticket-holders not being allowed in to the venue; and New York City's Felt Forum, in which the crowd tore up the seat cushions and began throwing them in all directions, causing thousands in damage and repairs.
Continuations and Divine Interventions
Two years after constant touring and album after album, the band went full speed ahead with the writing and recording of Seasons In The Abyss. Released in 1990, it was the band's fifth studio album, and the first to spawn any music videos ("War Ensemble" and "Seasons In The Abyss", in which they flew to Egypt for filming). By 1991 however, drummer Dave Lombardo had left the band for a second time due to exhaustion (he left briefly in 1986 shortly after the release of Reign In Blood, but returned shortly before the European tour dates commenced). Lombardo was replaced by drummer Paul Bostaph.
After touring extensively and even recording a song with Ice-T ("Disorder", recording specifically for the soundtrack to the film Judgement Night), the band got to work, recorded and released Divine Intervention in 1994, their sixth studio album and first to feature Bostaph on drums. It charted at #8 on the Billboard 200 and very soon after went gold. The album received a great deal of attention not only for its music, but due to the fact that the band included a controversial photo of a fan named Mike Meyer, who carved the word "Slayer" into his arm with a razor blade.
While their seventh album was mainly composed of heavier covers of punk tracks by bands like Black Flag and Minor Threat, 1996's Undisputed Attitude included three original tracks. But during this particular time in the band's career, things could have been considered tumultuous. After the recording of Undisputed Attitude, Bostaph left the band to work on his own project. Simultaneously, The band were sued by the parents of Elyse Pahler, a 15-year old girl who was murdered by three men, who the parents alleged were prompted to murder her daughter because of the band's lyrics. The case took five years to be dismissed from the court.
While touring in support of Undisputed Attitude, the band brought Testament drummer John Dette out on the road to co-headline the first ever run of Ozzfest in North America. The band and Dette did not get along well, and he was let go after a year, with Bostaph returning to the position. The band returned to the studio and released their eighth studio album, Diabolus in Musica (Latin for "The Devil In Music"). While it did receive mixed critical reviews, it sold 46,000 copies in its first week and is often regarded as Slayer's most experimental album, utilizing down-tuned guitars and a sound that fell more in line with the nu-metal moving coming up at the time. Guitarist Kerry King has noted to the press that he considers it his least favorite record in Slayer's catalogue, as he wasn't a huge fan of the music that was getting big at the time.
God Hates Us All
It's a moment in music history, particularly in heavy metal history, that is considered eerie even to this day. On September 10th, 2001, Slayer held a release party for their ninth studio album, God Hates Us All. To celebrate the release, the band held a release party in a mausoleum located in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Shortly after, they headed to an in-store signing where they met fans and signed copies of the new album from midnight to 4 AM. They were getting ready to head out to begin their first tour in support of the album, with flights set to head to Europe the following even, but two planes struck the Twin Towers in New York City, one struck the Pentagon, and another in a field in Pennsylvania. All flights were grounded and the tour kickoff was postponed. Paul Bostaph left again, but the band reunited with original drummer Dave Lombardo to continue their legacy.
With six years in between God Hates Us All and Christ Illusion, their highly acclaimed tenth studio album, Slayer had quite a bit of time to put together their thoughts surrounding what had been happening in America. What followed was a scathing criticism of the Bush administration and the country, with songs like "Jihad", "Consfearacy", and "Eyes of the Insane" all touching on the various aspects of what the United States was going through. The album's artwork also inspired a great deal of controversy, as it depicted a mutilated illustration of Christ on the cover. New artwork had to be created for various retailers, while protests in India led to it being pulled from shelves and destroyed by EMI India. To top things off, the city of Fullerton, CA made a demand that 17 bus bench advertisements that were promoting Christ Illusion be removed immediately due to their offensive nature, while also believing that the band name refers to murderers.
This was a tremendous moment in Slayer's history, however; let's make that very clear. Despite the rise of death metal and deathcore, despite the fact that new breeds of metal and hard rock were raising hell and making people turn their heads, Slayer still managed to know how to create controversy and still remain relevant, all while making some of the best music of their career. Their controversy certainly turned heads, and it lead them to their highest Billboard charting yet (#5 in the Billboard 200), as well as their first ever Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance with "Eyes of the Insane" at the 2007 awards ceremony.
