Slayer is known for its musical traits, involving fast tremolo picking, guitar solos, double bass drumming, and shouting vocals. The band's lyrics and album art, which cover topics such as death, deviants, genocide, necrophilia, insanity, religion, Satanism, serial killers, and warfare have generated album bans, delays, lawsuits and strong criticism from religious groups and the general public. The name Slayer is an acronym for "Satan Laughs As You Eternally Rot". This is referenced in the song "Live Undead" from the 1988 album South of Heaven.
Since its debut record in 1983, the band has released two live albums, one cover album, one box set, three DVDs, one VHS, two EPs, and nine studio albums, four of which have received gold certification in the United States. The band has received three Grammy nominations, winning one in 2007 for the song "Eyes of the Insane", and one in 2008 for the song "Final Six". They have headlined music festivals worldwide, including Unholy Alliance and Ozzfest.
The band was offered to open for Bitch at the Woodstock Club in Los Angeles, performing eight songs — six being covers. While performing Iron Maiden's "Phantom of the Opera" the band was spotted by Brian Slagel, a former music journalist who had recently founded Metal Blade Records. Impressed with Slayer's performance, Slagel met with the band backstage and asked them to record an original song, "Aggressive Perfector" for his upcoming Metal Massacre III compilation. The band agreed and the song created underground buzz, which led to Slagel offering the band a recording contract with Metal Blade.
In August 1984, Slayer released a three song EP titled Haunting the Chapel. The EP featured a darker, more thrash-oriented style than its predecessor, and laid the groundwork for the future direction of the band. The opening track, "Chemical Warfare," has become a live staple, played at nearly every show since 1984. After the release of Haunting the Chapel, Slayer made its live European debut at the Heavy Sounds Festival in Belgium opening for UFO, returning to the US to begin the Haunting The West Coast tour.
Following the tour, King temporarily left Slayer to join Dave Mustaine's new band Megadeth. Hanneman was worried about King's decision, stating in an interview "I guess we’re gonna get a new guitar player." While Mustaine wanted King to stay on a permanent basis, King rejoined Slayer after five shows, stating Megadeth was "taking too much of my time." The split caused a rift between King and Mustaine, which evolved into a long running feud between the two bands. Following King's return, the band embarked on the 1984 Combat Tour, with Venom and Exodus, and released a live album titled Live Undead in November.
Def Jam's distributor, Columbia Records, refused to release the album Reign in Blood due to its graphic cover art and lyrical themes. For example, "Angel of Death" detailed Holocaust concentration camps and the human experiments conducted by Nazi physician Josef Mengele. The album was distributed by Geffen Records on October 7, 1986. However, due to the controversy, Reign in Blood did not appear on Geffen Records’ release schedule. Although the album received virtually no radio airplay, it became the band's first to enter the Billboard 200, debuting at #94, and the band's first album certified gold in the United States.
In October 1986, Slayer embarked on the Reign in Pain world tour, with Overkill in the US, and Malice in Europe. The band was added as the opening act on W.A.S.P.'s US tour, but just one month in, drummer Lombardo left the band: "I wasn't making any money. I figured if we were gonna be doing this professionally, on a major label, I wanted my rent and utilities paid." To continue with the tour, Slayer enlisted Tony Scaglione of Whiplash. However, Lombardo's wife convinced Dave to return in 1987. At the insistence of Rubin, Slayer recorded a cover version of Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" for the film Less Than Zero. Although the band was not happy with the final product, Hanneman deeming it "a poor representation of Slayer" and King labeling it "a hunk of shit", it was one of their first songs to garner radio airplay.
1988's South of Heaven received mixed responses from both fans and critics, although it was Slayer's most commercially successful release at the time, debuting at #57 on the Billboard 200, and the second album to receive gold certification in the United States. Press response to the album was mixed, with Allmusic citing the album as "disturbing and powerful," and Rolling Stone calling it "genuinely offensive satanic drivel." King says "that album was my most lackluster performance," although Araya called it a "late bloomer" which eventually grew on people.
Slayer returned as a live act in September 1990 to co-headline the European Clash of the Titans tour with Megadeth, Suicidal Tendencies, and Testament. During the sold out European leg of this tour tickets fetched up to 1,000 Deutschmark on the black market. With the popularity of American thrash at its peak, the tour was extended to the US beginning in May 1991, with Megadeth, Anthrax and opening act Alice in Chains. The band released a double live album, Decade of Aggression in 1991, to celebrate ten years. The compilation debuted at #55 on the Billboard 200.
