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Slayer: 10 Essential Tracks

Written by Nick Wasiliev on March 26, 2019

They are not called one of the big four of thrash metal for nothing.

Twelve solo albums, two Grammy Awards and millions of copies sold; few bands have ever come close to achieve such critical and commercial success as thrash metal heavyweights, Slayer. With a career spanning close to forty years, to try and pick a list of essential tracks is a near impossible task, as so many of Slayer’s records are staples of modern thrash metal music.

However, with the band currently in the middle of their farewell tour, and recently performing their final shows in Australia and New Zealand, we’ve picked 10 essential tracks from their colourful discography that you should check out (and head bang to).

1. Die by the Sword, Show No Mercy (1983)

The third track from their debut record, Die by the Sword was, until recently, a staple of the Slayer live set. Recorded when the band was still in their rudimentary form, and penned by the great, late guitarist and songwriter Jeff Hanneman, it shows how much potential they had when it came to thrash metal.

What’s also great about this song is that it shows the influences of bands that Slayer were inspired by: Venom, Judas Priest and more. It shows where they came from, and where they would go.

2.South of Heaven, South of Heaven (1988)

Many of Slayer’s records, from ‘Jihad’ in Christ Illusion to the titular ‘God Hates Us All’ saw the band examine religious themes and extreme ideologies, which often landed them in hot water for doing so.

However, one of their more biting and creative efforts is the opening track to their most commercially successful record. Sinister and twisted, Tom Araya embodies a god that views what his creation has become, and the fury in his voice brings to bear a sense of loathing towards a creation that only a god could muster.

3. Payback, God Hates Us All (2001)

The final track of arguably one of their rawest records, ‘Payback’ packs one of the angriest punches of any Slayer track, especially in its lyrics promoting utter savagery and self-harm.

One of Kerry King’s best written efforts, this nihilistic affair also sees one of the most animalistic vocal performances from Tom Araya. Payback’s a b*tch, indeed.

4. Black Magic, Show No Mercy (1983)

Right from the beginning, the building of Dave Lombardo’s drums and Kerry King’s guitar ushers in one of the most gnarly riffs in the history of heavy metal music.

Often attempted by many thrash contemporaries, but rarely exceeded, ‘Black Magic’ proved to be a foundational track for the genre, and would be a sound Slayer would continue to experiment with in future records.

5. Seasons in the Abyss, Seasons in the Abyss (1990)

Following up their most commercially successful record in South of Heaven, Slayer proved with the title track of this album that they didn’t have to rely on pure speed to deliver a haunting, frightening atmosphere.

A satanic anthem and one of their best songs, this track broods over earth-shattering drums and clashing chords, and the unsettling chorus remains one of thrash metal’s finest moments. Above all, this track showed a band that was still hungry to break new ground in metal, five albums in.

6. World Painted Blood, World Painted Blood (2009)

A slow burner that starts with bone chilling moans before erupting into a blithering display of riffs at the one minute mark, the title (and opening) track to their 2009 effort was a return to form for the band.

A great collaborative writing effort from Jeff Hannerman and Tom Araya, this track is about the fundamentals, executed to perfection. Add in a chilling biblical depiction of the end of days, and you’ve got an out-and-out great thrash metal track on your hands.

7. Death Skin Mask, Seasons in the Abyss (1990)

One of the most macabre efforts in the band’s entire discography, ‘Death Skin Mask’ places us in the mind of Wisconsin killer Ed Gein, who was known for his acts of transforming his victims into grotesque everyday items.

Tom Araya’s singing and lyrics puts you into the mindset of this killer, almost getting you to relate and understand his motivations. The sustained chords and ear-shutting drumming combines with this story to produce one of the most unsettling (and ingenious) tracks in the band’s career.

8. War Ensemble, Seasons in the Abyss (1990)

Little more needs to be said about this volatile, ugly opener to their 1990 effort. But, to put it simply, ‘War Ensemble’ serves as masterclass in how to kick off a thrash metal album.

An absolute staple of their live show to this day, and for good reason, the chilling lyrical themes of war as sport still echo around every stadium Slayer play at, and have transcended thrash metal itself to enter into popular culture in general.

9. Raining Blood, Reign in Blood (1986)

When it comes to the great Slayer tracks, there are some that take on a whole new meaning when performed live. If you haven’t experienced the blood-soaked live performance of this pinnacle thrash metal effort, you haven’t lived.

The lead single off their third record, ‘Raining Blood’ serves as one of the heaviest tracks in the band’s entire discography, and has come to be a key track within the history and progression of the thrash metal genre.

10. Angel of Death, Reign in Blood (1986)

There is a reason why this is the closing track to all of Slayers’ live shows, even their current farewell tour. The opening track from their third effort, ‘Angel of Death’ kicks off a creative peak in Slayer’s history that would last over a decade; a feat that few bands, let alone thrash metal outfits, could hope to experience.

One of their most brilliant storytelling efforts, the titular angel refers to Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, written from his perspective on the horrific experiments he performed upon Auschwitz prisoners during World War II. A lightning rod for controversy, this track embodies everything great about Slayer, and how far they pushed metal and music in general.

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