Slayer were formed in 1982 in Huntington Park, California, by guitarists Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman; also recruited were bassist/vocalist Tom Araya and drummer Dave Lombardo
. They started out playing covers of Judas Priest
and Iron Maiden
songs, but quickly discovered that they could get attention (and fans) by exploiting threatening, Satanic imagery. The band was invited by Metal Blade
's Brian Slagel to contribute a track to the Metal Massacre, Vol. 3 compilation (a series that also saw the vinyl debuts of Metallica
); a contract and debut album, Show No Mercy, followed shortly thereafter. While Slayer's early approach was rather cartoonish, their breakneck speed and instrumental prowess were still highly evident. Two EPs, Haunting the Chapel and Live Undead, were released in 1984, but 1985's Hell Awaits refined their lyrical obsessions into a sort of concept album about damnation and torture and made an immediate sensation in heavy metal circles, winning Slayer a rabid cult following.
co-founder Rick Rubin
took a liking to the band, signed them to his label, and contributed the first clear-sounding production heard on any Slayer album for the stripped-down Reign in Blood. Due to the graphic nature of the material, CBS
refused to distribute the album, which garnered a great deal of publicity for the band; eventually, Geffen Records
stepped in. Combining Slayer's trademark speed metal with the tempos and song lengths (if not structures) of hardcore, along with the band's most disturbing lyrics yet, Reign in Blood was an instant classic, breaking the band through to a wider audience, and was hailed by some as the greatest speed metal album of all time (some give the nod to Metallica
's Master of Puppets).
South of Heaven disappointed some of the band's hardcore followers, as Slayer successfully broke out of the potential stylistic straitjacket of their reputation as the world's fastest, most extreme band. Drummer Lombardo
took some time off and was briefly replaced by Whiplash
drummer Tony Scaglione, but soon returned to the fold. Released in 1990, Seasons in the Abyss was well-received in all respects, incorporating more of the classic Slayer intensity into a more commercial -- but no less uncompromising -- sound. "War Ensemble" and the title track became favorites on MTV's Headbanger's Ball, and Slayer consolidated their position at the forefront of thrash, along with Metallica
. Following the release of the double-live album Decade of Aggression, Lombardo
left the band again and formed Grip Inc.
Slayer remained quiet for a few years; the only new material released after 1990 was a duet with Ice-T
recorded for the Judgment Night soundtrack on a medley of songs by the Exploited
. After leaving the Forbidden
, Paul Bostaph signed on as the new drummer for 1994's Divine Intervention, which was released to glowing reviews; thanks to the new death metal movement, which drew upon Slayer and particularly Reign in Blood for its inspiration, Slayer were hailed as metal innovators. The album was a massive success, debuting at number eight on the Billboard album charts.
Bostaph left the band to concentrate on a side project, the Truth About Seafood, and was replaced by ex-Testament
drummer Jon Dette for Undisputed Attitude, an album consisting mostly of punk and hardcore covers. Bostaph rejoined Slayer in time to record 1998's Diabolus in Musica. The band reunited with Def Jam
for 2001's God Hates Us All and in 2002, Lombardo
rejoined the band once more. In 2004, they unleashed the four-disc anthology Soundtrack to the Apocalypse, followed by an album of all-new material, Christ Illusion, in 2006. After a relentless tour and festival schedule in 2007 and 2008, Slayer emerged from the studio with World Painted Blood in 2009. In 2010, Slayer appeared with Metallica
, and Anthrax
on Big 4: Live from Sofia, Bulgaria. On May 2, 2013, Slayer guitarist and co-founder Jeff Hanneman died of liver failure at a Los Angeles hospital; he was 49 years old.
King and Araya refused to let their friend's death deter them from carrying on with Slayer, and set to work writing a new album. Lombardo
was kicked out of the band for the third time; Bostaph came back on board, and Exodus
' Gary Holt, who had filled in for Hanneman when he was seriously ill with necrotizing fasciitis in 2011, joined as his permanent replacement. The album was eventually finished in 2015 and titled Repentless. Three tracks, "When the Stillness Comes," "Implode," and the title cut -- which King dubbed a "HannemAnthem" in tribute -- were released as digital singles throughout the spring and summer. Repentless appeared on September 11 through Nuclear Blast. ~ Steve Huey, Rovi