In May 1992, Lombardo quit the band due to conflicts with other members, as well as arguments over his wish to bring his wife on tour. Lombardo formed his own band Grip Inc, with Voodoocult guitarist Waldemar Sorychta, and Slayer recruited former Forbidden drummer Paul Bostaph to fill his place. Slayer made its debut appearance with Bostaph at the 1992 Monsters of Rock festival at Castle Donington. Bostaph's first studio effort was a medley of three Exploited songs, "War", "UK '82", and "Disorder", with rapper Ice T, for the Judgment Night movie soundtrack in 1993.
Also in the year 1994, Kerry King had his first and only child, Shyanne Kymberlee King.
A lawsuit was brought against the band in 1996, by the parents of Elyse Pahler, who accused the band of encouraging their daughter's murderers through their lyrics. Elyse was drugged, strangled, stabbed, trampled on, and raped as a sacrifice to the devil by three fans of the band. The case was unsealed by the court on May 19, 2000, stating Slayer and related business markets distribute harmful products to teens, encouraging violent acts through their lyrics, and "none of the vicious crimes committed against Elyse Marie Pahler would have occurred without the intentional marketing strategy of the death-metal band Slayer." The lawsuit was dismissed in 2001, for multiple reasons including "principles of free speech, lack of a duty and lack of foreseeability." A second lawsuit was filed by the parents, an amended complaint for damages against Slayer, their label, and other industry and label entities. The lawsuit was dismissed; Judge E. Jeffrey Burke stated "I do not consider Slayer's music obscene, indecent or harmful to minors."
The album was the band's first with dropped tuning, as featured on the lead track, "Bitter Peace,"() making use of the musical interval referred to in the Middle Ages as the tritone or Devil's scale. Slayer teamed up with digital hardcore group Atari Teenage Riot to record a song for the Spawn soundtrack titled "No Remorse (I Wanna Die)." The band later paid tribute to Black Sabbath by recording a cover of "Hand of Doom" for the second of two tribute albums, entitled Nativity in Black II. A world tour followed to support the new album, with Slayer making an appearance at the United Kingdom Ozzfest 1998 alongside Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne, Foo Fighters, Pantera, Soulfly, Fear Factory, and Therapy?.
Slayer toured playing Reign in Blood in its entirety throughout the fall of 2003, under the tour banner "Still Reigning". Their playing of the final song "Raining Blood" culminated with the band drenched in a rain of stage blood. Live footage of this was recorded at the Augusta Civic Center in Augusta, Maine, on July 11, 2004 and released on the 2004 DVD Still Reigning. The band also released War at the Warfield and a box set, Soundtrack to the Apocalypse featuring rarities, live CD and DVD performances and various Slayer paraphernalia.
From 2002 to 2004 the band performed over 250 tour dates, headlining major music festivals including H82k2, Summer tour, , the Download Festival and a European tour with Slipknot. While preparing for the Download Festival in England, Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich was rushed to hospital with a mysterious illness, and was unable to perform. Metallica vocalist James Hetfield searched for volunteers at the last minute to replace Ulrich; Lombardo and Slipknot drummer Joey Jordison volunteered, with Lombardo performing the songs "Battery" and "The Four Horsemen".
Christ Illusion was released on August 8, 2006, and debuted at #5 on the Billboard 200, selling over 62,000 copies in its first week. The album became Slayer's highest charting, improving on its previous highest charting album, Divine Intervention, which had debuted at #8. However, despite its high positioning, the album dropped to #44 in the following week. Three weeks after the album's release Slayer were inducted into the Kerrang! Hall of Fame for their influence to the heavy metal scene.
A worldwide tour dubbed The Unholy Alliance, was undertaken to support the new record. The tour was originally set to launch on June 6, but was postponed to June 10, as Araya had to undergo gall bladder surgery. In Flames, Mastodon, Children of Bodom, Lamb of God, and Thine Eyes Bleed (featuring Araya's brother, Johnny) were supporting Slayer. The tour made its way through America and Europe and the bands who participated, apart from Thine Eyes Bleed, reunited to perform at Japan's Loud Park Festival on October 15, 2006.
The video for the album's first single, "Eyes of the Insane," was released on October 30, 2006. The track was featured on the Saw III soundtrack, and won a Grammy-award for "Best Metal Performance" at the 49th Grammy Awards, although the band were unable to attend due to touring obligations. A week later, the band visited the 52nd Services Squadron located on the Spangdahlem U.S. Air Force Base in Germany to meet and play a show. This was the first visit ever to a military base for the band. The band made its first network TV appearance on the show Jimmy Kimmel Live! on January 19, playing the song "Eyes of the Insane," and four additional songs for fans after the show (although footage from "Jihad" was cut due to its controversial lyrical themes). Slayer toured Australia and New Zealand in April with Mastodon, and appeared at the Download Festival, Rock Am Ring, and a Summer tour with Marilyn Manson and Bleeding Through.
