Slayer: Part 2 'The early 90s'
Step outside yourself and let your thoughts drain
In last week’s post we looked at Slayer’s seminal album ‘Reign In Blood’ from 1986. It was the album that firmly put them on the map as a top tier extreme Metal band. ‘Reign in Blood’ laid down a template of ten heavy, ultra fast songs, each with horrific lyrics and subject matter. The two longest songs, bookended the album and tracks two to nine were short and frenetic. It’s a perfect road map for a thrash metal band and set the rules for extreme metal.
Slayer promptly tore up the rulebook.
Album four was called ‘South of Heaven’, and is jokingly referred to as Slayer’s Doom Metal album, as it evokes (somewhat) the slower playing style of Black Sabbath. However, it should be noted that Slayer’s version of slower, was still a hell of a lot faster than most metal bands. ‘South of Heaven’ was seen as direction change for Slayer and while well received, it’s slower pace and Tom Araya’s more subdued style of vocals on the album were a huge departure from the furious ‘Reign in Blood’. The album has since come to be regarded as a classic in its own right, though the band themselves always had mixed feelings about it.
Slayer started the 90s with ‘Seasons in the Abyss’. In some respects this is peak Slayer, combining the ferocity of ‘Reign in Blood’ with the restraint and atmosphere of ‘South of Heaven’. ‘Seasons’ featured Slayer’s first ever music video.
The video was filmed on location at Giza in Egypt and featured heavily on MTV’s Headbangers Ball for most of the decade. Tracks like ‘War Ensemble’, ‘Skeletons of Society, ‘Dead Skin Mask’ and the title track were regular live favourites.
Slayer then went on several massive tours. Co-headlining efforts with the likes of Testament, Suicidal Tendencies, Megadeth, Anthrax, and Alice in Chains, saw them ride the huge wave of popularity Metal had in the early 90s. They released a live double album titled ‘Decade of Aggression’ celebrating ten years in the business and showcasing their infamous live act.
By now the original drummer Dave Lombardo had departed, and was replaced by Paul Bostaph. This was not just a line up change, it was deeply troubling for fans of the band. Lombardo is regarded as, perhaps, the greatest Metal drummer of all time. Slayer had auditioned several replacements for Lombardo and Bostaph appears to have been picked because he made the least mistakes. Knowing he had big shoes to fill he practised constantly in order to get the classic songs right. In my opinion, he brought something different to Slayer. He is a very precise, clinical musician and he was perfect for Slayer’s second album of the 90s.
Bostaph’s first recorded work with the band was actually on the soundtrack to ‘Judgement Night’, which I discussed here.
‘Divine Intervention’ took several years to produce and like many things that take too long, somehow managed to sound disappointing to the band. It does sound somewhat subdued, as the record label possibly sought to bring Slayer’s sound more in line with the likes of Metallica et al. In spite of this, it’s a ferocious album, with subject matter from Jeffrey Dahmer, critiques of the US legal system and Reinhard Heydrich (one of the Nazi architects of the Holocaust). I was just after turning 17 when the album was released and it was possibly the only real Metal album I listened to for the next two years. Below we see the title track where you can hear Paul Bostaph’s unique drumming style and see guitar player Kerry King with a shaved head for the first time (which he made his signature look from this point onwards).
‘Divine Intervention’ was a critical and commercial success. Slayer had survived the grunge storm in the early 90s and thrived with the boom in extreme metal. Their first real line-up change had turned into a positive new direction.
However, in the late 90s they were about to face a new challenge. Or should I say a ‘Nu’ challenge. Read about it in the next post!
Next post: Slayer compete with the biggest existential threat Metal ever faced… Nu Metal!