Slayer and Metallica Had a Cold War Going On In The ’80s, According to Metal Blade Records Founder

Alberto Cabello from Vitoria Gasteiz, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
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The ’80s thrash explosion was a sonic arms race. In a genre that prided itself on being fast, loud, and evil, thrash bands couldn’t simply be sixth on the list, they had to THE most fearsome entity around. And when it came to thrash, the top acts would always be Metallica and Slayer, the former speaking to the extreme everyman with beer in hand, the latter inspiring all the serial-killer-obsessed anatomy-manual-owning freaks in the scene. And according to a new interview with Metal Blade Records founder Brian Slagel, this wasn’t just a perceived competition — the bands basically had a cold war going on.

“Metallica and Slayer were never very close,” recalls Slagel in conversation with Metal Hammer. “They were competitive. I was friends with both bands, and Metallica would ask me, ‘What are Slayer doing? What are they writing?’ And the Slayer guys would ask me, ‘What are Metallica doing?’ It was, ‘Who’s faster? Who’s heavier?’

“They actually played together early on in Orange County,” he continues. “It was really early in Slayer’s career – it was probably only the second or third gig they had played. I’d forgotten about it until someone put a flyer online! I mean, what a gig to forget about!”

It’s funny to imagine Slayer and Metallica trying to out-do one another, because for most metalheads the two bands exist in very different mental spaces. Metallica will always be thought of as a radio-rock behemoth that took metal into the spotlight, while eben at their most successful Slayer were forever the music of blood-horny psychos.

Meanwhile, Metal Hammer points out that Slayer’s Kerry King himself has listed Metallica as a huge influence on his band.

“I like speed metal or thrash metal – which hadn’t been named yet – which is what they were to me,” King told them. “I liked what they were doing with it, and I was already into Venom. I think that a cross between Venom, [Judas] Priest and Metallica kind of made Slayer what Slayer is. Rather than them being competition at that point, we were all competing against glam.”


Words by Chris Krovatin