Few bands get the chance to orchestrate their own ending, but when Slayer bowed out in 2019, it was on their own terms. The LA four-piece left behind a stellar legacy, spanning landmark thrash albums Hell Awaits, Reign In Blood and South Of Heaven up to late-career masterpieces such as World Painted Blood and Repentless.
Their influence on successive generations of bands remains immeasurable even now. We asked some of metal’s biggest names to talk us through their favourite Slayer songs. Here’s what they had to say…
South of Heaven (South of Heaven, 1988)
Picked by Slipknot’s Corey Taylor
Corey: “It’s my favourite Slayer album and my favourite Slayer song. The way it starts is so epic. It just keeps building towards another intro, y’know? You’re ready for it to fucking kick in and it doesn’t; it’s such a dick-tease. It infuriated me the first time I heard it, but then when it does kick in, oh my god! It’s a baseball bat to the face.
It’s some of my favourite Hanneman/King work, Lombardo’s fills are so ridiculous, and there’s real venom in Tom’s voice. That shit is insane, you can feel it. To me, it’s not the scariest Slayer song, it’s not one of the fastest, but it sums up Slayer with everything it offers. That tension building towards what would then become a crazy onslaught of heavy metal.”
Haunting The Chapel (Haunting The Chapel, 1984)
Picked by Ghost’s Tobias Forge
Tobias: “I like the weird time signature at the beginning. They were so gnarly back then. I’ve always been a huge Metallica fan, and Slayer in a way were all the things that Metallica weren’t and vice versa.
Slayer back then did the most evil riffs ever, and there was just something genuinely hostile about them. There’s not one happy note in there. And their lyrics were really cool, and their imagery was really cool, and they sounded great and played great. That early era of Slayer was definitely one of my favourite extreme metal eras.”
Raining Blood (Reign In Blood, 1986)
Picked by Nightwish’s Tuomas Holopainen
Tuomas: “I found metal through Metallica in 1992, when I was spending a year as an exchange student in America. My host family bought me a ticket to a Metallica and Guns N’ Roses concert in Kansas City. I was like, ‘Oh, that’s not my kind of thing’, but then Metallica came on and it changed my life.
After that, I got into more heavy stuff like Pantera and Slayer. Before this I was basically just listening to classical music and Finnish pop; Gary Moore was the heaviest thing I listened to! Raining Blood just has an iconic, brilliant riff. ”
Angel Of Death (Reign In Blood, 1986)
Picked by Skindred’s Benji Webbe
Benji: “I’m a Public Enemy fan, and they had a song called She Watch Channel Zero, and it used a sample that they had, and it was Angel Of Death. So henceforth, I used it and went, ‘Wow, that’s fucking so cool’, and someone said to me, ‘That’s a band called Slayer.’ I said, ‘What do you mean Slayer? It’s Public Enemy!’ And they said, ‘No, they sampled Slayer in their song.’ So that made me go and check out Slayer, and I thought, ‘Oh my god, they are the Angels Of Death!’ And I thought Kerry King was amazing, and Dave Lombardo on drums – the original line-up.
“The first time I played with Slayer, we played at a festival called Tattoo The Planet in Scotland. I remember walking down the hall and seeing Slayer’s dressing room. And the door was open slightly, and I saw Kerry King with his sunglasses on, in the dark, playing an Xbox or some shit. Watching Kerry King, playing Xbox with the lights out, with his sunglasses on, was one of the coolest things I’ve ever fucking seen in my life. I’ve played with Slayer six times, I’ve never said a word to him, he’s never said a word to me, but he always carries himself with this grace and this coolness. I love Slayer!”
Hell Awaits (Hell Awaits, 1985)
Picked by Arch Enemy’s Alissa White-Gluz,
Alissa: “Hell Awaits has the same birth year as I do. It has back-masked messages in the intro and dark, thrashy, voluble lyrics… once the vocals finally kick in after more than three minutes of instrumental build, this song is extremely satisfying for those who love fast, angry, evil metal.
Those signature Hanneman and King leads, although in their infancy here, are unmistakeable. It’s hard for me to imagine a band having released something this heavy before I was even born, which makes it even cooler to share the stage with them now in the present day – something I’ve had the honour of doing on multiple occasions. Always raw and inspiring, pioneers and true legends!”
Mandatory Suicide (South Of Heaven, 1988)
Picked by Lamb Of God’s Mark Morton
Mark: “I love the cadence of the vocal – without being particularly melodic, it’s still really catchy. Dare I say it’s like a hip hop kind of thing, where there’s a pattern to lock into. The South Of Heaven album was so awesome to me. I liked Reign In Blood, but it was a little too punk and fast for me.
