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Class ?

Main Category: Heavy Metal
Also applicable: --------
Starting Period: The Divided Eighties
Also active in: From Grunge To The Present Day



Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of a Slayer fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Slayer fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Year Of Release: 1983

Okay, I can kinda understand how this album introduced a whole new pattern to heavy metal. Together with Kill 'Em All, which happened to come out the same year, it arguably represented some of the most vicious music up to the day. Yeah, these guys tear! Blindingly fast tempos, a drummer who keeps up the speed so fast he doesn't even have the time to make an interesting fill, solos that simply have to be lightning-speed because if the lead guitar can't keep up with the rhythm section, what on earth can? and on top of it, a gruntin' grizzly guy who can occasionally give out some prototypical falsetto screams but mostly sticks to some o' that non-bullshit SATANIC blood-curdling roar. Yeehaw!

And it all sucks, from beginning to end. Imagine that. Personally, I'd advise anybody who thinks of Kill 'Em All as only a timid, generic beginning to Metallica's genius career to listen to Show No Mercy and see the difference. At least those guys had the decency to actually think of interesting riffs to come up with; Slayer - at least in 1983 - were only preoccupied with playing as fast and mean as possible. Simply put, this album is the aural equivalent of KISS for death metalheads: you have your cartoonish lyrics (I guess only that particular breed of Slayer fans who sacrifice goats to Lucifer by night takes their lyrics seriously), your perfect way of spluttering them out (Tom Araya's Conan-inspired barbaric grunts = Paul Stanley's sex-obsessed machismo), and your perfect musical accompaniment.

I actually planned on giving this misery of a record even less stars, but at least these guys were... ehhh... innovative, I guess (one perfect case of the harmful nature of innovation), and you can't deny the technique either. They sure had their technique worked out all right, but there are cases when you overdrive your technique so hard, you know, it becomes absurd in a bad sense. Every goddamn song is absolutely predictable from beginning to end; there's no real space left for creativity because you gotta concentrate on playing all the correct notes/beats.

Worse, the riffs are just a pile of shit. And speed does play a part of it - you try playing your, uhm, Black Sabbath records at 72pm and see if you lose anything in the process. But after all, there's no problem by definition with a good speedy rocker. There is a problem, though, when all of your riffs are either just elementary chord progressions that don't look elementary only because they're played at lightning speed, or when they're simply ripped off. And Slayer's influences are all obvious here - some Judas Priest, some Accept, and a lot of Sabbath; you tell me, for instance, if the short instrumental breaks between the 'verses' on 'Metal Storm, Face The Slayer' aren't simply lifted off 'Symptom Of The Universe'. And I'm pretty sure some of those riffs are just sped up Judas Priest riffs; and I'm also pretty sure that at least half of the songs here use the same riff pattern with only the tiniest differences that can't even be seen because they play so goddamn fast. Hey! Serants of the horned one! Slow down for a second, willya?

You could, of course, argue that, for instance, Motorhead used pretty much the same technique, except they were a little slower - but still, weren't most of their hits based on a similar approach? Well yeah, they were. But Motorhead had the great advantage of not being, or at least not sounding, pretentious. And Motorhead never put soulless technique over the emotions - they really meant what they were playing, and when you hear guys like Lemmy and Eddie Clarke lock up in a deadly bass/guitar duel, you know they're really wearing their dirty (but noble!) hearts on their sweaty sleeves. Slayer, on the other hand, just like pretty much every generic thrash/death metal band that's ever existed, are fuckin' rock theater, overblown, overdriven, pretentious, and eventually quite laughable.

I don't even know where to start with the individual songs. As far as I know, 'The Antichrist' is the most "enduring" song from the album which is still played in concert to this very day, but I have no idea how it can be singled out and distinguished from, say, 'Die By The Sword'. Or 'Black Magic'. Or 'Tormentor'. Only a couple numbers like 'Crionics' are a little bit slower than the rest, but that doesn't really mean they sound different. There's not a single song on the entire album that has managed to impress me even a little bit more than the others, in fact. And yeah, people will often tell you that Show No Mercy only represents Slayer's humble beginnings, and I guess they're right because the band would do somewhat better in the future, but it's still pretty typical of the overall style. But hey, if you're a violent God-ass-kickin' headbanger, just go ahead! Remember, this site reviews sissyass muzak like Simon & Garfunkel, too! YUCK!