Two years later, the band returned with album eleven, 2009's World Painted Blood, which debuted at #12 on the Billboard 200. The album inspired "Playing With Dolls", a twelve-episode video/graphic novel hybrid directed by Metalocalypse director Mark Brooks, which blended animation and still-photography into a unique style resembling that of a graphic novel. The short series was dubbed as "a visual nightmare that breathed corrupt life into Slayer's syllabus of stalkers, psychopaths and serial killers", and it was inspired by every song on the album. World Painted Blood also led the band to score their fourth and fifth Grammy nominations, this time for "Best Metal Performance with "Hate Worldwide" and "World Painted Blood".
While the album was doing great, the band was forced to cancel their upcoming tour dates due to bassist/vocalist Tom Araya suffering from severe pain, muscle spasms and numbness. Araya had surgery in January 2010 to deal with the issues in his neck and spine, followed by three months of healing. The band returned to the spotlight that May with a performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live. That summer, the band joined Metallica, Megadeth, and Anthrax for the first ever performance of "The Big Four", which took place at Sonisphere Festival in Sofia, Bulgaria.
Jeff Hanneman and Repentless
In January 2011, things changed for Slayer. Guitarist Jeff Hanneman was bitten by an insect, with doctors diagnosing a problem in his right arm as necrotizing soft tissue fasciitis (also known as the "flesh-eating disease"). He has surgery done on his right arm, but he sits out their Australian run, where Exodus guitarist Gary Holt comes forward to fill in on the run. While Hanneman did not tour again with Slayer, he joined the band on stage during their "Big Four" show in Indio, CA for two encore songs, "South of Heaven" and "Angel of Death". This would be Hanneman's final time performing with Slayer.
Two years following their run of North American "Big Four" shows, drummer Dave Lombardo left Slayer after he ceased communication and did not confirm travel arrangements. With no drummer set for an upcoming Australian tour, the band turned to John Dette to fill in on drums for the run. Once the band returned to the U.S., the band agreed to not renew Lombardo's contract, thus ending his time with the band. Three months later, Paul Bostaph rejoins the band, and is touring with them to this day. But on May 2nd, things would forever be altered in the Slayer community, as Jeff Hanneman passed away from liver failure. The official cause of death was announced to be alcohol-related cirrhosis, a condition that neither Hanneman nor his family were fully aware of. A memorial service occurred later that month in Los Angeles.
It takes about a year before Slayer enter the studio to record "Implode", a track offered as a free download in April of 2014, with producer Terry Date. The track marks the first time the band have recorded a track with a producer other than Rick Rubin in 28 years, as well as the first track the band have provided to Nuclear Blast. From September 2014 to January 2015, the band record on-and-off again with Date for what will be their twelfth and final album (unbeknownst to anyone at the time), Repentless.
After a massive headlining run on the last ever Mayhem Festival in 2015, Repentless is released that September. It becomes the band's highest-ever Billboard 200 debut, coming in at #4, and the #2 best-selling album of that entire week. Repentless features some of the heaviest work Slayer have put forth to date, and if it truly is to be their last album, it goes out with one hell of a bang. The music video for the title track was filmed at a women's prison in East L.A., and featured cameos from iconic horror film actors like Tony Moran and Danny Trejo. In the years that follow the release of Repentless, Slayer continue to take the world by storm, with worldwide headlining tours, a three-issue comic book series created in collaboration with Metalocalypse director Jon Schnepp and illustrator Eric Powell, two additional music videos, a performance of "Raining Blood" on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, and much more.
The Final Tour, The Next Chapter, and The Legacy They Leave Behind
We now circle back to the announcement made at the beginning of this year, with Slayer informing the world that they will be bringing their project to an end. But it's very clear that while this may be "the end" of the band, their legacy will live on forever. They're ingrained in the minds of metal fans around the world, and they'll be known throughout history as one of the most chaotic, fastest, and controversial metal bands of the millennium. Their live performance is one to be rivaled, and their recorded works continue to be mind-blowing after all of these years. It is indeed sad that Slayer won't be gracing the halls of theaters and arenas around the world after the year concludes, but fret not. It's clear that after years of constantly touring, playing over 3000 shows in every corner of the world, and churning out record after record, they deserve some time off.
I'm almost confident that every member will be involved in music in some way after Slayer concludes, so it's not necessarily good-bye. It's merely closing the chapter on one of the most iconic groups in the history of metal and rock n' roll. And what a hell of a chapter it was.