The band released a special edition of Christ Illusion, which featured new cover art and bonus track, "Final Six," which was given a Grammy Award for "Best Metal Performance." This is the band's second consecutive award in that category. In interviews with Thrash Hits and Worcester magazine, Araya states uncertainty with the future of the band, and that he could not see himself continuing the career at a later age. Araya also stated that when the band finished their next album, which will be the final record in their contract, the band would have to "sit down and discuss the future." In an interview with Yebo TV, Hanneman stated he has begun writing three songs for the next album. Author Joel McIver has completed a 400-page hardback Slayer biography titled The Bloody Reign of Slayer, which was made available on June 9, 2008. Slayer, along with Trivium, Mastodon, and Amon Amarth, will team up for a European tour titled The Unholy Alliance: Chapter III, throughout October and November of 2008.
Early works were praised for their "breakneck speed and instrumental prowess," combining the structure of hardcore 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 250 beats per minute. Even now, very few bands can approach this speed. The album Diabolus in Musica was the band's first with drop D tuning, God Hates Us All the first with C# tuning. Allmusic cited the album as "abandoning the extravagancies and accessibility of their late-'80s/early-'90s work and returning to perfect the raw approach", with some fans labeling it nu metal.
Hanneman’s and King’s dual guitar solos have been called "wildly chaotic," and "twisted genius." Drummer Lombardo uses two bass drums, instead of the double kick 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 states 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 double bass Lombardo uses the "heel-up" technique.
The band's 1986 release, Reign in Blood has been an influence to extreme and thrash metal bands since its release. 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. Richard Christy, former member of Death was blown away by Dave's performance on the album Reign in Blood, as was Cannibal Corpse drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz.
Drummer Lombardo has been an influence on many modern metal drummers including Ray Herrera of Fear Factory, Pete Sandoval of Morbid Angel, Bård Faust (ex Emperor and now of Blood Tsunami) former Cradle of Filth drummer Adrian Erlandsson, and Krisiun drummer Max Kolesne. Patrick Grün of Caliban's inspiration to play drums came from Lombardo, with Jason Bittner of Shadows Fall inspired by Lombardo's double bass, utilizing double bass when starting his own music career.
When writing new material, the band writes the music before incorporating lyrics. King or Hanneman will use a 24-track and drum machine to show band members the riff they have created, and to get their opinion. Either King, Hanneman or Lombardo will mention if any alterations can be made. The band will play the riff to get the basic song structure, and figure out where the lyrics and solos will be placed.
Hanneman, King and Araya tend to have different lyrical influences. Hanneman's lyrics deal with Nazis and similar topics. King's lyrics are generally just very anti-religious. Araya's lyrics usually deal with less controversial topics than Hanneman and King such as serial killers and warfare.
Slayer's cover of Minor Threat's "Guilty of Being White" raised questions about a possible message of white supremacy in the band's music. The controversy surrounding the cover involved the changing of the refrain "guilty of being white" to "guilty of being right," at the song's ending. This incensed Minor Threat frontman Ian MacKaye, who stated "that is so offensive to me. King said it was changed for "tongue-in-cheek" humor as he thought the racism at the time was "ridiculous.
In a 2004 interview with Araya, when asked, "Did critics realize you were wallowing in parody?", Araya replied, "No. People thought we were serious!...back then you had that PMRC, who literally took everything to heart, when in actuality you're trying to create an image. You're trying to scare people on purpose." Araya also denied rumors that Slayer members are Satanists, but they find the subject of Satanism interesting and "we are all on this planet to learn and experience."
The song "Jihad" of the album Christ Illusion sparked controversy among families of the September 11 victims. The song deals with the attack from the perspective of a religious terrorist. The band stated the song is spoken through perspective without being sympathetic to the cause, and supports neither side. Seventeen bus benches promoting the album in Fullerton, California were deemed offensive by city officials. They felt the Antichrist and skull were inappropriate, and felt the name "Slayer" pertains to a murderer. City officials contacted the band's record label and demanded that the ads be removed. All seventeen benches were removed.
In India, the album was recalled by EMI India after protests with Christian religious groups due to the nature of the graphic artwork. The album cover was designed by Slayer's longtime collaborator Larry Carroll and features Christ in a "sea of despair", while having amputated arms, missing an eye, while standing in a sea of blood with severed heads. Joseph Dias of the Mumbai Christian group Catholic Secular Forum in India took "strong exception" to the original album artwork, and issued a memorandum to Mumbai's police commissioner in protest. On October 11, 2006 EMI announced that all stocks had been destroyed, noting it had no plans to re-release the record in India in the future.
"I know that Tom and Dave both are religious people. Just goes to show you that grown people can be in the same band and have very different views."