It’s hard to quantify a discography as dense and nearly perfect as Slayer, but we tried. These are their records, organized from worst to best:
12. Diabolus In Musica (1998)
Even heroes have bad days. Looking to scale a new sonic mountain, Jeff Hanneman set about trying to outdo himself by basing an album around “the devil’s tritone,” a musical interval so ominous that it was banned in medieval times. It’s cool in theory, and it’s been used to great effect before (see Black Sabbath’s eponymous track), but applied to Slayer the trick just sounds weird. With a healthy dose of nü-metal bounce and awkward verbal acrobatics, Slayer did achieve their goal of doing something impossible for the band up to that point: making a record that sucked.
11. Undisputed Attitude (1996)
Punks at heart, Undisputed Attitude was Slayer’s attempt to show the world just where they came from. With just one new Slayer song, the album is composed mostly of covers by bands like Verbal Abuse, D.R.I., and The Stooges. This record also gave Hanneman and Dave Lombardo a chance to introduce the work of their ‘80s hardcore side project, Pap Smear, to a wider audience. The concept sounds cool enough, but the record feels rushed and phoned in. Tom Araya’s little tongue-in-cheek lyrical faux pas at the end of their cover of Minor Threat’s “Guilty Of Being White” doesn’t help.
10. God Hates Us All (2001)
The second half of the 1990s was a rough time for Slayer. Having alienated a contingent of their fanbase with the lackluster Undisputed Attitude and wacky flop Diabolus In Musica, headbangers were cautiously optimistic that Slayer wouldn’t continue to go down the same fruitless roads that their peers continued to travel. God Hates Us All was just the breath of sulfuric hellfire-tinged air that metalheads needed. It isn’t without the occasional dud (seriously, that “Threshold” track can go toe-to-toe in a garbage fight with most of Diabolus), but God Hates Us All showed us that Slayer still had gas in the tank. Too bad it came out on September 11th, 2001. Owch.
9. Divine Intervention (1994)
Although they will begrudgingly flirt with nü-metal in a few years, Slayer dug in their heels against the tidal wave of grunge at the beginning of the 1990s. Straying away from hyperbolic satanism and diving off the lyrical deep end of serial killers and war crimes, Divine Intervention is the band at its most terrifying. Throw in the gut-churning act of self-mutilation that the inner sleeve/jewel case is adorned by and you’ve got the most notorious band in the world at the height of their cynicism.
8. Christ Illusion (2006)
Paul Bostaph is a fantastic drummer who can hold his own with the best. Keeping up is one thing, but to sit where Dave Lombardo had been is an unenviable task for anyone. When fans rejoiced at Lombardo’s return to Slayer it didn’t diminish Bostaph’s contributions so much as highlight the dark alchemy that occurs when the original four members played together. An unrepentant thrash onslaught with moments that rank up there with the thrash titans at their best. If you were to jokingly refer to this record as How Slayer Got Their Groove Back, I’d only cringe a little.
7. Repentless (2015)
A necessary testament of pure vitriol, Repentless earned the Biblical allusion that the name implies. Fears that the tragic death of Jeff Hanneman might kneecap Slayer’s songwriting prowess were instantly put to rest by some of Kerry King’s most furious riffage. The axe work of legendary thrash juggernaut Gary Holt weaves seamlessly with King’s acrobatics, making for a fitting tribute to a fallen hero.
6. Show No Mercy (1983)
Metallica might have reinvented the wheel when Metallica‘s Kill ‘em All came out, but Slayer created the atomic bomb of heavy metal with Show No Mercy. Although they were really just kids, the vicious talents of Hanneman and King as songwriters was already on full display. Up until this point, this brand of fury only existed in hardcore punk. By applying that brand of speed and aggression to metal, Slayer carved a pentagram into an unsuspecting world. Nothing has been the same since.
5. World Painted Blood (2009)
After the missteps of the 1990s, Slayer spent the first decade of the new millennium regaining their footing. By the time 2009 came around, Dave Lombardo had eased back into his drum throne and the rest of the band were back at their confident best. Slayer weaves an atmospheric tapestry of relentless speed, musicality, and melody that sits with the best of their canon. Would have been a perfect follow-up to Seasons In The Abyss, but alas…
4. Hell Awaits (1985)
As bile-soaked and terrifying as Show No Mercy is, Slayer’s second record showed that it was a mere stepping stone on the path to damnation. With two more years to hone their evil craft, the band took an immense stride in terms of technical and aesthetic refinement. With maturity came confidence and freedom for the band to push every lyrical button at barely comprehensible speeds. A colossal record that set the stage for the perfect realization of Slayer to come.
3. South Of Heaven (1988)
When a band puts out a genre defining record, it creates a paradox. Sure, it must be great to create the benchmark by which everything else in your craft will forever be held to, but how the fuck are you supposed to follow it up? After Slayer broke the mold with Reign In Blood, the band opted to do the unthinkable rather than retread the same scorched earth – they slowed down! Although it seemed like heresy at the time and was met by scores of broken hearted metalheads crying tears of betrayal, the about-face in speed created room for Hanneman and King’s songwriting skills to shine. South Of Heaven is now regarded among the band’s finest albums.
2. Seasons In The Abyss (1990)
For a band that comes from the underground, nothing is worse than being called a sellout. If slowing down on South Of Heaven enraged a few heshers, making a video for Seasons In The Abyss had them screaming for blood. However, much like this album’s predecessor, time has proven the naysayers wrong. Bookended by two monumental examples of the band at their fast and slow best, Seasons In The Abyss is the synthesis of everything great about Slayer.
1. Reign In Blood (1986)
To call it the greatest thrash metal album of all time might seem like a hyperbolic copout, but put the needle to the groove and try to hang on for dear life. From the opening riff of “Angel Of Death” to the thunderclap capping off “Rain In Blood,” Slayer’s masterpiece grabs you by the throat and never lets go. Not a wasted breath. Not a wasted note. A journey through earthly and theological hell, Reign In Blood is a perfect killing machine.