In 1983, Slayer released their debut album. Three years later, they broke into the mainstream with “Reign in Blood,” a killer album that would go on to set the bar for thrash metal. Their music isn’t pleasant, it’s never nice, and it rarely makes for easy listening. But that doesn’t mean it’s not sensational. As one of the Big Four of Thrash, they’ve helped revolutionize metal and shape it into what it is today. Not that everyone’s convinced – according to some people, they’ve been releasing the same album on repeat since the ’80s. Those people are wrong. Each of their albums may be underscored by the same saw-edged riffs and breakneck tempos, but Slayer have as much versatility as the next band. Find out which of their albums ranks as their very finest as we count down the 10 best Slayer albums of all time.
10. Divine Intervention
As whatculture.com says, there’s no such thing as a poor Slayer album. There’s also no getting around the fact that some are better than others. “Divine Intervention” is a good album, admittedly, but it’s not a classic. If Slayer ever did things by rote, they did it here. It’s the sonic equivalent of paint-by-numbers – everything you’d expect of a Slayer album is there, but it lacks that extra flourish, that extra bit of creative genius demonstrated on their earlier efforts. It’s no coincidence this is the first Slayer album to follow the departure of trailblazer Dave Lombardo, whose pounding drums had formed the foundation for their music for so long. There’s nothing wrong with the album, per se, it’s just not exceptional.
9. God Hates Us All
Releasing an album called “God Hates Us All” on September 11, 2001, probably wasn’t the best PR move of all time, but in fairness, Slayer couldn’t have predicted what was about to happen. Nonetheless, it’s not the band’s finest hour. The sound is muddy and almost confused at times, and while the lyrics are sharper and more observational than you’d expect of Slayer (especially on the Grammy-nominated song “Disciple and Bloodline”), it’s not enough to save the album from mediocrity.
8. Christ Illusion
After a five-year hiatus, Slayer returned with a bang in 2006 with “Christ Illusion.” Back on drums was Dave Lombardo, whose absence had been sorely missed and whose return helped give the band their best album in years. As always, Slayer weren’t pulling any punches – “Jihad,” a track written about 9/11 through a terrorist’s eyes, was almost designed to infuriate middle America – but they weren’t just relying on shock value to pull them through. The album was fresh, dynamic, and a very welcome return to form.
After the death of lead guitarist, lyricist, and founding member Jeff Hanneman in 2013, some people wondered how Slayer would continue. But continue they did. As Louder Sound says, 2015’s Repentless proved that Slayer wasn’t going to let the tragedy of Hanneman’s passing dent their sonic armor. Kerry King stepped up to the plate magnificently, delivering a heavy-duty, thriller of an album that was as much a statement of intent as a tribute.
6. Show No Mercy
When Slayer decided to call their debut album “Show No Mercy,” they couldn’t have picked a more apposite title. From the opening chord to the final one, it didn’t let up in its viciousness or relentlessness for one single second. Metallica had already set the bar high for thrash, but what Slayer achieved here was a whole other ball game. Dave Lombardo has since described the album as “primitive and naive.” It might have been, but that didn’t stop it from becoming one of the most influential metal albums of the decade.
5. Hell Awaits
Released just two years after their debut album, “Hell Awaits” sees the band on fine form. The progress they’d made between their first album and this was staggering. The raw edges had been smoothed over without losing any of the grit. The anger was still there, but now it was clearly defined and tight. They weren’t yet the well-oiled machine they’d become by the following year’s “Reign in Blood,” but they were still awesome.
4. World Painted Blood
As Return of Rock says, if you don’t like “World Painted Blood,” you’re probably not playing it loud enough. Brutish, raw, and vibrating with menace, the album shreds, screams, and blazes its way through some exceptionally visceral songs. It’s not for the fainthearted, but what Slayer album is?
3. South Of Heaven
In 1986, Slayer released their seminal album, “Reign in Blood.” Following such a massive success was never going to be easy, but somehow Slayer managed it. After wisely deciding any attempt at a “Reign in Blood 2” would end in disaster, the band went in the opposite direction for “South Of Heaven,” adding a slower grind to the breakneck thrash that only served to increase the drama. The result didn’t quite live up to the standard set by its predecessor, but it was still a fine, fine thing.
2. Seasons In The Abyss
Slayer’s 1990 album, “Seasons In The Abyss,” ranks as one of their most assessable records till that point. By this stage, the band had found its groove. They didn’t necessarily experiment as much as they had on previous albums, but they didn’t need to: they’d already experimented enough to know what they wanted to do and how to do it. Thrash metal may already have been on the wane, but on tracks like “Expendable Youth” and “Dead Skin Mask,” Slayer were still sounding as fresh and relevant as ever.
1. Reign in Blood
When it came to the No.1 album, there was only ever one contender: “Reign in Blood.” Named by Rolling Stone as the 6th Greatest Metal Album of All Time, Slayer’s 1986 breakthrough album revolutionized thrash and speed metal. From Dave Lombardo’s ferocious drumming to Tom Araya’s equally ferocious yelling, nothing could be faulted. The production was excellent, trimming and cutting and shaping the sound into a slick, relentless, tidal wave of fury. It wasn’t necessarily the most accessible album the band ever produced (“Seasons in the Abyss” wins that title) but who needs accessibility when you get to listen to Araya bellowing about angels of death and the criminally insane instead?