I was listening to hip hop and into Testament and stuff like that, and on South Of Heaven they got into this slowed-down groove, the same way rap does. That resonated with me, and I think parts of that song, in the verse particularly, have that kind of emotion to them, that lope, that kind of pulse.
The lyrics are super-scary and dark and crazy and awesome, like Slayer. The bit at the end where he’s kind of got this ominous, Devil track spoken-word thing over the whole outro, with the guitars wailing and echoing, it just sounds like a nightmare. When you can create that kind of atmosphere with just sound, that’s art to me.”
Bitter Peace (Diabolus In Musica, 1998)
Picked by Trivium’s Corey Beaulieu,
Corey: “In my youth, I discovered Slayer. After I became a fan, Diabolus In Musica was released. Bitter Peace starts off the record with heavy, catchy riffs, then grooves its way into a thrash-fest. I always thought this track was a grossly underrated Slayer song. It displays all Jeff’s writing greatness, from the heavy, evil riffing to the war-inspired lyrics.
I saw them play this song live at my first-ever Slayer show, and they opened with it! It was so powerful, it blew me away that day. I hope more metalheads go back and check out this song. Slayer have so many amazing songs in their catalogue, this one gets overlooked, but I’m hoping to change that!”
Jesus Saves (Reign In Blood, 1986)
Picked by Enslaved’s Ivar Bjørnson
Ivar: “Jesus Saves is the Slayer song for me. I was listening to Slayer – like everybody else – as I started playing the guitar, and sometime during the first years of Enslaved this was the song we chose to cover for the  semi-legendary Satanic Slaughter Slayer tribute album.
We chose it because of the intensity of the song combined with its peachy lyrical contents, hitting the nail on the head about religious hypocrisy. I guess Tom Araya forgot that the song title was ironic over the years! Ha ha ha! Also, the atonal and chaotic signature leads so wonderfully exemplified on this track have been important for me as a guitar player; the total antithesis to those sweet and overly melodic cupcake-leads of 80s heavy metal. Yuck.”
Reborn (Reign In Blood, 1986)
Picked by Cradle Of Filth’s Dani Filth
Dani: “For some strange reason, Reborn was always my favourite track on the Reign In Blood album, sandwiched somewhere between the album’s megalithic opener and closer.
I love the hyperactive groove of the song, the tempestuous gear changes and, above all, the lyrics about a pact with the Devil and a witch’s retribution against the church for being tortured and burnt at the stake. It’s fast as fuck and Tom Araya is venomous in his delivery. Reborn is just classic Slayer, and a song that really deserves far more attention than it gets, hence my appreciative waffling.”
Black Magic (Show No Mercy, 1983)
Picked by Exodus’ Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza,
Zetro: “When I first heard Show No Mercy, I loved it. It was something that people in the Bay Area weren’t necessarily doing. Black Magic just stuck out to me – I love the guitar riff. It was around January 1984 and I was playing in Legacy [which later became Testament] at the time. We had maybe only played two or three shows, but our next show was with Lääz Rockit and Slayer.
I remember going into Slayer’s dressing room and introducing myself. I asked them if they were going to play Black Magic tonight and Tom said, ‘Yes, we are.’ I was in the pit thrashing around and I heard Tom say, ‘This next song is for Zetro, this one is called Black Magic’, and I think I bragged about that for six months!”
Seasons In The Abyss (Seasons In The Abyss, 1990)
Picked by Puppy’s Jock Norton
“Seasons in The Abyss was on pretty heavy rotation on MTV2 when I was a kid, and was probably the first song of theirs that I heard. The chorus is pretty melodic for Slayer, and I love how progressive the song is: nearly two minutes of this slow, droning groove before the money riff kicks in. When it comes back in half time, I tend to shout ‘Oh shit!’ and flip whatever table I’m standing nearest. I have no control over it.”
Chemical Warfare (Show No Mercy, 1983)
Picked by Corrosion Of Conformity’s Pepper Keenan,
Pepper: “Jesus Christ, man! The best Slayer song? What a question! I would have to say Chemical Warfare. I guess it’s because I did a stagedive in an arena off of a balcony from about 18 feet in the air when it was playing a few years ago. I jumped over, and it was that riff going around in my head; the red lights went off and they’re still flashing to this day!”
Crionics (Show No Mercy, 1983)
Picked by Voivod’s Snake
Snake: “I can still recall when I first listened to Show No Mercy… It was the new thing in metal; Slayer brought an approach that my ears were not familiar with. When a band emerges, it’s interesting to identify the influences behind the curtains. Crionics was kind of revealing where they were from. Slayer in their early days were certainly influenced by NWOBHM and I can picture the guys banging their heads to Iron Maiden in their rehearsal room.
