If heavy metal was having a torrid time in the ‘90s, no one told Slayer. The thrash legends kicked off the decade with the immortal Seasons In The Abyss and conjured a further three studio albums by the time a new millennium rolled around. Admittedly, Slayer’s ‘90s catalogue will never be as celebrated as early classics like Reign In Blood, but there were still plenty of face-removing gems to be enjoyed.
10. I Hate You (1996)
“You were just a waste of sperm/The way you look makes my stomach turn!” You can say what you like about Slayer’s flawed but fiery 1996 covers album Undisputed Attitude, but no one could accuse the band of picking material that didn’t suit them. Originally recorded by Texan hardcore punks Verbal Abuse, I Hate You sounds like a genuine threat. And probably is one.
9. Bitter Peace (1998)
Maligned as the moment Slayer supposedly “went a bit nu-metal”, 1998’s Diabolus In Musica was plainly nothing of the sort. Instead, the album’s most striking songs were powered by groove rather than speed, without any of the band’s heaviness being sacrificed in the process. Album opener Bitter Peace was easily the best of the lot, despite at least seeming to borrow its main riff from Machine Head’s Take My Scars, released a year earlier.
The sole original song on Undisputed Attitude, Gemini didn’t stray too far from the expected Slayer blueprint, but it was a particularly filthy and gruesome addition to an already grubby and cantankerous album. With a sinister, double-tracked vocal from Tom Araya, some of Kerry King’s sludgiest riffs and a raw and ramshackle production job, this deservedly became a low-key fan favourite.
7. Divine Intervention (1994)
Divine Intervention, Slayer’s first album without talismanic drummer Dave Lombardo, was greeted with a mixture of acclaim and disappointment. Fuck knows why, because absolutely ripped. Many pointed to the vicious, Rush Limbaugh-saluting Dittohead as the obvious highlight of the band’s sixth album, but it’s the title track that truly stands out: one of Slayer’s slow-burning, spooky epics, it’s a crushing show of strength and a blistering showcase for new drummer Paul Bostaph.
6. Disorder (1993)
The legendary Judgement Night soundtrack brought hip-hop artists together with bands from rock and metal, including this perfectly logical collaboration between Slayer and superstar MC/Body Count frontman Ice-T. A medley of songs by Scottish punk rock icons The Exploited, it beats the piss out of every last track on Undisputed Attitude and a sizeable chunk of everything else Slayer recorded in the ‘90s. Put simply, it sounds like a bunch of terrifying maniacs starting a riot and not giving a fuck.
5. Blood Red (1990)
A candidate for the most Slayer-ish of all ‘90s Slayer tunes, Blood Red may have been a little overshadowed by other, more prominent songs from the band’s fifth album, Seasons In The Abyss, but it’s still an immaculate demonstration of what they were all about. It’s there in the spiky discord of the riffs, in the jabbing hostility of the guitar solos, and in the jaw-shattering bludgeon of Slayer’s overall delivery. Plus, “Peaceful confrontation meet war machine/Seizing all civil liberties” is a killer opening line.
4. Expendable Youth (1990)
If some diehard fans were still rooting for a Reign In Blood remake with Seasons In The Abyss, Expendable Youth made it plain that Slayer had long since acknowledged the power of slowing down a bit. This is one of the band’s most menacing and ominous songs, as the despicable futility of war is dissected over some of the most evil-sounding riffs Kerry King has ever written. As with much of its parent album, this is peak Slayer and pretty much unbeatable.
3. Seasons In The Abyss (1990)
Even a band as revered as Slayer were given a hard time for daring to evolve. After the heads-down intensity of 1986’s Reign In Blood, the band began to experiment with slower tempos and a greater sense of atmosphere, resulting in such certified classics as South Of Heaven and the title track of 1990’s Seasons In The Abyss. The latter became a staple in Slayer’s live sets and remains one of their darkest, most unnerving anthems, not least due to the epic creepiness of Jeff Hanneman’s riffs.
2. Dead Skin Mask (1990)
Songs about serial killers and other atrocities have always been popular in the darker corners of heavy metal, but Slayer made their most twisted moments resonate with chilling, real world conviction. This grim tribute to American psycho Ed Gein, who skinned his victims and wore their skin as a suit, is still pretty fucking terrifying, even after 30 years. “Dance with the dead in my dreams/Listen to their hallowed screams…” *shudder*
1. War Ensemble (1990)
Slayer released their best album of the ‘90s right at the decade’s beginning, and it’s hard to look past Seasons In The Abyss’ first track for the band’s single finest moment of that decade. War Ensemble is one of the greatest thrash metal album openers of them all, with that unmistakably venomous Slayer vibe cranked up to the max and Tom Araya spitting the lyrics out as if he’s running into a hail of bullets. Both Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman peel off career-defining lead breaks during the song, and Dave Lombardo has never sounded so masterful or lost in the song’s infernal churn. It’s the perfect metal song.