‘Who’s faster? Who’s heavier?’: record label boss recalls early Metallica vs Slayer rivalry

Kerry & Kirk
(Image credit: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images)

Metallica and Slayer may have shared a mutual hatred of the early ’80s Los Angeles glam metal scene in their formative years, but they were equally wary of one another says Brian Slagel, a long-time friend to the two bands, and the man responsible for releasing early material from both acts on his influential Metal Blade label.

Slagel is interviewed in the new issue of Metal Hammer, a special issue celebrating 40 years of Metallica, and having been friends with Lars Ulrich before Metallica formed, he can rightly claim to have been there from day one with the Californian metal superstars. Indeed it was fanzine collector and record store employee Slagel who put Metallica on vinyl for the first time, reserving a space for a demo recording of Hit The Lights as track 10 on his label’s first release, 1982’s Metal Massacre, as a favour to his livewire Danish drummer friend Ulrich: Slayer would debut on Metal Massacre III the following year with Aggressive Perfector, and release their first two albums, Show No Mercy and Hell Awaits on Metal Blade.

“Metallica and Slayer were never very close,” says Slagel. “They were competitive. I was friends with both bands, and Metallica would ask me, ‘What are Slayer doing? What are they writing?’ And the Slayer guys would ask me, ‘What are Metallica doing?’ It was, ‘Who’s faster? Who’s heavier?’ They actually played together early on in Orange County. It was really early in Slayer’s career - it was probably only the second or third gig they had played. I’d forgotten about it until someone put a flyer online! I mean, what a gig to forget about!”

Interviewed elsewhere in the special ‘Metallica 40’ issue, Slayer guitarist Kerry King recalls seeing Metallica for the first time at the Woodstock Concert Theatre in Anaheim, with Dave Mustaine on guitar, and plays down the idea of rivalry between the two emerging bands, citing Metallica as an influence on early Slayer material.

Asked for his first impressions of Metallica, King tells Metal Hammer, “I liked it.”

“I like speed metal or thrash metal - which hadn’t been named yet - which is what they were to me. I liked what they were doing with it, and I was already into Venom. I think that a cross between Venom, [Judas] Priest and Metallica kind of made Slayer what Slayer is.”

“Rather than them being competition at that point,” he adds, “we were all competing against glam.”

For more from King and Brian Slagel plus new interviews with a host of Metallica’s friends, heroes, collaborators and former members, pick up the new issue of Metal Hammer, which is on-sale now. 

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.