It’s nearly impossible to go a week without listening to at least one song by Slayer. They’ve released so many great ones as well as some of the most classic albums the metal world has seen. Chances are “Reign In Blood” will always be regarded as their true masterpiece, and for the most part this is a claim that I too would make. On the other hand, there’s something very special about their first two full lengths. “Show No Mercy” and “Hell Awaits” both capture a side of Slayer that has never been replicated again within their discography, and in many ways they are just as enjoyable as “Reign In Blood”.
The production on these albums was raw, but in a good way. Before their switch to mainstream record label Def Jam, Slayer was on the newly formed Metal Blade Records. Thus the luxury of polished sound quality wasn’t available. Instead of damaging these albums the low quality mixed perfectly with the chaotic nature of their sound. It was sloppy, gritty, and just plain awesome! Trust me, Araya’s vocals in “Kill Again” wouldn’t have sounded nearly as brutal if it had the same sound quality as a Bon Jovi album.
The classic “tongue-and-cheek” Satanism was present on these albums. Take the intro to “Hell Awaits” as an example. A demonic voice chants the words “join us” backwards. Man that is so metal! And thrown together with the truly evil sounding riffs of Hanneman and King ensured that it would be a recipe for excellence. Sure the Christian hardcore kids and overly serious metalheads won’t be pleased, but it’s a nice feature for those of us who really dig old school black metal.
These albums combined the best of both worlds allowing for the creation of something truly unique. Particularly with their debut “Show No Mercy”, Slayer demonstrated that they could blend the raw aggression of Venom with the technical and melodic skill of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. Most importantly though they picked things up a notch in terms of speed. In retrospect, this combination of rawness, Maiden-esque riffing, and lack of respect for speed limits basically established the blueprint for later thrash bands such as Sodom and Sepultura.
Ultimately, I have to say that the greatest aspect of “Show No Mercy” and “Hell Awaits” stems from how memorable they are. Both of these albums are musically impressive, unique, and really enjoyable to listen to. Unfortunately I can’t say the same thing about many of their albums that followed “Reign In Blood”. I’ll always respect Slayer for who they are and what they’ve contributed to the scene, but to me the real magic (or Black Magic) of their sound will remain within their first three albums.