The vocal melody is awesome and Tom sounds like a burning witch when he screams, ‘Invincible foe’! The lyrics about scientists who freeze the mind and soul, leaving you in a halfway-to-death zone are quite science-fiction and frightening. Also, the sequence of varied instrumental sections from the middle to the end of the song showed their skills, and anyone back then knew that Slayer had something on their own and they had a long way to go..”
Repentless (Repentless, 2015)
Picked by Venom Prison’s Larissa Stupar
Larissa: “I’m a fan of Slayer’s more recent stuff as well as the classic albums – it’s hard to pick one song. But I’ve always been motivated by Repentless and the thought of Venom Prison covering it, and people moshing, would be awesome. Maybe one day!”
Die By The Sword (Show No Mercy, 1983)
Picked by Obituary's John Tardy
John: “‘They say the pen is mightier than the sword, but I say fuck the pen, because you can Die By The Sword! 'DIE BY THE SWORD! DIE BY THE SWORD!’ Back in high school, my friends and I wore out that Exodus, Venom and Slayer video. [1985’s Combat Tour Live: The Ultimate Revenge]. So good. So heavy. So inspiring.”
Altar Of Sacrifice (Reign In Blood, 1986)
Picked by Alekhine’s Gun Jessica Pimentel
Jessica: “I’ll never forget the first time I got my hands on a copy of Reign In Blood. I remember listening to it and thinking, ‘This is the heaviest shit, unlike anything I’ve ever heard in my life.’ My brain couldn’t quite wrap around its brutality. I was completely unfamiliar with this style of singing, and I was not really able to understand everything Tom Araya was saying at first, but I kept catching certain words that sparked my curiosity and I wanted to figure it out.
Then I got to the track Altar Of Sacrifice. The opening immediately got my attention more than any other song so far. I remember sitting in my room with headphones on, rewinding the song over and over and writing down the lyrics as I was able to decipher them. ‘Enter to the realm of…’ My blood went cold. Now I’ve done it. I’m going to hell.”
At Dawn They Sleep (Hell Awaits, 1985)
Picked by Immolation’s Ross Dolan
Ross: “Hell Awaits is, in my opinion, Slayer’s darkest album, and At Dawn They Sleep is one of the darkest and heaviest songs in their catalogue. There’s something very unsettling about it, especially during the slower-moving heavier sections in the middle. The lyrics are great and I always thought it was a dark song about vampires that wasn’t done in a cheesy way. I’ve seen them perform it quite a few times over the last 33 years, and it always gets me pumped.”
Dead Skin Mask (Seasons In The Abyss, 1990)
Picked by Tesseract’s James Monteith,
James: “The melodic guitar work combined with huge, stomping riffs makes this one of my firm favourites. The haunting call-and-return guitar intro and tag-team solo section are great examples of the wonderful Hanneman-King guitar partnership. Their combined fluidity and abrasion on the guitar is, for me, the essence of Slayer.”
Disciple (God Hates Us All, 2001)
Picked by Shining’s Jørgen Munkeby,
Jørgen: “From the signature, almost trombone-like opening fanfare, through to the full-on chorus coming in after only 30 seconds, to the heavy, end-of-the-world chanting, ‘I reject this fucking rage! I despise this fucking place!’, this song is the closest you can come to a condensed Slayer hit.
With street-art-worthy lyric lines like, ‘I hate everyone equally! You can’t tear that out of me!’ and the haunting and repeating centrepiece proclamation, ‘God hates us all!’, this is the most catchy song Slayer ever penned. The combination of the more concise songwriting and the industrial and aggressive mix by Sean Beavan makes this song my absolute favourite of all Slayer tracks.”
Metal Storm/Face the Slayer (Show No Mercy, 1983)
Picked by Orange Goblin’s Ben Ward,
Ben:" “Show No Mercy is my favourite Slayer album and I could have chosen Black Magic, The Antichrist, Evil Has No Boundaries, Fight Till Death – any of them! What I love about this song is that you can hear their obvious love of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, yet it still has that evil, underlying menace that Slayer are the masters of. It’s just shy of five minutes with about a million amazing riffs all crammed into one song. It’s the definition of evil heavy metal, and I fucking love it!”
Necrophiliac (Hell Awaits, 1985)
Picked by Khemmis’ Ben Hutcherson,
Ben: “When I hear the opening notes of Necrophiliac, I’m transported back to my teenage years, and the nights spent drinking cheap beer in my friends’ junky cars with metal blasting through blown-out speakers. That intro is so evil and so quintessentially Slayer; it still gets me pumped after all these years. Because of them, I discovered the underground world of death and black metal. As Tom Araya once said, ‘There’s only one kind of music in this world, and that is FAST HARD.’”
Published in Metal Hammer #317