If Slayer did not exist, the tabloid press would invent it: Loud, aggressive, and violent, its songs touch on sadism, Satanism, Nazi death camps, and serial killers. Its music was prominently featured in 1987's troubled-teen film River's Edge. A 1988 concert in New York's Felt Forum had to be stopped when fans rampaged, tearing up seats and pelting the stage with debris. And all five teens featured on the "Kids Who Kill" episode of Geraldo cited Slayer as one of their favorite bands.
Slayer began in 1982 as part of L.A.'s Huntington Beach head-banging scene. Originally a cover band, by 1983 the band had written "Aggressive Perfector," which appeared on Metal Blade Records' Metal Massacre III compilation. Metal Blade also released Slayer's next two albums, Show No Mercy and Hell Awaits. The group's brutal songs and malevolent obsessions increased its local reputation, but it was unable to garner national attention until Rick Rubin signed the band to his Def Jam label in 1986. Slayer became something of a cause célèbre that year when Columbia (Def Jam's distributor) refused to release Reign in Blood, citing references to Nazi physician/torturer Joseph Mengele in the song "Angel of Death," among other offenses. Geffen quickly picked up the album, which became the band's first to chart, peaking at #94.
Starting with the group's followup, South of Heaven (#57, 1988), bassist/vocalist Tom Araya became the main songwriter, and Slayer's music and subject matter turned slightly more mainstream, with riffs and melodies replacing drones. The lyrics focused on more earthbound subjects: "Death Skin Mask" from Seasons in the Abyss (#40, 1990) was inspired by serial killer Ed Gein.
In 1991 Slayer celebrated its first 10 years together by releasing Decade of Aggression Live (#55) and holding down one third of the Clash of the Titans Tour along with Megadeath and Anthrax. The band returned in 1994 with Divine Intervention (#8, 1994), its most successful album to date.
Picking up where 1993's "Disorder" (a medley of Exploited songs done in collaboration with Ice-T for the Judgment Night soundtrack) had left off, Slayer released Undisputed Attitude (#34, 1996). It featured only one new Slayer track, concentrating instead on a variety of punk covers by the likes of T.S.O.L, Minor Threat, and Verbal Abuse. Bostaph was replaced by ex-Testament drummer John Dette for the following tour, but came back to play on Diabolus in Musica (#31, 1998), on which Slayer returned to its usual gruesome lyrical content set to speed metal. In 2000 the band joined the inaugural Tattoo the Earth Tour, reaffirming its status as a grand elder of the metal scene.
This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).
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