Year Of Release: 1985

You probably won't believe it, but this mild little seven-song live EP is actually much better than its immediate predecessor. It's not exactly The Live Album par excellence: Slayer were still mostly an underground cult happening at the time, and for this record, they just assembled a bunch of people in the studio and gave them this treatment. Alright by me! The important thing is, the songs are live, and the audience participation, while always in place, is never annoying enough to really detract from the listening process.

Two good things stand out in particular. First, the production, which is almost light years away from the bootleg quality garbage of Show No Mercy. Not only do they bring the solos up in the mix, so that I can perfectly hear every single note played, they also clean up the other parts as well - still no audible bass as far as I'm concerned, but the rhythm guitar doesn't sound like an untuned Godzilla, either, and that's soothing. The second thing is that most of the songs are played a wee bit slower, or so it seems; of course, everything is still incredibly fast, but maybe just a dozenth of a measure slower, and this gives me the opportunity to actually hear the differences between the different riffs, not to mention giving Dave Lombardo the ability to be mildly creative with his drumming.

In short, I know thrash metal ain't supposed to have much melody, but the way these seven songs are presented you can actually make out some melodic elements (mostly on the guitar solos which are good throughout). And finally, while Tom still grunts in classic Cookie Monster fashion, I can this time actually testify that this is a human voice used out there in the proceedings rather than a cheap Yamaha imitation.

Needless to say, the songs (and six of these are taken directly from Show No Mercy) all sound better than their studio counterparts. It's still hard to tell one from another, of course, but when you can at least tell they're real creative entities, not just a bunch of pseudo-evil noise, it feels a whole lot better anyway. In fact, I almost end up getting my kicks out of this album. And I particularly enjoy the guitar solos which are so goddamn tight on here it's amazing just to think of the huge distance heavy metal has covered from the days of Led Zep. Check out the very beginning of 'Evil Knows No Boundaries', for instance, where you have this lightning-speed riff opening the song in the left speaker and then it suddenly jumps into the right speaker while the left one plays lightning-speed lead licks. No, this is definitely less creative than whatever Metallica were doing at the time, but creativity ain't the point, right?

Of course, it would be rash to think that the band actually underwent any creative development in between Show No Mercy and this - they just learned how to shrinkwrap their sound with more perfection. It's still friggin' metal theater (and actually, a little bit tame by Scandinavian death metal bands' standards, I guess). And apart from 'The Antichrist', whose status as a Slayer classic I kinda understand a little better after sitting through this live version, all the riffs still sound alike. But at least you can headbang to this one. I certainly know I wasn't able to headbang to Show No Mercy, just because I find it hard to headbang to a bunch of very very fast noise. I can also bring out my air guitar for this one! Yeah!

Oh, and, just so that you knew, a little earlier than Live Undead Slayer also came out with the maxi-single (or mini-EP, whatever) Haunting The Chapel, which was apparently originally tacked onto the Show No Mercy CD as a buncha bonuses, but me, for some reason, I only have 'Chemical Warfare' on the SNM edition, while two other tracks are tacked onto the Hell Awaits edition. It's not exactly bound to save the world (or end the world, for that matter - we all know that Slayer's only reason for existence is to bring Lucifer up from Hell), but it also represents a serious "production maturation", because, even if it's totally a studio product, the guitars on the songs are very much audible. Particularly on 'Captor Of Sin', the live rendition of which is the only song on Live Undead that's not originally from Show No Mercy. Sorry for all this discography shit, but geez, it took me a week to sort it out, so I might as well encumber you with these needless details to reap some revenge.



