By Keith Carman"Slayer!" Second only to pleas for Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Freebird," virtually every concert-goer of the past quarter-century has heard this passionate cry unleashed during a show, metal or otherwise. There's a reason. The Huntington, California metal quartet is hands-down one of the boldest, most agile, impassioned bands in the history of recorded music. There's no mistaking Slayer. Their songs, visages and moniker have been burned, cut and ingrained into the minds and bodies of extreme music fans around the globe since the release of debut album, 1983's Show No Mercy. Over the course of the ensuing 25-plus years, Slayer ― bassist/vocalist Tom Araya, guitarists Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King and drummers Dave Lombardo, Paul Bostaph and a couple of forgettable fill-ins ― have become indelibly vital to music, continually shaping and redefining metal's core elements. They've forged the thrash metal sub-genre, inspired countless bands, brought the subjects of war, Satanism and serial killers into lyrical vogue, faced endless controversy, survived internal conflict and instigated decade-long feuds with other acts. In the meantime, they also managed to win a few Grammy awards, headline major international music festivals and celebrate some of their albums attain gold-selling status. Set to release their highly-anticipated tenth studio album World Painted Blood this month, Exclaim! reflects on the intensity, ferocity and tenacity of Slayer's astounding legacy.
1981 to 1982 In contempt of the illustrious, genre-defining and controversial future that awaits them, Slayer's origins are extremely humble. Seventeen-year-old Los Angeles-born metal fan Kerry King is trying out as guitarist for a band and the session is overheard by fellow L.A. native/similarly-aged guitarist Jeff Hanneman. The two strike up an immediate kinship based on adoration for genre heroes Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. As King tells KNAC.com in 2005, "He said, 'Why don't we start our own band?' I was like, 'Fuck yeah!'" King immediately becomes the lynchpin to the band's formation, utilizing his connection with a former band-mate, 20-year-old Chilean ex-pat, respiratory therapist, bassist and vocalist Tom Araya. Having performed together briefly in an inconsequential band dubbed Quits, the two are familiar with one another. The drum seat in this as-yet unnamed band remains to be filled. As fate would have it, 16-year-old Cuban-born skinsman Dave Lombardo knows of King's reputation as a metal guitarist and is actively hunting him down during shifts as a pizza delivery boy. Despite later rumours of the sort, Lombardo is not the offspring of Canadian bandleader Guy Lombardo. "I was working and I drove by Kerry's house," Lombardo tells Exclaim! in 2009. "He was living with his parents. I saw him outside and I approached him after I heard from other musicians that the guy who lives in that house down there has a bunch of guitars. His dad bought him a bunch of guitars and he's pretty good. I kept that in the back of my mind and I had the opportunity one day so I approached him and told him I was a drummer. That following night we hooked up and he gave me a list of songs that he knew. I went ahead and recognized a bunch of them that I liked and we got together a couple of days later at my house and started practising. He then brought Jeff that he'd met from a rehearsal studio. He brought him to my house and we jammed. Then Kerry said, 'Hey, I know a singer.' I met Tom and we moved over to Tom's place. There it is. History in a nutshell." With the official line-up confirmed, the quartet begin conjuring up names, eventually agreeing on Dragonslayer, thankfully truncating it to Slayer. Thus begins the task of formulating an identifiable sound and image that will give Slayer instant identity. While the music is rather obvious, the band will prove to falter aesthetically for some time. Due to common interest in many New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) acts, tracks from Iron Maiden and Judas Priest become staples of Slayer's live shows, which are relegated to high schools and diminutive clubs in and around the Los Angeles area for the first few months until original material can be solidified. "We introduced each other to stuff but we had the same basic liking of music if it was metal or rock of that era," notes Lombardo. "Tom was more about the Doors, Jimmy Buffett, Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel and maybe even Robert Palmer; more that genre. But he still enjoyed rock music. I myself was into Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and bands like that. Jeff liked them too but he brought in the punk element. I think that's where we developed the Slayer style: the influence of punk music blending with metal." During a performance, Slayer is spotted by Brian Slagel, founder of then-fledgling independent record label Metal Blade Records. After a brief exchange, Slagel offers Slayer a slot on his upcoming Metal Massacre III compilation, the same series that gave fellow hometown outfit Metallica their shot at infamy during its first incarnation only a few months prior. His only condition: it has to be an original tune. Slayer agrees, requesting their return be that Metal Blade offer some sort of assistance with their eventual debut album. The deal is made and Slayer pens their first complete song "Aggressive Perfector," Metal Massacre III's lead track. It's loose, juvenile and the intro veers dangerously close to Metallica's "Hit The Lights," a far cry from the definitive thrash metal style Slayer will eventually perfect but it's also fast and angry. It works, becoming an instant underground hit with local metal fans and incites the band to get to work on that introductory offering, 1983's Show No Mercy. Lombardo becomes nostalgic when recounting these moments. "The early days, the really early days when we were just 18- and 19-year-old kids in a van playing music and raising hell basically. It was a great, great time. Those moments are special."