Hard Reviews
by Martin Popoff

To commemorate the arrival of the new Slayer album this month, here's my reviews for three pivotal Slay-fests from the band's legendary black-thrashin' career.

Slayer - Show No Mercy
(Metal Blade '83)

As much as I never became a big booster of this band really until '86's unfathomable Reign In Blood, Slayer were a pivotal band in the advancement of metal. Show No Mercy scared the bejesus out of everybody, being the first totally Satanic wedge of metal stateside, rivaling the likes of Venom for sheer disgust and overkill. What's more, the record co-starred with Metallica's seminal Kill 'Em All in defining state-of-the-art speed metal, fusing chops, ambition and studio skills to previous examples of thrash (again, Venom), resulting in cutting edge OTT, ultra, speed, black . . . you name it, while inspiring new rafts of hellions to expand the limits of metal, finding progressive metal, more extreme versions of thrash (i.e. Bathory, Possessed) and the emergence of grindcore, today's most prolific metal minefield. Show No Mercy was simply outrageous, almost like Kiss all over again, adding dizzying mathematical speed, blazing chaotic guitar solos, upside down crosses and pentagrams to the smoke, leather and soon-to-be-dropped eyeshadow. Still, I always found the record stiff and one dimensional, never being a big fan of speed metal, here laid down in stifling arrangements, translated by an OK mix technically speaking, but one not to my personal preference, particularly with respect to snare sound. Still, any record that begs the question, 'What are these guys on?', deserves full recognition for waking up the neighbours like they've never been before.
Rating 6

Slayer - Reign In Blood
(Def Jam '86)

Reign In Blood, the first of three Slayer assaults closing down the '80s, produces near impossible levels of mania, as Slayer discovers the seething energy of the power groove, mixing their very best fast stuff with tortuously beatific mid pace mindmelts. Even Araya's vocals reach new extremes, rising to the challenge of the flesh-frying conflagration at hand. Many a deranged punter considers this record Slayer's masterpiece, caught writhing in pain on the cusp of the band's most apocalyptic thrash and their most bone-crunching gut punches, both exposed and bleeding on Angel Of Death, Criminally Insane, the record's climactic Jekyl and Hyde epic Raining Blood. And the point is well taken, Reign In Blood arguably being the band's most infectious and excitable project, even if its follow-up packs greater gravity. No question, the grinding passages of this record capture the essence of preposterously heavy metal with merciless perfection, but it's the thrash stuff that seems the most improved, becoming full rants, Araya just belting out his poison, solos approaching Greg Ginn-like anti-musicality; a truly OTT hatred of all things timid. And it would all probably implode, had Rick Rubin not given the band his most volcanic of production jobs, turning Lombardo into the powerhouse from hell we all knew he was. When the smoke clears, Slayer walks tall from the rubble, breaking its own record, remaining the heaviest band on earth.
Rating 9

Slayer - South Of Heaven
(Geffen '88)

Another pleasant album cover hides what I feel is the weightiest record of all time, possibly the purest expression of heavy metal to strafe the airwaves. South Of Heaven is an insane construct of pummeling power riffs, nary a moment slipping out of the jet stream of Sheer Force One. No shit, every time I experience this awesome black hole of hate, I come very close to actual heart palpitations, the gravity of Lombardo's relentless pound drawing all tidal tendencies into a vortex of his own lockstep, building some of the largest beats in existence on such cranium crushers as Behind The Crooked Cross and Mandatory Suicide. The very blood-stained crux of death metal, South Of Heaven is a torrential downpour of what made Reign In Blood such a hurtful piece of machinery. It seems Slayer alone can pull off such psychotic overdrives, making no apologies for their lyrical hideousness, knowing full well such verbal slaying is merely the spoken equivalent of the careening death howls emerging bubbled and festered from the instrumental invasion. These are the kinds of riffs you dream about then can't remember the next morning, progressions so demonic, you just gotta crack a smile. I don't know, what more can I say. Slayer is in sole possession of a sound that is about as violent as music gets, and with each record more people become attuned to the band's legacy. Unstoppable cover: Priest's Dissident Aggressor.
Rating 10

Hard Reviews Part 2