Year Of Release: 1985

Well, I sure hope you read the preceding review, in which I was ruminating on how much Slayer production values actually went up in just two years after their debut. (Then again, deep down in the depths of my soul I hope you didn't. What, did you arrive at this site to read my fuckin' Slayer reviews? Sweet Jesus, you must be crazy!) Hell Awaits is definitely a record that can be listened to without an urgent need to grab a piece of cloth and vehemently rub your Show No Mercy CD with it until you finally get the encoded message "Satan Is King" come through written in Mordor runes... erh, I mean, until you finally get the sound quality to suit your needs. Anyway, here, the guitars are loud and clear, with notes that don't merge together all the time so all you have instead of a rhythm is a splitting headache, the drums don't sound like Dave Lombardo never took them out of their cases before starting his pounding (heck, I can even hear the cymbals swish around loud and proud!), and... and...

...and some of the songs actually have SLOW parts! Slayer take their cue from Metallica, obviously, who had by the time of their second album understood that speed has no friggin' value whatsoever unless it's contrasted with slowness, and insert bits of slower playing into many of the songs, thus rendering them much, much better. The title track, for instance, begins with an eerie set of distorted arpeggios against which evil vocals keep saying something I don't understand (most probably, some backwards message like "Satan Is King"! Or "Tipper Gore Must Die"!), then settles into a mid-tempo groove, changes the melody a couple of times, and only then, at the beginning of the fourth minute, starts kicking into true overdrive. Same thing with 'Kill Again'. And 'At Dawn They Sleep' is actually a slow song in itself, by Slayer's standards, of course (it's just a wee bit slower than 'Highway Star', so that should get you thinkin'). It's also, I actually think, the major highlight of the record, mainly because the slowing down allows you to suck in the song's riffage with a lot more gusto. A bit overlong, though, but that's a problem that concerns all the songs - somehow, with these breakneck tempos and all, I wouldn't expect the majority of the numbers to clock in at five or six minutes. I know it ain't punk rock or anything like that, but still, doesn't speed usually compensate for shortness?

It's not like I'm ready to get up and lick Slayer's boots as a result, of course. All of these things do betray a huge improvement, but I'm still not sure these guys really had any motive besides the obvious "let Satan kick our ass!"one. This definitely might be their 'answer' to Ride The Lightning, but that album had a much broader emotional range and a much more varied range of sound textures. Personally, I'm already out of important things to say about the record, while I could rave on and on about Lightning without stopping for an hour. Yeah, the wailing clash of lead guitars at the beginning of 'Crypts Of Eternity' rules. Yeah, the riffs all kick ass. What next? I hafta write a fuckin' review of this shit.

Well okay, some people call this album more 'mature' in - how would you say it? - a more 'philosophical' sense. See, it's kind of a concept album about Hell and damnation and the Horned One. Uhmm, as if I couldn't guess from the album and song titles. That doesn't impress me much. Neither does the very fact that Slayer are actually trying to establish some kind of 'philosophy' for this kind of music. Don't make me laugh. I have no problem with Slayer's music as serving the obvious emotional purpose of venting one's frustration. But if these guys want to convince me that they are really trying to invoke the Devil with this stuff, well, no way. If the Devil does listen to something down there, it's probably to Amon Düül II.

Still, I'm even amazed I can bring myself to write about this stuff in half-appraising terms after the initial crock of shit that was Show No Mercy. But what do I know, I respect any kind of development, and I can't totally knock down an album by a band whose mastery of their instruments is almost unprecedented in the entire genre. Almost (I think both Iron Maiden and Metallica beat them to putting absolute technical proficiency in metal on the highest pedestal). Goes without saying - if you're a devoted metalhead, raise this rating skyhigh. It's just not my personal cup of coffee. I prefer something milder, something more accessible, something inoffensive and tasteful. Like Motley Crue. Or Poison. 'Every Rose Has Its Thorn', now there's one great song. Whatever you say, one thing's for sure - Slayer coulda never written a song like that one.


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