This 41 year old video is the oldest known footage of Slayer, and it proves they were brilliant from the start

A promo shot of Slayer in 1983
(Image credit: Metal Blade)

It’s rare to witness an iconic band in their formative stages, especially when the band in question pre-dates camera phones by several decades. But occasionally some farsighted – or lucky – onlooker was there to capture history being made on film.

In early 1983, Slayer played The Woodstock club in Anaheim, California, opening for some long-forgotten headliner. They had formed less than 18 months earlier, in the LA suburb of Huntington Park, apocryphally playing their first gig on Halloween 1981 and supporting the similarly unknown Metallica in October 1982.. By the time of the Woodstock show, they’d graduated from Judas Priest and Iron Maiden covers to playing their own songs.

Amazingly, someone – possibly the owners of The Woodstock – thought to film their 10-song set on what looks like a static video camera perched on a balcony. While the footage is grainy, it captures a band who aren’t a million miles away from being the finished article. The set is stacked with tracks that would appear on their debut album, Show No Mercy, released at the end of 1983, including Black Magic, Die By The Sword, Tormentor, Crionics, Aggressive Perfector and Blitzkrieg (a title soon to be changed to The Final Command).

The band themselves are tighter than a duck’s quacker, not least the soon-to-become-fabled guitar team of Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman. And, though they might be an opening band (as the disembodied voice which introduces the show makes clear), they’ve made some effort at a stage set – albeit an indistinct one on this clip.

But the big deal for Slayer connoisseurs is the presence of Assassin, Ice Titan, Night Rider and Simple Aggression, none of which ever appeared on a Slayer studio release (though a different live version of Ice Titan did appear on the Soundtrack To The Apocalypse box set, and a snippet of it was repurposed for Reign In Blood track Altar Of Sacrifice).

Given that, Ice Titan aside, they sound way more trad metal than their more famous counterparts it’s easy to see why they were left off Show No Mercy. Bonus for drum nerds: Dave Lombardo is only playing a single bass drum; he wouldn’t start using double bass drums until the following year.

While there’s no debate over where the show took place (singer Tom Araya refers to The Woodstock between songs), the exact date is less certain. The video claims it’s from March 28, 1983, though flyers from the time suggest that Slayer were opening for the band Bitch at The Roxy in Hollywood, 35 miles away, that night. Given that Araya also mentions Aggressive Perfector would be appearing on the Metal Massacre III compilation, which was released in July 1983, and they’d dropped Ice Titan, Night Rider and the rest from their sets by that point anyway, it definitely places the show sometime between spring and early summer 1983 – certainly within their first 25 shows.

But that’s one for the Slayer sleuths to figure out. The rest of us can simply revel in the brilliance of a band confidently taking an early step on the road to immortality.

Dave Everley

Dave Everley has been writing about and occasionally humming along to music since the early 90s. During that time, he has been Deputy Editor on Kerrang! and Classic Rock, Associate Editor on Q magazine and staff writer/tea boy on Raw, not necessarily in that order. He has written for Metal Hammer, Louder, Prog, the Observer, Select, Mojo, the Evening Standard and the totally legendary Ultrakill. He is still waiting for Billy Gibbons to send him a bottle of hot sauce he was promised several years ago.